Will poor Joan Fontaine ever get a peaceful screen marriage? Not if Hitchcock has anything to do with it. Following closely in the footsteps of Rebecca, Hitchcock once again cast Fontaine as his leading lady in a return to his ever-popular theme of marital mistrust.
Against her better judgement, Lina (Fontaine) falls in love with handsome playboy Johnnie (Cary Grant) and quickly marries him, much to her parents’ disapproval. Shortly after their honeymoon Lina begins to discover that her husband has some nasty habits such as lying to her and selling old family heirlooms to fund his gambling addiction. Hey, at least he’s not a murderer, right?
Oh wait. He totally might be. After Johnnie’s bumbling old school friend Becky (Nigel Bruce) suddenly dies in mysterious circumstances, Lina starts to suspect her husband might harbour some evil desires. Might she be next for the chop?
Suspicion was Hitchcock’s first film starring Cary Grant, who would go on to be one of his favourite actors. He does a great job here, showing off a much darker side to his acting than we’ve seen in any on his films. He can make the mere utterance of “Monkeyface” – his pet nickname for Lina – sound charming or menacing depending on the scene. He’s a real schmoozer.
Fontaine also does well, giving the performance that won the Oscar for Best Actress; although the popular consensus is that she won it as atonement by the Academy for not acknowledging her talents in Rebecca the year before.
Hitchcock’s editing and cinematography is some of his strongest yet, a brief a close up of a purse snapping shut as Lina rejects Johnnie’s romantic advances is one of my personal favourite bits of cheeky symbolism.
Where the film disappoints is with the ending. The plot performs an absurdly clunky U-turn that undermines a lot of what came before it. Allegedly, Hitchcock fought for a much darker ending than we get in the finished film, but the one we’re left with comes across as a total cop-out. There are also few other scenes that haven’t survived the test of time, such as a ridiculously melodramatic game of Anagrams.
As a story about emotional entrapment within marriage and as showcase for Joan Fontaine’s acting abilities, Suspicion certainly isn’t bad but it’s dwarfed by unavoidable comparisons with the far superior Rebecca. If you’re faced with a choice between the two, it’s a no brainer.