Hitchcock’s “Suspicion” (1941) starring Joan Fontaine & Cary Grant

Johnnie: Your hair’s all wrong. It has such wonderful possibilities that I, well, I got excited. For the moment I became a passionate hairdresser.

Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant) is a handsome/charming man who meets shy/straight-laced Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine) on a train. He’s a playboy who is seen in the society pages; she has a sheltered life and reads a lot. Soon, Johnnie sees Lina again in the English countryside; she looks lovely and carefree riding her horse. He goes w/ some local ladies to call on Lina; she is pleasantly surprised to see him. Lina’s parents (played by Cedric Hardwicke and Mae Whitty) caution her, as he’s son to a gentleman they knew, and considered to be “wild.” In no time, Johnnie and Lina (who he nicknames “Monkeyface”) fall in love and decide to elope. After a long honeymoon in Europe, the earnest young bride discovers her new husband’s true character; Johnnie is immature, a gambler, and deep in debt! He gets a job w/ an older cousin (played by Leo G. Carroll) as an estate agent, but that turns out badly. Eventually, Lina starts to become suspicious when Johnnie’s older/wealthy friend, Beaky (Nigel Bruce), is found dead while on business in Paris.

Johnnie: What do you think of me by contrast to your horse?

Lina: If I ever got the bit between your teeth, I’d have no trouble in handling you at all.

Sir Alfred Hitchcock said that an RKO executive ordered that all scenes in which Grant appeared menacing be cut from the movie. When the editing was completed, the movie ran only 55 mins. The scenes were later restored, b/c the director shot each piece of film so that there was only one way to edit them together properly. Hitch wanted Johnnie to be guilty, but the studio decided that the public wouldn’t accept Grant as a murderer. Hitch’s original ending had Johnnie killing Lina by poisoning her milk, but then convicting himself by mailing a letter that Lina had written. Donald Spoto, in The Dark Side Of Genius, disputes Hitch’s claim to have been overruled on the ending. Spoto writes that the early RKO treatment and memos between Hitch and the studio show that he desired to make a movie about a woman’s fantasy life.

He [Cary Grant] did kill me in the original cut, but at a preview, the audience simply refused to accept him as the murderer. -Joan Fontaine

Provokingly irresponsible, boyishly gay, and also oddly mysterious, as the role properly demands. -Bosley Crowther, NYT film critic, describing Grant’s character

This is the first time that Hitch served in the role of producer. I learned from movie critics/fans that Fontaine’s performance is the only Oscar-winning performance that Hitch directed! Grant (who became Hitch’s favorite leading man) felt that the director gave Fontaine preferential treatment to the detriment of his character. This movie was a big success, earning $1.8M at the box office. The couple’s pet dog is a Sealyham Terrier named “Johnnie,” and on of Hitch’s own dogs.

[1] The tension keeps building, and Fontaine’s performance allows the viewer to feel all of her fear and anxiety. Not everyone likes the way that it all ends, but it is worth seeing and deciding for yourself what you think about it.

[2] Grant is a perfect choice to play Johnnie Aysgard. He has the dark, handsome looks, that gleaming smile and loving charm and he literally sweeps Lina off her feet. His presence only vaguely suggests the menace hidden underneath and this is perfect for a convincing psychological, cerebral thriller.

And his presence is the reason this movie works as an excellent psychological thriller even if the ending is a letdown. Using an actor like Grant misleads the public into being sucked into the lighthearted tone of the first third of the story.

[3] We think we are watching the action unfold in the way typical of most Hollywood films… but in Suspicion we are watching the action from Lina’s point of view… from a very subjective POV. And we assume that Lina is the more mature, stable character in the film. But we then begin to see just how unstable she is, as she interprets every event to be an indication of Johnnie’s criminal nature, as her suspicion grows to paranoia. And let me tell you, Grant’s acting is top notch as he is loving and playful one minute, and menacing the next. Just the way he walks up a flight of stairs with a glass of milk is frightening. His demeanor completely cooperates with Lina’s imagination.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Hitchcock on the Law: “The Paradine Case” (1947) starring Gregory Peck, Ann Todd, Charles Laughton, Charles Coburn, Louis Jourdan, & Alida Valli

Sir Simon Flaquer: [about Mrs. Paradine] You’ll find her a strange woman with an almost mystical charm.

