Johnnie and Lina meet by chance on a train when Johnnie (Cary Grant) can’t afford a first class upgrade, and pays for it in pennies and a borrowed stamp from Lina (Joan Fontaine). Lina leads a relatively sheltered life, being bookish and introverted, whereas Johnnie is a serial blagger, flying by the seat of his pants without a care for cause or consequence. Naturally, these opposites attract and the two are soon married, against the wishes of Lina’s parents. Eventually, Johnnie’s extravagant lifestyle leads to financial woes, and Lina suspects Johnnie may have some untraditional methods of fixing them.Cary Grant is rapidly becoming one of my favourite actors. He’s so eminently watchable, so suave and smooth. Plus, he’s got a great, distinctive voice that is almost too charming to believe. With his roles in Suspicion and To Catch A Thief (which I’ll be reviewing soon) I’m very close to adding him to my list of actors whose careers I want to watch the entirety of. The only problem is, in Suspicion he plays a character who is really rather annoying, to the point of being despicable. Johnnie doesn’t plan for anything, expecting other people to cover for him. He baulks at the idea of working, believing it to be impractical, and regularly dismisses the idea of what other people may consider important in favour of himself having a good time, living the life he’s neither earned nor deserves. He treats his wife like a child, calling her Monkeyface and making noises like a duck to cheer her up, and his friends laugh at his lies and deception, believing Johnnie to be a harmless clown, whose tricks are for their amusement with no repercussions.
Similarly, Joan Fontaine’s Lina isn’t that likeable either. She is a brittle, icy person, prone to making rash decisions purely to go against the wills of others. Fontaine won an Oscar for her performance, something I can’t wholly stand behind, as most of her work here involved the bouncing up and down of her perfectly plucked left eyebrow. That being said, I’ve not seen any of the other performances that were nominated from 1941, so I can’t exactly judge. Amongst the supporting cast, Nigel Bruce’s Beaky, a friend of Johnnie’s who stays with him for a while, was the stand out, however his blustering buffoonery came across as a little ridiculous, but it was fun.The main problem lies in the film’s uneven tone. The first two thirds is largely comedic or romantic in tone, depicting the relationship peaks and valleys between Johnnie and Lina. These segments are enjoyable, if at times a little bland, but around the hour mark it takes a sharp turn to a more suspense-driven thriller, from which the film gets its name. It isn’t a bad turn, and in fact it’s probably the best and most engaging part of the film, it just doesn’t fit with everything that’s happened beforehand.
Moral-wise it’s a little anti-feminist, showing that even level-headed, intelligent girls (described as possessing “character”) are still prone to swooning over the local heart-throb and going along with anything he says, all in the name of love. The film took a few neat steps with otherwise cliché moments – the typical conversation between the disapproving father and his daughter’s new unsuitable lover here takes place between Johnnie and a painting of Lina’s father, which was both refreshing and extremely well played by Grant. Elsewhere, plot points can be seen from a mile away – what happens with Lina’s inherited antique chairs is so predictable it’s hilarious – and some character turns occur seemingly through the most inconsequential events, such as playing the right word in Scrabble.Had most of the film surrounded the final act, this would have fit more comfortably amongst Hitchcock’s work, and would have been a more rounded film because of it. It’s still a great film, it just doesn’t feel quite right.
Choose Film 6/10