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Suspicion (Blu-ray Review)

18 Apr, 2016 By: Mike Clark



Available via Warner Archive       
Warner
Thriller
$21.99 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Nigel Bruce, Cedric Hardwicke.

The marquee concept of Cary Grant playing a wife murderer may not have pushed it as much in 1941 as it would have during, say, the actor’s twilight Father Goose era, but it still caused RKO a lot of problems and Alfred Hitchcock some creative headaches in what became the first of four in one of the most potent actor-director collaborations in all of movies. Merely casting him as an incorrigible British rake after his then recent string of still significant comedies was enough to impress — though, in truth, Grant hadn’t established what became his predominant screen persona until maybe half-a-dozen years earlier. This would have been — despite the surprising number of films he helped churn out between 1932 and 1935 — somewhere in the corridor between Sylvia Scarlett (a flop that nonetheless resonated) and his first screen all-timer: The Awful Truth (apologies if you love his two Mae West pairings). This said, it’s always seemed ironic that screen history’s No. 1 light comedian got his only two Oscar nominations for dramatic roles: Penny Serenade — which came out seven months before Suspicion in 1941 — and 1944’s None But the Lonely Heart.

Of course, if we’re going to talk Suspicion, it should be noted that co-star Joan Fontaine did take the best actress Oscar here, though many still regard it as a kiss-and-make-up consolation prize over her failure to win for the previous year’s Rebecca (also directed by Hitchcock). In bettering her real-life sister Olivia de Havilland’s performance in Hold Back the Dawn (an exceptional yet relatively overlooked romance available on DVD only in Region 2 versions), Fontaine’s win apparently set off the famous sibling feud that lasted until her death. But the latter’s performance shouldn’t be underrated: Fontaine manages to be both mousy and gorgeous from scene to scene in ways that really help the movie, and never until seeing this new Blu-ray version on a 75-inch screen did I ever think to include her on the list of “Hitchcock blondes.” Pardon my myopia.

Grant’s character (Johnnie, whose name Hitchcock wanted to use as the alternative one-word movie title he preferred) is similarly confused early in the picture — when he has to convince himself that the goddess-on-horseback he’s observing during some mucky-muck social outing is the same bookish type he previously met on a train (as the director of The Lady Vanishes, Strangers on a Train and North by Northwest has more fun with his apparently favored mode of transportation). Once the two legally cement a union that doesn’t excite her resigned-to-it parents all that much, Grant/Johnnie undergoes even more whiplashing personality changes than his unsure-of-herself spouse does here with her looks. He won’t seek employment and then does — but does he really? Where is he getting all of this money to indulge himself at the track? And finally: Is he plotting to murder the Mrs.? The last, without, getting into spoilers, is, again, what caused a lot of problems.

Suspicion was RKO’s top moneymaker of ’41 (this the year that Citizen Kane was underperforming at the box office in a way that even today would likely guarantee its Best Picture Oscar snub). Though I like it the least of the Grant-Hitchcock quartet after North by Northwest, Notorious and even To Catch a Thief (not from me will you see any knock on the greatest-looking couple in movie history cavorting in Oscar-winning VistaVision/Technicolor) it still makes for a good night at the movies, with a Samson Raphaelson-Joan Harrison-Alma Reville script that still seems psychologically apt. Ultimately, the picture trades in what likely would have been one of the greatest wrap-ups in Hitchcock history for one that still works better than it should. If the result isn’t top drawer Hitch (though it would be for any other director), its new release is most welcome, in part as a gap-narrowing gift. If we don’t count Mr. and Mrs. Smith (a domestic-comedy ringer for the director, then and now), all but three of Hitchcock’s ’40s features have come to Blu-ray, the MIA’s being Lifeboat, The Paradine Case and Under Capricorn. I doubt if you can say this of any other director, especially since Lifeboat is available in an all-Region import.


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