Thursday, July 3, 2008

SUSPICION (RKO 1941) Warner Home Video

By 1941, Alfred Hitchcock had begun to grow restless with the films he was being assigned under his ironclad contract with David O. Selznick. A reprieve of sorts came just in time with Hitch’s first project for RKO; Suspicion (1941), the story of wealthy wallflower, Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine) and her inexplicable romantic obsession with male gold digger, Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant). Defying her parents, Lina becomes Johnnie’s wife then slowly begins to realize what a scamp her new husband is.

After the death of her father (Cedric Hardwick), Lina is disappointed to learn she has been left out of his will. For Johnnie, the snub is more serious. He has mortgaged their fabulous lifestyle on the assumption that Lina’s inheritance would bail them both out of debt. Now, Johnnie is forced to find other means to sustain that lifestyle to which they both have become accustom.

Johnnie confides a get rich quick scheme to close friend, Gordon ‘Beaky’ Thwaite (Nigel Bruce), who agrees to help fund Johnnie’s plans – then mysteriously dies after the project is established. Suspecting that her husband may be a murderer – a progressive thought that ought to have led to an entirely different third act in the film – Lina resigns herself to the love she feels for Johnnie, despite her misgivings about his own sincerity in their relationship.

Johnnie tells Lina he is taking her to her mother’s because he cannot stand that she distrusts him. On the way there Lina’s car door suddenly flies open and Lina, assuming that Johnnie is attempting to throw her from the speeding vehicle, fights him as his hand reaches toward her. Instead, Johnnie pulls the car aside and tells Lina that she is a fool. He then further confides that he has always been in love with her – an unsatisfactory bit of tacked-on nonsense that succeeds in convincing Lina to get back into their car and return home with her husband. The two drive off together – all mistrust between them seemingly forgiven and forgotten.

Suspicion is based on Anthony Berkeley’s popular novel. In the novel’s original ending, Lina discovers that her worst fears are true – Johnnie is Thwaite’s killer and is planning to do away with her next for the insurance money. An inexplicable obsessive love prevents Lina from saving herself. Knowing that she will be dead by morning, Lina writes her mother a note of confession, explaining the truth about Johnnie; then asks Johnnie to mail it for her after he has already made her drink a glass of poisoned milk.

Lina dies and Johnnie, believing that he has managed the perfect crime, decides that the least he can do for the deceased is to mail her final letter home. The last shot in the film was to have been Johnnie tossing Lina’s letter to her mother in a postal mail slot – thereby ensuring audiences and the censors that justice would eventually prevail on Lina’s behalf.

But the censors balked at this scenario, arguing that it did not resolve in very clear and concrete terms that justice would prevail over the devious motives of a cold-blooded killer (one of the absolute ‘musts’ in the Production Code of Ethics) and furthermore, that presenting Cary Grant as a murderer would do considerable damage to the actor’s reputation with fans. Unable to sway the censors otherwise, revisions to the shooting script were eventually made and the film’s ending was awkwardly diluted. Though Suspicion did respectable business at the box office, it proved to be less successful than Hitchcock’s previous efforts; the one exception being that Fontaine’s performance as Lina ultimately won her the Best Actress Oscar statuette; an award that ought to have been hers for an outstanding star turn in Rebecca the year before.

Warner Home Video’s DVD release is welcome indeed. Suspicion has never looked better. Though the B&W image still contains instances of obtrusive grain as well as sporadic appearances of age related artifacts, the overall quality is one of brightly contrasted, sharp and refined details throughout. The audio is mono as originally recorded and represented nicely herein. Extras include an all too brief featurette on the making of the film and its theatrical trailer. Recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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