London police charge a young woman, Maddalena Paradine (Italian actress Alida Valli), w/ the murder of her older/blind/British husband, retired Col. Richard Paradine. She’s a woman w/ a past, but became wealthy/glamorous b/c of her marriage. Her solicitor, Sir Simon Flaquer (Charles Coburn), refers the case to his friend/colleague, Anthony Keane (Gregory Peck). While spending time building her defense, Tony becomes infatuated w/ Mrs. Paradine, threatening his long/happy marriage to Gay (Ann Todd). Tony goes to the country estate where the Paradines previously lived; he sees the grand house and meets the valet, Andre Latour (French actor Louis Jourdan).

Mrs. Paradine: It won’t shock you, I assume, to learn that I am a woman, what would you say, a woman who has seen a great deal of life.

I’m sure there some readers who don’t want to take sleeping pills, so maybe this movie will do the trick (LOL)! How can such a great cast (incl. theater veterans) be wasted? While Sir Alfred Hitchcock (personally) liked the actors, he felt that Peck (w/ white streaked hair to age him up), Valli (one-note and lacking charm), and Jourdan (handsome/intense) were unsuited for their roles. Producer David O. Selznick insisted that the director use them. Judge Horfield’s (Charles Laughton) nervous/bullied wife, Sophie (Ethel Barrymore), had several scenes cut; this will be obvious to astute viewers.

Gay Keane [joking w/ Tony]: I wouldn’t like a woman to be hanged, any woman, just because my husband had a rendezvous with her. In jail.

This movie (part melodrama/part courtroom drama) was nearly as expensive as Gone with the Wind (1939)! Selznick constantly interfered w/ Hitch’s production, incl. having him do many re-shoots. Selznick supervised editing (the movie feels long) and the (over-the-top) musical score from Franz Waxman. This was Hitch’s last movie in his contract w/ Selznick; it’s not very suspenseful (though the trial was somewhat interesting). I liked some of the dialogue; the domestic scenes between Peck (only 30) and Todd (10 yrs. older than her leading man) were done very well.

Judy Flaquer: Men are such horrible beasts. I wish I were married to Anthony Keane for just one hour. I’d make him jump through hoops.

Sir Simon: I wish you were married to someone. Perhaps he could put up with your clap-clap better than I can!

Though The Paradine Case was a box-office failure, critics praised two performances. Time Magazine (January 12, 1948) wrote: “The only characters who come sharply to life are the barrister’s wife (Ann Todd) and her confidante (Joan Tetzel).” Also, Variety wrote: “Ann Todd delights as his wife, giving the assignment a grace and understanding that tug at the emotions.” Judy (Tetzel) could be thought of as the precursor to Barbara Morton (played by Hitch’s daughter- Patricia) in Strangers on a Train (1951); they’re both single, intelligent, and fascinated w/ crime (which could be considered “unfeminine”).

[1] Many viewers feel let down by the film because it lacks the energy and excitement found in most of Hitchcock’s films, and because the courtroom setting creates expectations that are not quite filled.

Many Hitchcock fans will not particularly enjoy this one…

[2] I like Peck normally, but in this film, he’s too young and never convincingly English, despite his accent. Even without the accent, he doesn’t suggest someone who is passionately and irrationally swept away, as the role calls for.

[3] THE PARADINE CASE is generally conceded as among Hitchcock’s lesser films. It’s most interesting parts of the performances of the leads (except for Alida Valli, who is quite dull), and the famous sequence of the portrait of Valli whose eyes seem to follow the camera (standing in for Gregory Peck/Anthony Keane) as it passes from one room to the next.

[4] It is not typical Hitchcock, and fails to fascinate the audience. The high point is the verbal clashes between Laughton and Peck (sometimes assisted by Leo G. Carroll as the prosecutor), Jourdan’s collapse in the witness box when Keane attacks him for secretly betraying his master with the defendant, and Valli’s final condemnation of Keane in court.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder” (1954) starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, & Robert Cummings

In London, wealthy Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly) had an affair w/ an American mystery writer, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), while her husband/pro tennis player, Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), was on tour. Tony quit playing to dedicate more time to his wife and work at a regular job. A year later, Mark arrives from NYC to visit the couple. Margot tells him that she destroyed all his letters, but one was stolen. She was blackmailed, but she had never got that letter back. Tony arrives home and says he needs to finish up a report; he tells Margot and Mark to attend the theater w/o him. Tony calls Capt. Lesgate (AKA Charles Alexander Swann), a man who went to college w/ him. (Sir Alfred Hitchcock can be seen on the left side of the college reunion photo.) When Lesgate arrives, Tony blackmails him to murder Margot, so that he can inherit her money. Tony has a plan, but (of course)- there is no such thing as a perfect crime!

