Suspect, The (1944)

“Just to be suspected leaves a mark.”

Suspect Poster

Synopsis:
A kind shopkeeper (Charles Laughton) with an unbearably shrewish wife (Rosalind Ivan) befriends and romances a pretty young woman (Ella Raines). When his wife threatens to expose his affair with Raines, Laughton kills Ivan, making it look like an accident — but a suspicious investigator (Stanley Ridges) is convinced Laughton is guilty, and won’t leave him alone.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, “Charles Laughton gave one of his best but least-known performances” in this “outstanding melodrama” (set in 1902 London) about a “fat and middle-aged” but “kindly” tobacconist who is “unable to take [his] shrewish, shrieking wife Rosalind Ivan any longer”, so “kills her”. It features “expert, atmospheric direction by [Robert] Siodmak”, who pulls us ineluctably into this tale of a man who “makes his own decisions rather than being controlled by fate”, and is “caught because of a choice he makes” but “does not suffer guilt”. Indeed, we’re astonished to find ourselves actually rooting for Laughton, and perhaps even agreeing that he’s done the right thing — such is the seductive power of Siodmak’s direction, Laughton’s performance, and the taut screenplay (by Bertram Millhauser and Arthur T. Horman). As Peary writes, “Laughton’s a sweet soul and you have to resent the smug Ridges for wanting to arrest him, especially since Ridges takes advantage of Laughton’s decency”; with that said, the film ends on the perfect note for such a morally ambiguous scenario.

While Laughton’s performance stands above the rest, Ivan is effective and convincing as the wife any man would be desperate to get away from; it’s interesting to contrast her performance with that of Flora Robson in an earlier iteration of the same general story, We Are Not Alone (the latter based on a novel by James Hilton, who was apparently inspired by the real-life case of murderous Dr. Crippen). In Hilton’s version, not only is the husband (played by Paul Muni) completely innocent, but his wife is a much more complex villainess; here, however, there are no two ways around it: Ivan’s a true henpecking b*tch. Raines, meanwhile, is appropriately sweet as Laughton’s romantic interest — and it’s at least partly to her credit that we are easily able to believe someone so young and beautiful would genuinely fall for an older, less-than-physically-attractive man like Laughton. Finally, Henry Daniell is perfectly cast as the wife-beating “rotter” of a neighbor who propels Laughton towards his ultimate fate; in an interesting bit of trivia, he played a small role in We Are Not Alone as well (as the lawyer working to convict Muni).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Charles Laughton as Philip
    Suspect Laughton
  • Rosalind Ivan as Cora
    Suspect Ivan
  • Ella Raines as Mary
    Suspect Raines
  • Henry Daniell as Mr. Simmons
    Suspect Daniell
  • Fine attention to period detail
    Suspect Sets
  • Atmospheric cinematography
    Suspect Cinematography
  • Strong direction by Siodmak
    Suspect Direction

Must See?
Yes, as a most enjoyable unsung classic.

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One Response to “Suspect, The (1944)”

  1. SPOILERS AHEAD:

    Must-see! And it does well on subsequent viewings.

    Director Siodmak was really on a particular roll from 1943-1946, so this is among his best and most memorable work. Not only his – but, as noted, this is also among Laughton’s best performances. In fact, under Siodmak’s precise yet modulated direction, everyone does well here. It’s top-notch work from start to finish and it really should be less unsung.

    The film serves as a sort of wish-fulfillment flick for those who are burdened with heinously impossible people. But, of course, it’s a moral film as well: no matter how horribly some people treat you and/or make your life hell…you can’t actually kill them. Well, of course, you *can*. But the film – at least in terms of the first murder – explores that moment when good people opt for seriously bad moves…and when reason gives way to blind ‘passion’.

    The second murder, of course, is much less ‘defensible’. Whatever compassion we had for Laughton’s character up to that point evaporates.

    Strangely, Ivan’s performance puts me in mind of Alfred Molina’s performance as Kenneth Halliwell in the Joe Orton biopic ‘Prick Up Your Ears’. It’s brave of an actor (both of them) to be this unrelentingly horrible and unsympathetic. Although…though it’s not much…Halliwell and Orton had a number of years in which they fed off each other artistically. In ‘The Suspect’, Ivan and Laughton’s characters shared precious little and had a marriage that emotionally fizzled early. Of course, ultimately, both films depict situations that escalate in a toxic manner.

    Aside from the sequence in which the Scotland Yard inspector (more for the benefit of the audience, really) re-enacts what could have ‘possibly’ happened to Laughton’s wife, ‘The Suspect’ benefits from having a very natural quality to it – and, there again, Siodmak triumphs. Overall, there’s a particular feeling of realness to the film, like it’s actually – rather than dramatically – happening. All the more to pull you in.

    cf: the 1963 film, ‘Dr. Crippen’ – with Donald Pleasence, Coral Browne and Samantha Eggar in the principal roles (here from the factual case). I’ve seen it and have a copy. I wouldn’t call it a great film but it’s interesting, and perhaps worth noting for its historical connection.

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