Suspicion (1941)

“Johnnie, I’m just beginning to understand you.”

Synopsis:
A bookish wallflower (Joan Fontaine) marries a charming rake (Cary Grant) who quickly arouses her suspicions when she discovers he is both a liar and a penniless thief.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary spends the bulk of his review of this early American Hitchcock film — his follow-up to Rebecca (1940) — complaining about its ending (which, by the way, is discussed to some extent in nearly every online review — so be forewarned if you’ve never seen it). He notes that Fontaine “saves [the] picture with [her] gusty performance”, but claims that Grant simply “looks stiff”. He points out a couple of “good scenes — Grant carrying [a] glowing glass of milk to sick Fontaine, a dinner conversation about murder”, but ends his review by once again arguing that “the disappointing resolution keeps it from being top-grade Hitchcock”. I actually agree with Peary that this isn’t “top-grade Hitchcock” — but not just because of the ending. Although there’s a credible amount of tension throughout the entire film (which is told from Fontaine’s point of view), we’re quickly frustrated by her simpering unwillingness to act on her increasingly mounting suspicions.

It’s relatively easy to accept Fontaine’s whirlwind marriage to Johnnie as the consequence of an overly sheltered young woman fearing spinsterhood (certainly plenty of naive, desperate women in real life have married cads or outright psychopaths out of similar motivations) — but once she learns about his lies and financial indiscretions, there’s no excuse for her hesitation in getting out. We’re meant to believe that she simply can’t help herself (she’s too in love with Johnnie), but I don’t buy it. (Interestingly, she’s never given reason to worry about him cheating on her with another woman — which indicates that perhaps women will put up with a lot of nonsense in a marriage as long as they don’t believe their primacy as “woman number one” is being threatened.) Meanwhile, other elements of the screenplay are clumsy as well: how convenient is it, for instance, that Johnnie and Lina happen to be friends with a mystery novelist (Auriol Lee) who’s exploring various methods for untraceable murder? The origins of this friendship are never explained, so it comes across as simply a plot contrivance. With that said, Fontaine’s Oscar-winning performance — in a decidedly imperfectly written role — is fine, and film fanatics will likely be curious to see the movie for this reason alone.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Joan Fontaine as Lina
  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
Yes, simply for Fontaine’s Oscar-winning performance.

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