Suspicion ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Me: "I wonder why she has to take her glasses off to pick up the phone... oh, I guess because those are just reading glasses and she's farsighted."
Amber: "Is that intentional? Is there a story reason for it?"
Me: "I'm sure it's intentional but it's a good character thing, not really dramatically important."
Amber: "Maybe it is dramatically important because she can't see what's in front of her face."
Me: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I think I wrote pretty well about this the last time I saw it but it's Hitchcock so here's a bunch more words.

On this round of 1940s Hitchcock rewatches I find myself preferring Suspicion to Foreign Correspondent. What wonders will rivet us next? Part of it is that the acting is just above reproach; I conceded last time that Joan Fontaine probably won as a makeup for Rebecca but in reality this is just as extraordinary a performance, and the cast really stands out when you lay them up against the acting in other Hollywood films of the period. It's also a far more beautiful film than any of the other very early American Hitchcocks except Rebecca, its production design brilliantly attuned to the chintzy, new money, faux-glam feel of Grant's character, with coastal California gorgeously (if unconvincingly) standing in for England. And you couldn't write a more gripping portrait of a toxic marriage if you tried -- right down to Johnnie selecting a considerably younger woman (Fontaine is about 23 here, Grant is around 37, and it wouldn't matter in some movies but is vital here; it's a Reddit post waiting to happen) for her relative inexperience and need to escape an unhappy home, the discomforts of which are brilliantly presented without making her parents outright bad or evil.

Someone told me ten or fifteen years ago that the great truth of Suspicion is that we're supposed to recoil, not rejoice, when his arm goes around her in the final shot. I don't really doubt that this is true -- Vertigo also prophetically uses the language and behaviors of abuse and hides them within what Hitchcock may or may not have been conscious of (though his screenwriters on Suspicion, both women, surely were) as the socially acceptable but monumentally fucked up nature of patriarchal relationships of the time -- but it doesn't make the finale any more satisfying, and that ending is of course what prevents this from being a bona fide classic. Any liberal reading of it is just too much of a stretch, though to be fair the other proposed endings -- even Hitchcock's preference, lifted from the novel that's about a "consented" murder -- are hardly less frustrating. But would an ending that laid everything out -- confirming the suspicion, as Hitchcock would put it -- really be successful? I simply don't know. But I'm starting to find it just a little more compelling that the ending as it stands is at least an attempt at a private communique with the audience, one that works better in a world in which we're attuned to these things, at least in theory; don't forget that half the people who watch Vertigo now seem to think that the film is somehow endorsing Scottie's line "it couldn't possibly matter to you!" strictly because it's an Old Movie and we're now so above all that etc. We're tempted to view our sinister perspective on the finale as being modern or unintentional because we assume "values" were so different then. Values were, but morals weren't, and the rest of the film (not to mention Gaslight, a similar and more revered but, I'd contend, not much more perceptive title from a few years hence) demonstrates that abuse, and the ability to recognize it when we're not tempted to ignore it, hasn't ultimately changed that much since 1941.

I'd also like to mention that, on a personal note, this is one of the only movies that depicts one of the specific types of controlling, shady behavior I'm familiar with from my childhood, that being the acts of financially-motivated deception performed by Johnnie all through the film. It isn't a "sexy" or visually striking thing to convey, it isn't "domestic violence" per se, but the robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul and selling things behind a spouse's back and simply snowballing someone with individually insignificant fibs can wreck a marriage, and this film probes at that with unerring accuracy and finesse.

Shoutout to the wonderful scenes with Auriol Lee as mystery writer Isobel Sedbusk and the uncredited Nondas Metcalf as her girlfriend Phyllis ("Phil"), one of the most splendidly nonchalant depictions of a queer couple in classic Hollywood.