Unsuspected, The (1947)

“His day of reckoning must come. He is tormented by fear that someday he will make one false move, one slip that will betray him, and when he does, the lightning of justice will strike… the unsuspected.”

Synopsis:
When the assistant (Barbara Woodell) of suave radio host Victor Grandison (Claude Rains) is murdered, a mysterious man (Michael North) appears on his doorstep, claiming to be the short-lived husband of Grandison’s wealthy young ward (Joan Caulfield); a web of lies, greed, and deceit is soon revealed…

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
While acknowledging its shortcomings, Peary seems to be an enormous fan of this atmospheric murder mystery, referring to it as a “really exceptional noir melodrama” (see the “Noir of the Week” review link below for a similar opinion). Unfortunately, The Unsuspected — based on a novella by Charlotte Armstrong — is prevented from being a true classic due to its highly convoluted plot, which only begins to make sense more than halfway through (as Peary notes, the “plot has clever twists, but there are so many of them that it becomes confusing”). At the same time, it possesses “sharp” dialogue, a “spooky, tense atmosphere” (Michael Curtiz’s direction is memorable), and “interesting characterizations” by everyone except “the miscast North” (and, I think, the beautiful but bland Caulfield). Rains’s performance is particularly noteworthy — despite learning his “secret” early on, we continue to watch his character with fascination, especially as he expertly uses technology to further his goals…

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Claude Rains as Victor Grandison
    Unsuspected Rains
  • Constance Bennett as Grandison’s wisecracking assistant: “You’re as limp as an old girdle.”
    Unsuspected Bennett
  • Audrey Totter as Grandison’s scheming niece
    Unsuspected Totter
  • The highly atmospheric opening murder
    Unsuspected Opening
  • Director Michael Curtiz’s innovative camerawork and direction
    Unsuspected Reflection
  • Woody Bredell’s noirish cinematography
    Unsuspected Kill

Must See?
Yes, simply for Rains’ performance.

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One Response to “Unsuspected, The (1947)”

  1. Yes, a must – tho not only to see Rains strut his very reliable stuff. What one goes away with – and the main reason to see it – is the thrill of director Curtiz’s boundless craftsmanship. The material keeps you clutched for the most part (even if the last half-hour seems a tad anti-climactic) but Curtiz is clearly having a field day – very ably assisted by DP Woody Bredell (noir-ing us within an inch of our lives with gorgeous photography) and screenwriter Ranald MacDougall (responsible the same year for my personal Joan Crawford fave ‘Possessed’, as well as ‘The Breaking Point, ‘Queen Bee’ and ‘The World, the Flesh and the Devil’, etc.). It’s fascinating to watch how Curtiz continues to weave this tale, heightening the possibilities of its mechanics as he goes.

    Along the way, there are quite a few choice exchanges (always a plus):

    Rains: I don’t know what’s the matter with me. In the last few days, I’ve had a curious premonition, as though something were going to happen.
    Bennett: Hm?
    Rains: Something unpleasant.
    Bennett: I had that feeling once – but I married him anyway.

    Totter: Why are you looking at me like that?
    Caulfield: I’m not looking at you; I’m seeing you for the first time.

    (BTW: Totter was quite memorable in 1950’s ‘Tension’.)

    Bennett: Waiting for the bar to open?
    Hatfield: No, I’m just sitting here in the dark, counting my sins.
    Bennett: Without an adding machine?

    Personally I like the way the film is structured overall. I particularly like a cab scene midway which makes you sit up and really pay attention; describing more of it would be unfair. (Ira Levin fans will later note a plot device that would figure significantly in ‘A Kiss Before Dying’.)

    OMT: Try to overlook the unfortunate Mr. North. I did.

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