Suspicion (1941 film)

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Suspicion
Suspicion film poster.jpg
Original movie poster
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Uncredited:
Alfred Hitchcock
Harry E. Edington
Written by Novel:
Anthony Berkeley
(as Francis Iles)
Screenplay:
Samson Raphaelson
Joan Harrison
Alma Reville
Starring Joan Fontaine
Cary Grant
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Nigel Bruce
Dame May Whitty
Music by Franz Waxman
Cinematography Harry Stradling Sr.
Edited by William Hamilton
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures Inc.
Release date(s)
  • November 14, 1941 (1941-11-14)
Running time 99 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,103,000[1]
Box office US$ 4,500,000

Suspicion (1941) is a romantic psychological thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine as a married couple. It also stars Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Nigel Bruce, Dame May Whitty, Isabel Jeans, Heather Angel, and Leo G. Carroll. Suspicion is based on Francis Iles's novel Before the Fact (1932).

For her role as Lina, Joan Fontaine won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1941. This is the only Oscar-winning performance in a Hitchcock film.

In the film, a shy spinster runs off with a charming playboy, who turns out to be penniless, a gambler, and dishonest in the extreme. She comes to suspect that he is also a murderer, and that he is attempting to kill her.

Plot[edit]

Handsome, irresponsible playboy Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant) meets dowdy Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine) on a train, and charms her into running away and marrying him, despite the strong disapproval of her wealthy father, General McLaidlaw (Sir Cedric Hardwicke). After a lavish honeymoon and returning to an extravagant house, Lina discovers that Johnnie has no job, no income, habitually lives on borrowed money, and was intending to try to sponge off her father. She talks him into getting a job, and he goes to work for his cousin, estate agent Captain Melbeck (Leo G. Carroll).

Gradually, Lina learns that Johnnie has continued to gamble wildly, despite promising to quit, and that in order to pay a gambling debt he sold two antique chairs (family heirlooms) that her father had given her as a wedding present. Beaky (Nigel Bruce), Johnnie's good-natured but naive friend, tries to reassure Lina that her husband is a lot of fun and a highly entertaining liar. She repeatedly catches Johnnie in ever more significant lies, discovering that he was fired weeks before for embezzling from his cousin Melbeck, who says he will not prosecute if the money is repaid.

Lina writes a letter to Johnnie that she is leaving him but then tears it up. After this Johnnie enters the room and shows her a telegram announcing her father's death. Johnnie is severely disappointed to discover that Lina has inherited no money, only her father's portrait. He convinces Beaky to finance a hugely speculative land development scheme. Lina is afraid this is a confidence trick or worse, and tries to talk Beaky out of it, but he trusts his friend completely. Johnnie overhears and angrily warns his wife to stay out of his affairs, but later he calls the whole thing off. When Beaky leaves for Paris, Johnnie accompanies him partway. Later, news reaches Lina that Beaky died in Paris. Johnnie lies to her and an investigating police inspector, saying that he stayed in London. This and other details lead Lina to suspect he was responsible for Beaky's death.

Lina then begins to fear that her husband is plotting to kill her for her life insurance. He has been questioning her friend Isobel Sedbusk (Auriol Lee), a writer of mystery novels, about untraceable poisons. Johnnie brings Lina a glass of milk before bed, but she is too afraid to drink it. Needing to get away for a while, she says she will stay with her mother for a few days. Johnnie insists on driving her there. He speeds recklessly in a powerful convertible (a 1936 Lagonda LG45[2]) on a dangerous road beside a cliff. Lina's door unexpectedly swings open. Johnnie reaches over, his intent unclear to the terrified woman. When she shrinks from him, he stops the car.

In the subsequent confrontation, it emerges that Johnnie was actually intending to commit suicide. Now however, he has decided that suicide is the coward's way out, and is resolved to face his responsibilities, even to the point of going to jail for the embezzlement. He was in Liverpool at the time of Beaky's death, trying to borrow on Lina’s life insurance policy in order to repay Melbeck. Her suspicions allayed, Lina tells him that they will face the future together.

