When Lina (Joan Fontaine) first meets the charming Johnnie (Cary Grant) while sharing a first class car on a train, he is carrying a third class ticket and just happens to be short on change that day. Right? He starts courting her and as quickly as he starts the fire, he leaves for weeks without one word of correspondence right after she has enthusiastically told her parents about him. Just as Lina is most desperate for him, after hearing her parents call her ‘spinsterish’, he comes back, sweeps her off her feet and they elope. When he takes her home to a big house full of servants, Lina assumes Johnnie has plenty of money. Turns out, he’s a broke playboy. He just gambles and borrows money to pay for things. As money issues pile up, Johnnie becomes more interested in murder mystery novels and seems secretive, especially in his business travels. When his business partner is mysteriously murdered, Lina wonders if she could be his next victim.
In Suspicion, director Alfred Hitchcock lets the whole plot rests on how we interpret what Lina is thinking. Her new husband isn’t exactly who she thought he was, what else is he hiding? When a new clue is found, we look straight to Lina for understanding. Her big eyes, careful stance, suspicious looks all tell us that we can’t trust Johnnie. Fontaine drives this film, yet naturally makes us feel like it is all out of her control. They way she lets us place all our trust and understanding of what is happening on her is perfect and completely deserves that Oscar win for best actress.
Throughout the film, Johnnie calls Lina ‘Monkey-face’ as a nickname. I love how much I hated that little detail. It is not just the name, which I find no endearment in, but how he can say it. If I were Lina, there would always be a wondering in the back of my mind every time he said it, “Is he mocking me?” Is he? Does he have this plan to kill her? My mind started turning the nickname into a horrible device to slowly dehumanize Lina to Johnnie. Animals are easier to kill than people, right?
Another detail I found absolutely entrancing is the glass of milk. In one scene, Johnnie brings Lina a nice tall glass of milk as she is sick in bed. We see him walk across the large open floor and up the stairs in the dark, with beautiful shadows all around, and the milk seems to glow ominously. Turns out, Hitchcock put a little battery powered light under the glass to give it this effect. So simple and elegant to make one small detail so sinister.
Unfortunately, Suspicion doesn’t make it on my list of favorite Hitchcock films, but I still enjoyed it. The story is wonderful and the characters are intriguing, but that ultimate level of suspense I have only found in Hitchcock films was missing for me. There were hardly any moments to yell at the screen, simply because Lina was too smart to fall for any tricks most of the time. I feel like an anti-feminist coming to terms with this, but I guess I just love Hitchcock films where he doesn’t give his female lead a decent set of brains. Oh Tippi Hedren, you knew that room was full of birds. Thanks for going in there anyway and letting Mr. Hitchcock throw live birds at you for a week.
“If you’re going to kill someone, do it simply.”