Suspicion (1941)

In Suspicion, which is directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Lina (Joan Fontaine), a woman on the verge of being an old maid, falls in love with Johnnie (Cary Grant) and marries him without knowing anything about him. That she did not know he was a congenital liar, compulsive gambler, and embezzler until after she married him might be understandable, but that she did not even know that he had no job nor any intention of getting one is ludicrous. Soon she begins to suspect that he murdered his friend Beaky (Nigel Bruce) to get his money and that he will try to murder her for the same reason. In the last reel, we have one of those unbelievable character changes for which Hollywood movies are notorious, in which Johnnie realizes how bad he has been and is prepared to go to prison for his financial misdeeds, after having given up on the idea of committing suicide. And when Lina realizes that Johnnie is not a murderer, the way is open to them to live happily ever after.

This might have been two different movies. Most people know about one of them. In this one, Johnnie did murder Beaky and he gives Lina a glass of milk with poison in it. She drinks it, because she does not want to live anymore. But before she does, she gives Johnnie a letter to mail for her, in which she includes incriminating evidence that Johnnie is a murderer. Johnnie drops the letter in a mailbox and walks away whistling, not realizing that he has sealed his doom. There is some debate as to whether this is the ending Hitchcock wanted, but that the studio imposed a happy ending, or whether Hitchcock intended all along to make the movie be about a neurotic woman’s overwrought imagination. It doesn’t matter who wanted what. This would have been a much better movie.

The other movie that might have been would have been one in which there is neither a murder nor suspicion of murder (requiring a different title, of course). It is a movie that would have been unendurable. There would have been no relief from the fact that Johnnie has married Lina for her money and is annoyed to find out it does not amount to as much as he thought it would, especially when her father dies and does not leave her anything more than her usual allowance. We would have been left with Lina’s being married to a compulsive liar, who hocks her beloved chairs so he can bet on the horses; who believes he was not meant to have to work for a living, and when forced to take a job managing an estate, soon gets caught embezzling funds; and who cons Beaky into investing in a real estate venture that we know will only result in losing money as Johnnie squanders the investment on loose living. And there would have been no relief from the fact that Lina will continue to put up with this because she loves Johnnie.

In other words, we need at least the possibility of murder to be introduced halfway into the movie as a way of making us forget about what a horrible marriage this is. This takes us back to the first two movies, the one that was and the one that might have been. That Johnnie is a despicable human being even if he is not a murderer goes without saying. But there is something disgusting about Lina as well. Her foolishness in marrying Johnnie in the first place is practically an argument in favor of having parents arrange marriages for their daughters. And all that mewing about love as she puts up with Johnnie’s abuse is sickening. Finally, Beaky’s attitude toward Johnnie, that we must all forgive everything that Johnnie does, because, well, that’s just the way Johnnie is, is also irritating.

They all deserve to die. So a movie in which Beaky is murdered by Johnnie, in which Lina is murdered by Johnnie, and in which Johnnie is sentenced to die as a result of that incriminating letter would have been most satisfying.

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