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Sunday, June 22, 2014

SUSPICION (1941)

Two things even casual Alfred Hitchcock aficionados know about SUSPICION is that Hitch got a spectral glow on a possibly poisoned glass of milk by sticking a little light bulb inside the glass; and that a compromised climax weakened his original twist ending. Well, no one’s going to argue about that glass of milk. In fact, the whole film is lit with sumptuous attention to detail by lenser Harry Stradling. But that ‘weakened’ ending begs a second look. Here’s a speedy recap: Joan Fontaine, on the edge of spinsterhood, falls hard for Cary Grant’s dashing scapegrace. With an easy sexual manner alternating threat, passion & charm, he’s really a well-groomed bounder, lying his way from one personal cul-de-sac to the next. He’d likely murder for financial gain, and Joan might well be his next victim, a role she’d willingly play. Without getting into SPOILERS, the original idea worked toward an O’Henry-worthy twist that could have played as a deluxe episode of tv’s ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. But the reworked ending, especially as dialogued by Ernst Lubitsch collaborator Samson Raphaelson, comes off as something far less neat & tidy, more like an unresolved chord in spite of Franz Waxman’s surging love theme. Memorable stuff, with a strange & compelling ‘off’ tone beautifully sustained, along with stunning perfs from a bevy of character players, led by Nigel Bruce, supporting Joan Fontaine’s unusual heroine. Hitch gallantly gives her two separate intro shots: first as mousy train companion, then as a stunner on horseback. All told, it’s one of his most underrated titles.

READ ALL ABOUT IT/SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: In many ways, this British UpperCrust suspenser replays themes & even incidents from REBECCA/’40, Hitch’s Hollywood debut . . . but without producer David O Selznick breathing down his neck. ‘Dear Hitch: It is my unfortunate and distressing task to tell you that I am shocked and disappointed beyond words by the treatment of REBECCA. I regard it as a distorted and vulgarized version of a provenly successful work, in which, for no reason that I can discern, old-fashioned movie scenes have been substituted for the captivatingly charming du Maurier scenes.’ And so on for six pages. (See: MEMO FROM DAVID O SELZNICK.) But what was this early draft like? Chances are good that in tone, style & attitude, if not in plot, it was much like SUSPICION, wilder, stranger, infinitely more Hitchcockian. No wonder he put his own dog in the cast!

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