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Warner Home Video presents
Suspicion (1941)

"What did you think I was trying to do? Kill you?"
- Johnnie (Cary Grant)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: September 06, 2004

Stars: Joan Fontaine, Cary Grant
Other Stars: Nigel Bruce, Dame May Whitty, Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:39m:25s
Release Date: September 07, 2004
UPC: 085393981426
Genre: suspense thriller


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ AB+B- C+

DVD Review

Did Alfred Hitchcock hate women? That's certainly a prevalent assumption in much of the critical writing on his work, and while it may be true, men don't always fare a whole lot better. Admittedly, the boys aren't as routinely terrorized in Hitchcock movies the way that the fairer sex frequently is, but it's Hitch's view of humanity generally that seems always to be cloaked in darkness. Whichever side of the proposition you want to argue, you'll find lots of red meat with Suspicion, Hitchcock's second film made in America (after Rebecca), and academic debates aside, you'll also find this to be a ripsnorting good time.

As she was in Rebecca, Hitch's leading lady is Joan Fontaine, who plays Lena, to the manner born, but, according to her family, "not the marrying sort." (In this context, anyway, that's euphemism for "old maid," not "lesbian.") And then along comes Johnnie, the effortlessly charming young man who is the object of all the young ladies' attention, Lena included. Can it be that he feels for her as deeply as she does for him?

The movie charts the relationship between these two—they're soon married, but goodness knows it's a short-lived honeymoon. Suspicion is among other things one of the great extended film exercises in point of view: we know only what Lena knows, we learn what she learns. (In this respect, then, as spectators we are asked intensely to identify with Lena, and I think it's too much to say that Hitchcock hated his audience as viscerally as some contend he hated women.) And what she learns about Johnnie isn't very good, at all: his shady past (a co-respondent in another's divorce?), his gambling, his debts. It's bad enough to learn that your new husband is an embezzler. It's something more than insult to injury to suspect that he's trying to kill you.

That's the central tension of the picture: is the gold-digging Johnnie looking to off Lena for the insurance money, or her inheritance? In modern parlance, Lena would probably be a textbook abused woman, an enabler; she makes one horrid discovery after another about Johnnie, but continues to forgive him. (How's this for an annual review from your boss? "I told Johnnie I wouldn't prosecute.") And it's played with astounding vitality by the two lead actors. Fontaine is marvelous, both steely and delicate, full of the title attribute yet unable or unwilling to follow her intuition to its obvious conclusion. Just as good is Cary Grant, in his first Hitchcock picture. His Johnnie has an obvious menace that doesn't show up in, say, C.K. Dexter Haven, but is startling and present; how can he be both so charming and so venomous? (Because he's maybe the greatest actor in screen history, that's how.) Even if he's not homicidal, he's got the delusions of Biff Loman and the outsized ego of Donald Trump; he may or may not be gaslighting the wife, but he's definitely a player.

And as ever no one is better than Hitchcock in fetishizing props, in using them to externalize his characters' internal conflicts. A pair of ancient armchairs become a powerful symbol of a marriage gone awry; there's danger in Scrabble; and there's no use crying over the most menacing thing in this whole menacing affair, a glass of milk. Some enterprising up and comer from the American Dairy Council ought to see about licensing this clip—imagine the ad: Cary rushing up the stairs with the glass aglow, the pity and terror and acceptance in Joan's eyes, him rushing over with said glass to her bedside, and the graphic comes up: Got Milk?

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Occasional resolution problems are pointed up by Grant's natty wardrobe—his checkered ties and striped suits occasionally tend to shine, and they shouldn't. But otherwise this is a pretty impressive transfer, with some spectacular black-and-white photography from cinematographer Harry Stradling.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: There are some problems with the dynamics on the mono track; Franz Waxman's score is excellent, but occasionally swallows up the dialogue. The limitation, though, seems to come not from the transfer, but from the source material.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 31 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Joan Fontaine talks directly to the camera in an original trailer; the only other extra is Before the Fact: Suspicious Hitchcock (21m:34s), a documentary that takes its name from the novel on which the film is based. (I haven't read the novel, but for a fascinating compare and contrast, check out the Library of America's volume of the works of Nathanael West; it includes West's screenplay adaptation of the same book, one that seems not to have been used at all for Hitchcock's film.) Among those interviewed are Hitchcock scholar Bill Krohn, the director's daughter Pat Hitchcock O'Connell, critics Robert Osborne and Richard Schickel, and director Peter Bogdanovich; it's an intriguing look at, among other things, the original ending that Hitchcock wanted to shoot, and at the horror of colorization, inflicted on the movie in the 1980s by Ted Turner.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

Hitchcock, Fontaine, and Grant are all in fine fettle, and Suspicion may well be the best and most sustained exercise in point of view in film history. A classic, terrific movie, one of the pictures that rightly earned the director his moniker as the master of suspense.

 


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