Release Date: November 14th, 1941 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Alfred Hitchcock Actors: Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Cedric Hardwicke, Nigel Bruce, Dame May Whitty, Isabel Jeans, Heather Angel, Leo G. Carroll
wo strangers meet on a train. One is the provincial, bookish Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine), reading a child psychology text; the other is Mr. John “Johnnie” Aysgarth (Cary Grant), a renowned socialite who regularly frequents “The Illustrated London News” – and yet he’s short on change to upgrade his ticket to First Class. At their destination in Hazledene, the two become acquainted more intimately; to counter gossip of her spinsterish ambiance, Lina jumps into the arms of the popular playboy.
In short time, the two are married discreetly, despite the stern General McLaidlaw (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) opposing their courting. After a grand honeymoon across Europe, Johnnie and Lina return to an extravagant house – arranged at Johnnie’s behest. It’s even equipped with a maid, Ethel (Heather Angel). But much to Lina’s surprise, her new husband is apparently broke. Although he gave her the impression that their expensive vacationing in Venice, Nice, Monte Carlo, and Paris was funded by his personal wealth, he’s not only penniless, but he also abhors the idea of getting a job. When he’s offered one by his cousin Captain George Melbeck (Leo G. Carroll), he lies about taking it, instead spending time with his old vice – gambling at the racetrack. “The secret to success is to start at the top,” claims Aysgarth, as he targets every current contact for monetary manipulation. His lies continue to escalate, convincing Lina that she hardly knows the man to whom she’s married – a man who could be capable of anything.
Cary Grant oozes charisma, turning the role into his own persona, saying his lines as if he wrote them himself – with naturalness, somewhat insensitive spontaneity, and obviously inescapable charm. The women that surround him are helpless to ignore the teasing charmer. Only a character Grant brings to life could seduce a woman by bestowing the nickname “Monkeyface.” Or by frankly revealing that he’s beguiled more than 73 other women. Still, with clever scripting, he’s swiftly turned into a startlingly horrifying villain – an indifferent swindler, a possible Bluebeard, and a desperately compulsive liar. When Johnnie fabricates an explanation, it’s positively nerve-wracking to watch Lina get caught up in her own fibs.
The screenplay is inspiring, utilizing screwball-comedy repartee at the start before deviating sharply toward psychological titillations with the aggravatingly intensifying falsifications and defraudations that Johnnie concocts without hesitation. Nigel Bruce as old friend Gordon “Beaky” Thwaite is sublimely jovial, once again fitting into a supporting role with convincing ease, providing further comic relief just when things get too fraught with morbidity. As details keep surfacing to implement Johnnie in steadily weightier crimes, film noir elements also arise, along with a tautly stacked deck that can’t help but appear humorously devious.
Director Alfred Hitchcock has once again tackled a story that is so riveting, it takes on the signature of his filmography more than it could stand alone as anything other than Hitchcockian. The “Master of Suspense” definitely knows how to pick a winning project; delusion and coincidence turn out to be incredibly powerful tools in his hands. The tension from reasonable distrust alone is palpable, causing “Suspicion” to possess a most appropriate title – with notions that would be lent to his own “Notorious” a few years later, and then to 1950’s “In a Lonely Place,” with Humphrey Bogart playing a decidedly more sinister opponent.
– Mike Massie