Jun 13, 2016

Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941) on Blu-ray

Following The Wrong Man (1956) and I Confess (1953), Warner Archive has released yet another Alfred Hitchcock film, Suspicion (1941), on Blu-ray. This film has the distinction of containing the only performance in one of the director's films to win an Academy Award. Leading lady Joan Fontaine took home the Oscar for that year and Cary Grant is well-matched with her as a man who steals her heart and upends her life.

Fontaine is Lina, a timid, wealthy woman who has yet to find the love of her life. She meets the notoriously irresponsible Johnny Asquith in a train carriage. He is handsome, and judging from a photo she sees of him in the social pages, catnip to the ladies, but there's an early red flag when he bums a stamp off of her to upgrade his third class ticket to first.

It turns out the two circulate in the same social circles, and Johnny quickly sets his sights on Lina. Being the object of romantic affection thrills her, and soon they are married. It is then that the new bride realizes just how irresponsible her husband can be, as in his quest for wealth he bets, steals and lies, and all without a bit of shame. Before long, she begins to suspect he is also willing to kill to increase his bank balance.

I've always found Suspicion a well-made, but difficult film. It's so painful to watch Lina being constantly disappointed by Johnny. She is so desperately in love and she wants to believe in him, but he continues to let her down. He has as little chance of playing it straight as she does of leaving him.

There are plenty of pleasant distractions to help manage the discomfort of Lina's situation though: beautiful landscape shots, lux interiors and two of the most beautiful and fascinating stars to ever work with Hitchcock.

Grant and Fontaine could be incredibly sexy together. In an early scene where he's pinning up her hair, the way he briefly touches her neck is simultaneously erotic and calculated. Both the sensuality and his intense, if somewhat devious focus on her pack a charge. 

These oddly-matched characters are a perfect fit for Grant and Fontaine. It seemed impossible for Cary Grant to play a part in which he wasn't handsome and full of confidence in himself. Even in Bringing Up Baby (1938) he is impossibly hunky in his geeky glasses, and sure of his intellectual prowess. On the other hand, Fontaine, one of the most beautiful women to ever appear on the big screen, was expert at convincing audiences she was actually mousy and entirely lacking in self confidence. I can't think of anyone else who could play these roles. 

The supporting cast helps to keep the tension from becoming too unbearable. As Johnny's bumbling friend Beaky, Nigel Bruce is the perfect palate cleanser and mood lightener. It's also amusing to see Dame May Whitty and Sir Cedric Hardwicker playing Lina's humorously rigid parents. As a murder-obsessed crime novelist, Auriol Lee is amusingly morbid.

Painful or not, the film works as an exploration of a woman's experiences with suspicion. It plays with perception throughout, putting the audience in Lina's unsteady shoes. It's a much different take on the story than in the original novel Before the Fact, by Anthony Berkeley (written under the pen name Francis Iles), in which Lina's suspicions have a more chilling basis in fact.

While the notorious ending may seem like a cop-out, I tend to see it as courting danger in a different way than in the novel. It's hard to believe that someone as morally corrupt as Johnny would suddenly find a way to change himself. Perhaps he might not be a killer, but that doesn't mean he can't still be a psychopath.

The Blu-ray image is nicely balanced, with a bit of softness, but not so much that it lacks the necessary definition. Special features include a trailer and a short featurette about the film, a carryover from the previous Warner DVD edition, which has some interesting theories about how Hitchcock really wanted to end the film.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

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