Cast[edit]

Joan Fontaine and Gary Cooper holding their Oscars at Academy Awards, 1942. Fontaine won Best Actress for her role in Suspicion.
Actor Role
Joan Fontaine Lina McLaidlaw Aysgarth
Cary Grant Johnnie Aysgarth
Sir Cedric Hardwicke General McLaidlaw
Nigel Bruce Gordon Cochrane 'Beaky' Thwaite
Dame May Whitty Mrs. Martha McLaidlaw
Isabel Jeans Mrs. Newsham
Heather Angel Ethel (Maid)
Auriol Lee Isobel Sedbusk
Reginald Sheffield Reggie Wetherby
Leo G. Carroll Captain George Melbeck
Constance Worth Mrs. Fitzpatrick
Alec Craig Hogarth Club Desk Clerk
David Clyde Trunk man

Alfred Hitchcock's cameo is a signature occurrence in most of his films. In Suspicion he can be seen (45 minutes into the film) mailing a letter at the village postbox; also earlier in the film at the equestrian gathering, pulling a horse in front the camera right before Cary Grant is reintroduced, though this has not been confirmed.

Fontaine won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance. This was the only Academy Award-winning performance under Hitchcock's direction.

The West-Ingster screenplay[edit]

In November 1939, Nathanael West was hired as a screenwriter by RKO Radio Pictures, where he collaborated with Boris Ingster on a film adaptation of the novel. The two men wrote the screenplay in seven weeks, with West focusing on characterization and dialogue as Ingster worked on the narrative structure.

When RKO assigned Before the Fact to Hitchcock, he already had his own, substantially different, screenplay, credited to Samson Raphaelson, Joan Harrison, and Alma Reville. (Harrison was Hitchcock's personal assistant, and Reville was Hitchcock's wife.) West and Ingster's screenplay was abandoned and never produced. The text of this screenplay can be found in the Library of America's edition of West's collected works.

Production[edit]

Johnnie and Lina in the film.

In places, the screenplay of Suspicion faithfully follows the plot of the novel. There are, however, a number of major differences between the novel and its film version. For example, all references to Johnnie Aysgarth's infidelity were removed. In the first days of Johnnie's "courtship," while the couple are driving through the countryside in Lina's car ("Have you ever been kissed in a car?"), she asks him how many women he has kissed and he gives a humorous rather than really evasive answer: saying that he had so many that he once counted them like sheep to get to sleep, falling asleep when he got to 73. (Even back in the early 1940s, however, this was accepted, or at least tolerated, male behaviour, especially of a man who was considered a playboy. Much is left open for the cinema-goer to decide: Did he actually sleep with any, some, or all of them? Or did he only kiss them?) The crime of adultery, on the other hand, is altogether left out in the film plot: Lina's best friend doesn't appear at all, and Ethel, their maid, certainly doesn't have an illegitimate son by Johnnie. Sex is not made an issue.

Suspicion illustrates how a novel's plot can be so much altered in the transition to film as to reverse the author's original intention. As William L. De Andrea states in his Encyclopedia Mysteriosa (1994), Suspicion "was supposed to be the study of a murder as seen through the eyes of the eventual victim. However, because Cary Grant was to be the killer and Joan Fontaine the person killed, the studio — RKO — decreed a different ending, which Hitchcock supplied and then spent the rest of his life complaining about." Hitchcock was quoted as saying that he was forced to alter the ending of the movie.[3] He wanted an ending similar to the climax of the novel, but the studio, more concerned with Cary Grant's "heroic" image, insisted that it be changed. In his biography of Hitchcock, The Dark Side of Genius, Donald Spoto disputes Hitchcock's claim to have been overruled on the film's ending. Spoto claims that the first RKO treatment and memos between Hitchcock and the studio show that Hitchcock emphatically desired to make a film about a woman's fantasy life.[3]

As in the novel, General McLaidlaw opposes his daughter's marriage to Johnnie Aysgarth. In both versions, Johnnie freely admits that he would not mind the general's death because he expects Lina to inherit quite a substantial fortune, which would solve their (i.e. his) financial problems. The book, however, is much darker, with Johnnie egging on the general to exert himself to the point where he collapses and dies. In the film, General McLaidlaw's death is only reported, and Johnnie is not involved at all. Again, Johnnie's criminal record remains incomplete.

Several scenes in the film create suspense and sow doubt as to Johnnie's intentions: Beaky's death in Paris was due to an allergy to brandy, which Johnnie knew about. A waiter, who barely speaks English, tells the police that Beaky addressed his companion that night as "Old Bean", the way Beaky addressed Johnnie. At the end of the film, Johnnie is driving his wife at breakneck speed to her mother's house. This scene, which takes place after her (final) illness, is not in the book. The biggest difference is the ending. In Iles' novel, Johnnie serves his sick wife a drink which she knows is poisoned. Nevertheless she gulps it down. In the film, it can be seen untouched the following morning. (By placing a lightbulb in the milk, the filmmakers made the contents appear to glow as the glass is carried upstairs by Johnnie, further enhancing the audience's fear that it is poisoned.)

Another ending was considered but not used, in which Lina is writing a letter to her mother stating that she fears Johnnie is going to poison her, at which point he walks in with the milk. She finishes the letter, seals and stamps an envelope, asks Johnnie to mail the letter, then drinks the milk. The final shot would have shown him leaving the house and dropping into a mailbox the letter which incriminates him. Hitchcock's recollection of this original ending—in his book-length interview with François Truffaut, published in English as Hitchcock/Truffaut in 1967—is that Lina's letter tells her mother she knows that Johnnie is killing her, but that she loves him too much to care.

A musical leitmotif is introduced in Suspicion. Whenever Lina is happy with Johnny — starting with a ball organised by General McLaidlaw — Johann Strauss's waltz "Wiener Blut" is played in its original, light-hearted version. At one point, when she is suspicious of her husband, a threatening, minor key version of the waltz is employed, metamorphosing into the full and happy version after the suspense has been lifted. At another, Johnny is whistling the waltz. At yet another, while Johnny is serving the drink of milk, a sad version of "Wiener Blut" is played again.

A visual threat is inserted when Lina suspects her husband of preparing to kill Beaky: On the night before, at the Aysgarths' home, they play anagrams, and suddenly, by exchanging a letter, Lina has changed "mudder" into "murder" and then "murderer". Seeing the word, Lina imagines the cliffs Johnny and Beaky told her they will inspect for a real estate venture the next morning, and faints.

In the end, when it turns out that, for all his faults, Johnny is no murderer, the film version becomes a cautionary tale about the dangers of suspicion based only on assumed, incomplete, and circumstantial evidence.

Casting[edit]

Originally the story was intended as a B picture to star George Sanders and Anne Shirley. Then when Alfred Hitchcock became involved, the budget increased and Laurence Olivier and Frances Dee were to star. Eventually it was decided to cast Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine; Fontaine had to be borrowed from David O. Selznick for an expensive fee, because she had been dropped by RKO's contract list a number of years before.[1]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

Suspicion earned a profit of $440,000.[4]

Accolades[edit]

The film was nominated for the 1942 Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as Best Original Score, and Joan Fontaine won for Best Actress.[5] She also won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress.[6] The film later won the 1948 Kinema Junpo Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Adaptations[edit]

During this time, it was common for films to be adapted into radio plays. This film was adapted six times, from 1942 through 1949, starring the original stars and others. Once on Academy Award Theater, twice on Lux Radio Theater and three times on Screen Guild Theater.

Lux Radio Theater presented the initial adaptation on May 4, 1942 with Joan Fontaine, Nigel Bruce, and Brian Aherne in Grant's part. Screen Guild Theater adapted the film on January 4, 1943 with Joan Fontaine and Nigel Bruce reprising their roles while Basil Rathbone assumed Cary Grant's part. Lux aired a remake on October 18, 1944, starring Olivia de Havilland, William Powell, and Charles W. Irwin. A few years later, on January 21, 1946, Screen Guild Theater remade it with Cary Grant and Nigel Bruce reprising their parts with Loretta Young.

CBS Radio aired an adaptation on October 30, 1946, with Cary Grant and Ann Todd on Academy Award Theater. On November 24, 1949, Screen Guild Theater remade it a third time, featuring all three of the original film stars, Grant, Fontaine, and Bruce.

The 1988 American Playhouse remake stars Anthony Andrews and Jane Curtin.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Richard B. Jewell, RKO Radio Pictures: A Titan is Born, University of California 2012 p 231-233
  2. ^ imcdb.org
  3. ^ a b Spoto, Donald (1999). The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock. Da Capo. pp. 243–244. ISBN 0-306-80932-X. 
  4. ^ Richard Jewell & Vernon Harbin, The RKO Story. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1982. p167
  5. ^ "The 14th Academy Awards (1942) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved January 22, 2013. 
  6. ^ "New York Film Critics Circle Awards: 1941 Awards". New York Film Critics Circle. Retrieved January 22, 2013. 

External links[edit]

Streaming audio