Suspicion (1941)

Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine in Suspicion (1941)

A Deadly Debt

Whilst Alfred Hitchcock made more praiseworthy movies than "Suspicion" it is one of my favourites. Why? Well it is a combination of things starting with the simple fact that Cary Grant is cast as a charmer, a familiar role but one which thanks to the storyline has ambiguity about it. That ambiguity makes the storyline work and "Suspicion" has an easy to follow storyline which ends up being about whether a gambler with debts and secrets is actually a criminal capable of murder. But what really makes this storyline work is not so much the ambiguity but the realism because there is a lot of truth in the way Grant's character reacts when it comes to hiding his problems and what the mounting level of despair leads him to contemplate.

A chance encounter on a train when Johnnie (Cary Grant - The Philadelphia Story) enters a first class carriage with a third class ticket begins an infatuation for pretty but shy Lina (Joan Fontaine - Rebecca). But that chance encounter is followed by another and before she knows it she has been whisked off her feet by the charming and confident Johnnie leading to a quick wedding in a registry office. But on returning home from an extravagant honeymoon to a newly decorated house Lina begins to discover that Johnnie isn't the man she thinks he is as she discovers he has debts and a fondness for gambling. But things get worse as she discovers more of his secrets and when his best friend Beaky (Nigel Bruce), who he had just gone into business with is murdered she begins to question whether Johnnie killed him and is about to do the same to her.

Nigel Bruce and Cary Grant in Suspicion (1941)

One of the things which really took me by surprise with "Suspicion" is the level of authenticity when it comes to the story of a man with a gambling problem and secrets. For a movie which in many ways is really about whether or not Johnnie is calculated enough to kill the way he is portrayed is very true from trying to hide his mounting problems from Lina to the extent he goes to try and sort them out on his own but only making matters worse. The fact he is a gambler is also well portrayed as whilst he promises to quit he continues in secret and he has the highs and lows of a gambler, generous with gifts when he has money but desperate and moody when things go badly.

But as I said the real focus of "Suspicion" is on whether or not Johnnie is either calculated or desperate enough to kill to try and gain money to get out of the financial mess he is in. And this side of the movie works brilliantly because in a slightly playful way there are plenty of clues to suggest he is which feeds Lina's suspicions over her husband. We have Johnnie's fondness for facts about murder, his constant secret keeping and of course Beaky's death all of which lead Lina to suspect that maybe she could be next especially as she learns Johnnie has been trying to get a loan on her life insurance. Now this being a Hitchcock movie means that everything is not as straight forwards as it seems and there is a playful ambiguity to about how it ends leading you to draw your own conclusions.

Now Joan Fontaine won an Oscar for her performance in "Suspicion" and there is no question about how good she is as Lina taking us from shy through loved up to being suspicious and fearful of Johnnie. But in truth it is Cary Grant who makes the movie work and that is because he is playing a familiar role of a charmer, a man with a gift for talking people around and an infectious personality. But because we have this ambiguity over his motives and the occasional mood swing it makes this familiar character so much more interesting and intriguing with Grant selling that ambiguity brilliantly.

What this all boils down to is that Hitchcock made better movies, he made more exciting and clever movies but in its simplicity "Suspicion" is one of my favourites. It has a mixture of being authentic and ambiguous which makes it so entertaining to follow with both Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine delivering top performances.