Film Reviews

MY SUMMER WITH ALFRED – <i>Suspicion (1941)</i>

MY SUMMER WITH ALFRED – Suspicion (1941)

Sean Hanson

June 26th, 2014

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For someone who loves horror flicks, thrillers and very British mysteries, I’ve seen surprisingly little Hitchcock, but — like any good film nerd — I could probably bloviate endlessly about his influence on Joel and Ethan Coen, Brian DePalma, Paul Verhoeven, and Lana and Andy Wachowski. See, The Matrix (the most defining action/sci-fi flick of my generation) wouldn’t exist if Bound wasn’t profitable and Bound was a Hitchcockian thriller juiced up with graphic sex and violence and … endlessly, I tell you. He averaged more than one movie per year between 1925 and 1976. I’ve seen ten, tops.

I’m not proud of this.

Let this, my inaugural series for the Eugene Film Society, serve as penance for such neglect. Every two weeks, I will watch and write about a Hitchcock film, to coincide with retired filmmaker Tom Blank’s lecture series, Partners in Crime: Hitchcock and His Imitators, presented at the University of Oregon Baker Downtown Center every Tuesday at 7 p.m. (Here is a link to register if you’re so inclined. Come on, it’s only $12, and I’d put good money on “you’re free Tuesdays.”)

Blank’s series began with Suspicion, a 1941 Gothic thriller about an heiress, Lina (Joan Fontaine), who grows increasingly suspicious (hence the title) that her conniving new husband Johnnie (Cary Grant) is after more than her affections. Because it’s also a black comedy (although I’m not convinced that contemporary audiences received it as such), there’s a character named Beaky Thwaite, which would be reason enough to see Suspicion if it weren’t an effective thriller or a fascinating time capsule of antiquated romantic rituals, casual misogyny and patterns of domestic cruelty.

The first time they meet, Johnnie insists there’s something wrong with Lina’s hair, fixes it by inverting her ponytail so it’s pointing up like a hairy unicorn horn and begins calling her “monkey face,” a term of endearment Johnnie will use eighteen more times by the final credits, according to the Internet Movie Database. I get it: I call my partner “maple bear” because she’s Canadian, but I do so sweetly. Conversely, Johnnie does little more than degrade, patronize and ignore Lina until she offers a rather unconvincing declaration of love.

Yes, Suspicion gets off to a rocky start, especially since the gender politics of 1941 feel positively foreign from a modern standpoint, and Hitchcock chickens out a little at the end, going for a safe ending instead of the one we expect (although, based on some of the plot’s inconsistencies, the ending we see may not be the ending at all) — but, for a solid hour, Hitchcock does an expert job in putting us in Lina’s shoes, as bodies start piling up and Lina keeps catching Johnnie in lies. When Johnnie openly prods his dinner guests, a pathologist and a mystery writer, for poisoning advice and Lina looks on in worry, we can almost hear Hitchcock laughing — not that we’d ever catch him laughing.

HITCHCOCKINESS: No icy blondes or mommy issues, but there’s a lot of shadowplay, gallows humor and striking cinematography.

MODERN HEIRS: Black Swan, Stoker and Side Effects.

Sean Hanson is a Eugene film critic whose work has been published by Something Awful and Front Row Central. Bijou from Beyond is an irregular column that provides critical analysis of films in the Bijou Cinemas Genre Series.

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