Margot: Do you really believe in the perfect murder?

Mark: Mmm, yes, absolutely. On paper, that is. And I think I could, uh, plan one better than most people; but I doubt if I could carry it out.

Tony: Oh? Why not?

Mark: Well, because in stories things usually turn out the way the author wants them to; and in real life they don’t… always.

The film is adapted from a Broadway play that opened in the Fall of 1952; it ran for 500+ performances. John Williams (who almost steals the movie) and Anthony Dawson re-created their stage roles of Chief Inspector Hubbard and Capt. Lesgate. Hitch wanted Cary Grant in the role of Tony, but Warner Brothers felt that he’d be wrong as a villain (as did the actor himself). Deborah Kerr, Olivia de Havilland, and William Holden were also considered for roles. Hitchcock made a special effort to shoot indoors; only a few shots take place outside the London apt. (which is small, but expensive). The director created a sense of claustrophobia (which we’re familiar w/ in this COVID-19 crisis when quarantining in our homes)!

Kelly wears some great clothes, incl. a gorgeous red evening dress w/ a lace shrug and matching red heels. In the pivotal scene where Margot gets out of bed to answer the phone, she was originally suppose to wear a red velvet robe. Kelly explained to Hitch: “This robe would be perfect in Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene, but not something I would wear just to answer the phone.” He then asked her what she would wear; the actress replied: “just a light nightgown.” Hitch agreed to the change, so Margot wears a white nightgown w/ some lace detail.

Dial M for Murder has inspired remakes/re-imaginings, incl. A Perfect Murder (1998) starring Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Viggo Mortensen. A Perfect Murder influenced Humraaz (a 2002 Bollywood film). Tony admits that he married for money; however in the movies mentioned above, the wives are the ones who are gold-diggers (as well as unfaithful). Hmmm… I wonder why that change was made? You can watch the film (for free) on YouTube; see link below!

[1] I had forgotten that most if not all of it happens in one single room. The planning of it is a display of extraordinary craftsmanship. Not a lagging moment.

[2] Dial M for Murder succeeds on many levels, and it is largely thanks to some superb dialogue… The cast are a treat. Ray Milland is an absolute gem, extremely sly and dispassionate, yet a character so full of self-assurance that one almost sides with him. Grace Kelly… emanating the poised, beautiful being, that is vulnerable, yet oddly unassailable. And John Williams, as the police detective, is quite wonderful.

[3] …Mr. Hitchcock’s camera dutifully follows everything as the scheme goes along. And, before we realize it, if something starts to go wrong, we become scared and tense.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Fallen Angel” (1945) starring Alice Faye, Dana Andrews, & Linda Darnell

[1] The tainted, ambiguous relationships that Dana Andrews forges… make this film a dark study in romantic pathology. It also features Linda Darnell at her most sultry and mercenary… Andrews’ very layered tension between rich good gal Faye and gold-digging bad girl Darnell keeps the viewer off balance all the way through.

[2] Preminger’s fluid camera work and long takes here reach perfection… Each scene is shot and elaborated with precision, with minimum amount of edits to elucidate the emotions of the characters.

The magnificent chiaroscuro photography by Joseph LaShelle has certain crispness and lucidity…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Stella: What do you do when you don’t tell fortunes?

Eric: I help make ’em for others.

Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews) is thrown off a Greyhound bus for not having enough fare to reach San Francisco. With just a dollar in his pocket, he lands in Walton, a small coastal town. Eric goes to a little diner by the beach and meets the owner, Pop (Perry Kilbride), retired NYC cop Mark Judd (Charles Bickford), and young waitress Stella (Linda Darnell- then only 21 y.o.) An “old friend” of Eric’s, Professor Madley (John Carradine- in a brief supporting role), is coming to the local hotel to hold a “spiritual” (psychic) show. Madley’s assistant, Ellis, laments that there may not be a show, since the former mayor’s daughter (a respected leader) disapproves of “spooks.” Eric (“a promoter”) goes to the Mills house to speak w/ this woman, Clara (Anne Revere- a character actress descended from Paul Revere). She’s unimpressed by his words, but her younger sister, June (Alice Faye), later convinces her to support the show. Then the drama begins!

