Can't Like List --- Suspicion
I’ve revisited a couple of pictures lately that I’ve so far never been able to enjoy, thinking maybe this time would be different. One was Where Danger Lives of a recent post, redeemed somewhat by passage of time and my softening attitude toward it. Suspicion, however, is something else. It has the promise of another good Hitchcock from beginnings of a rich new-to America period (preceded by Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent), and for the first time, AH had access to a really major star name in Cary Grant. He claimed never to have wanted the title, but surely Hitchcock would have got round to using it eventually (another seeming natural, Deceit, was a shooting title for Family Plot, but not used by him otherwise). Suspicion remains a frustration for me and I don’t think that’s ever going to change. It attests to Hitchcock’s dependence upon writers, and how hopelessly he’d flounder on occasions when they let him down. I've read often the axiom that you can ruin a good script by poor direction, but that even a brilliant director cannot uplift a bad script. Like it or not, our story driven industry continues to operate on said rule, never so rigid as in 1941 when Hitchcock was obliged to sign his name to the mess that was Suspicion. Here was a writing dilemma gone unresolved. I’ve read that RKO leadership changed during production, the bane of not only Hitchcock, but others like Orson Welles and Val Lewton who toiled there and faced similar interference. There was fuss over Cary Grant being a would-be murderer of wife Joan Fontaine. Hitchcock supposedly wanted him to poison her at the end (and she to knowingly drink it). I’m thinking they all knew better than to imagine such a thing could ever pass. Never mind the Code. I don’t think Grant would have played it. Besides which there’d be a downer finish to wreck whatever boxoffice Suspicion might have had. The ending as it is cheats, but for me, the whole murder set-up seems arbitrary. Nearly an hour passes before we’re asked to consider Grant as potential killer. I wondered why Fontaine didn’t rid herself of him for lying and thievery that makes for Suspicion’s distinctly unappealing first half. She’s a doormat for this cad and the fact he’s Cary Grant doesn’t mitigate it. Maybe Hitchcock was trying to show us how inherently untrustworthy such charmers are. Grant is almost too good enacting a rotter we might suspect lies at the core of his screen persona. It’s one of the riskiest parts the actor ever took, lots more off-putting, I think, than his Devlin in Notorious, which is more generally credited as the darkest of Grant’s Hitchcock gallery. For his Suspicion character to have turned out an unrepentant killer might have left a disagreeable taste audiences would never have forgiven, and more disastrously, could have ended CG’s association with Hitchcock.
Suspicion was a hit. Against a negative cost of $1.1 million, there were domestic rentals of $1.3 million and foreign brought $919,000. Profits amounted to $440,000, an unaccustomed windfall to RKO where triple digit gains were less common than at competing majors. Hitchcock techniques were freshest then and it was exciting to discover novel ways he put over a thrill. Audiences talked about creeps they got when Cary Grant ascended dark stairs with a seemingly radioactive glass of milk, a scene so visually compelling that it didn’t matter whether it paid off or if that milk device ultimately curdled. What patrons remembered too was Joan Fontaine spelling Murder among her puzzle pieces. Both scenes dazzle when standing alone or as highlights in Hitchcock compilations, but neither survive greater scrutiny applied to Suspicion in its entirety. Hitchcock was known to chuck narrative logic in favor of set-pieces he knew would distract us, and generally that worked in stories resilient enough to bear such strain, but Suspicion was from its outset built on sand. In better Hitchcocks, like Rear Window especially, there was a basis for your protagonist suspecting foul play. They didn't let us down at the end by saying there was nothing to his/her fear. If the expected villain turns out to have been a misunderstood red herring, what was the point of watching? So "The Threat Of Murder" promised by Suspicion’s one-sheet proves a non-existent one and a betrayal of viewer expectation sustained over 99 minutes of running time (the cheat not being apparent until the very finish). Lesser filmmakers might fall back on such machination, never (except here) Hitchcock. Still, there are fans that like Suspicion. From the standpoint of movie star glamour Hitchcock manipulated so well, it is irresistible. You look at posters, plus that title, and figure surely it must deliver. I never chanced Suspicion with student groups to whom I ran many other Hitchcocks, for fear they’d turn on the picture, AH, then me. Maybe I assumed too much, was guided to excess by my own prefigured lights, and deprived them of something they’d have enjoyed. That’s always a risk when programming films based on personal preference (but if not guided by your own tastes, then whose?). Every audience is full of surprises, especially at Hitchcock revivals. I’d love to know how Suspicion plays to a modern crowd. Anyone tried it out lately?