Though based on Anthony Berkeley's suspense novel "Before the Fact" (written under the pseudonym of Francis Iles), "Suspicion" goes through some very odd tonal shifts before settling into a more familiar (and creepy) suspense film. The first half mixes pure melodrama with playful (but sometimes ill-placed) comedic vignettes; Joan Fontaine's performance feels like a lighter version of the spindly heroine in "Rebecca," and Cary Grant largely maintains his naughty but handsome persona so carefully refined in prior comedies.
The DVD's featurette ably traces the film's production history - Hitchcock is said to have kept his eyes on the novel as a potential project since the mid-Thirties - but it doesn't really delve into the film's position as a reworking of bankable elements during the director's prolific period. (One can certainly see regular alternations between large-scale chase films, and restrictive dramas like "Lifeboat," "Rope," and "Dial M for Murder.")
More of a transitional work of note, "Suspicion" also reveals Hitchcock's use of Cary Grant's so-called darker side. Playing a possible murderer, Grant's behavioral shift from grinning cad to cold-faced dominator is pretty shocking, and he's quite terrifying during the film's infamous staircase sequence, approaching the camera with a potentially toxic glass of neon milk. The featurette focuses on this shift in Grant's screen persona, though what's lacking is a follow-through: show ing Hitchcock's shaping of Grant into a harder, less flippant (and therefore more believable) leading man (as in more potent works like "Notorious"), and Grant's subsequent return to the commercially appealing persona of the lovable cad from prior years.
Among the interviewed historians are Robert Osborne & author Bill Krohn ("Hitchcock at Work"), plus director Peter Bogdanovich, and Patricia Hitchcock. Collectively, they also trace Hitchcock's modest head-butting with the studio and censors, and his vain hope that the script's original ending would be used. While the chosen finale certainly helped the film become a major money-maker for studio RKO, some of the written dialogue plays like a moral lesson that's been fully blessed by the Production Code office.
Warner Bros' transfer is very nice, given the source print has its share of minor nicks and varying grain levels. The blacks are very solid, and the gray levels are well-balanced. Franz Waxman's score comes thorough well in the original mono mix, and the score and composer are given a small spotlight in the featurette, courtesy of son John Waxman.
This Warner Bros title is available separately or as part of the Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection that includes: Strangers On A Train, Mr. And Mrs. Smith, Suspicion, North By Northwest, Dial M For Murder, Foreign Correspondent, The Wrong Man, Stage Fright and I Confess.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan
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