Stella [to Eric on the beach]: You talk different, sure. But you drive just like the rest. Well, you’ve got the wrong girl.

TCM’s Eddie Muller noted that it’s a shame that this film suffered, as it was compared to director Otto Preminger’s previous film- Laura (1944)- which was a big hit. I saw Fallen Angel recently and really enjoyed it! The story comes from a novel written by a young woman (Mary Hallen); she wrote under a male pen name. Preminger (known for his demanding personality) was one of the best directors of his time; he made Angel Face (1953) and Anatomy of a Murder (1954)- two notable noir movies. He used much of the crew from Laura; we also see Dorothy Adams (Laura’s loyal “domestic”) as Stella’s neighbor. Andrews (who played a straight-shooting NYC cop in Laura) didn’t want to do Fallen Angel, as he disliked his character. I thought he did a fine job playing a charming con man (who can be shady or sweet). He and Darnell have terrific chemistry when they banter and are esp. good at playing the romance angle.

Eric [to June after their first date]: No. One kiss goes a long way with you. You need a guy who will take it the same way. Who will give you marriage, with all the trimmings. Home and kids. Who will walk to church with you every Sunday. Save all your good nights for him.

Faye (at age 28 y.o.) was already a big star in Hollywood; this is why she has top billing. After taking a break to start a family, she was very disappointed w/ how 20th Century Fox finally cut this film. Faye left the studio once she saw that her best scenes were edited out. Instead of balancing out the love triangle, producer Daryl Zanuck put the focus more on Eric and Stella; he was involved in a romantic relationship w/ Darnell during filming. Thus, Eric and June’s relationship comes off as rushed. There is a great scene between Andrews and Faye in the third act. You can see the movie (in HD) below!

“Pitfall” (1948) starring Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott, Jane Wyatt, & Raymond Burr

Sue Forbes: Oh, your breakfast is on the table, darling.

John Forbes: Where else would it be?

John Forbes (Dick Powell) is a middle-aged man bored w/ his predictable life and job as an insurance adjuster. His lovely wife, Sue (Jane Wyatt- later Spock’s mom), and adoring son, Tommy, make up his family. Forbes meets a young/blonde aspiring model, Mona Stevens (Lizabeth Scott), whose fiance embezzled from a store insured by Forbes’ company. He finds Mona through J.B. MacDonald (Raymond Burr- later the iconic Perry Mason), a private detective freelancing for the insurance company. Forbes goes to collect the stolen gifts and soon falls for Mona (who says she rarely meets nice men like him). MacDonald (w/ an obsessive personality and violent temper) also has his eyes on Mona, though she wants nothing to do w/ him!

MacDonald: She probably doesn’t appeal to you but for me, she’s just what I told the doctor to order.

This film (see video below) is a combination of domestic drama and film noir set in L.A. and its surrounding suburbs. Powell took this role after reconciling w/ his wife (June Allyson) after he had an affair, TCM’s Eddie Muller noted. To get past the Hayes Code office, that would normally not allow a good guy to be an adulterer (and suffer no consequences), director Andre De Toth (an immigrant from Hungary) met w/ two prominent officials. De Toth let these (married) men know that he knew of their mistresses; the production didn’t have any problems after that meeting- LOL! Muller also explained that though the director was married to Veronica Lake, he had a reputation as a philanderer.

[1] Powell, Wyatt, Scott and Raymond Burr are effective and believable — and the film is paced, photographed, and scripted with intelligence — so that the viewer easily goes along for the ride.

[2] Jay Dratler’s script (from his own novel) shows a progressive streak in dealing with the short and unpredictable fuses of controlling, potentially violent males- stalkers.

Powell gets to tap deeply into his key emotion, snappish discontent… Scott… an actress with limits, finds a comfortable part as a bewildered and vulnerable victim of the men who come into her life, bidden and unbidden. Burr …lets a bit of yearning, of desperation, show under all his intimidating bulk…

De Toth… made, in Pitfall, one of the more distinctive titles of the noir cycle. …it has the effrontery to situate deceit and duplicity and betrayal where it surely ought not to belong- not in road houses or tenement flats- but right at the heart of a storybook American family (it’s one of the more subversive films of the era).

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews