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Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Classic Film Review: Suspicion (1941)

Suspicion stars Joan Fontaine as Lina, a woman living with her parents who, rather unkindly, label her a spinster within her hearing. She has encountered Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant) on a train and he pursues her. They swiftly elope and have an excellent honeymoon but when they return to Britain Lina has to confront the fact that Johnnie a chancer, a gambler who is adept at manipulating people. Her worries deepen when she suspects he means to kill his friend Beaky (Nigel Bruce) to procure money but is she correct about his intentions?

This is an excellent film, winning Joan Fontaine a much-deserved Oscar for her performance. The development of Lina from a bright but in-love heroine to a fearful wife who is petrified about the potential ruthlessness of the man she has married. Fontaine's a very subtle actress, sometimes the slight lift of an eyebrow is all that distinguishes an emotion, but she's very effective. A combination of an excellent script and her wonderful control of the role created a heroine who wasn't weak but didn't know exactly what to do with her suspicions either. The consistent use of her glasses throughout not only worked as a metaphor but added to the overall tension. Cary Grant works very well in a darker role than he is known for. The flashes of anger that punctuate the film create a sense of unease, encouraging the viewer to share Lina's beliefs rather than trust in Johnnie. There are some excellent scenes, showing Hitchcock's matchless talent for creating tension, for example, the long-shot of Johnnie delivering an odd-looking drink to his sick wife.

Ultimately, though, as gripping as the rest of the film was, I feel that the ending let it down. It wasn't true to the characters, nor very satisfying for the audience. I understand that the ending of the book was altogether different and this is yet another instance of executives interfering with story-telling. Nevertheless, Suspicion is an excellent film, worth watching for the Oscar-winning performance from Fontaine alone.

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