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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

ABOVE SUSPICION (1943)

After 18 years & nearly 50 pics, this was Joan Crawford’s M-G-M swansong . . . and it’s not bad at all. A sort of sub-Hitchcockian edge-of-WWII adventure for Joan & Fred MacMurray, honeymooners pressed into a bit of espionage for the Brits. Hitchcock had gone down this path himself to tremendous effect on FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT/’40, but this script looks to his British films, cherry picking from THE 39 STEPS/’35; THE LADY VANISHES/’38 and especially THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH/’34. (They actually steal the concert hall assassination, tossing aside half the suspense by explaining the plan post-event.) House megger Richard Thorpe had his gifts and here he seems to wake up about a third of the way in, with a major assist from lenser Robert Planck who gets some real texture into his shots and keeps Crawford from looking like a mannequin. He even finds some glam in MacMurray’s square jaw. (Then Fred uses that jaw to sing a Schubert lied!) Basil Rathbone, Reginald Owen & a surprising Conrad Veidt bring solid support to a film which, on its own terms, works pretty well. Still, it’s a bit of a downer to see the sometimes off-puttingly intense Crawford pared down to companion status. Two years on, MILDRED PIERCE/’45 would come to the rescue.

DOUBLE-BILL: Silly as this one is, it’s much better than Leo McCarey’s similar, decidedly odd, ONCE UPON A HONEYMOON/’42, a big Cary Grant/Ginger Rodgers vehicle which probably sped this into production. Instead, try Gregory Ratoff’s clever indie, PARIS UNDERGROUND/’45 with Constance Bennett. That gal gets in & out of trouble all on her own.

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