Johnnie Aysgarth is a charming scoundrel, liar, thief, and most likely a murderer. Furthermore he betrays his wife's trust as often as possible, and in my imagination probably gets it on with that cute maid Ethel when Lina is out. But the studio makes it seem as though Lina just forgives him all for this, that as long as she finds out he's not actually trying to kill her (which nothing in that final cliffside drive sequence convinces me of), he's ok. Nevermind his repeated attempts to get money from her and her family, his refusal to get a job, his extravagant spending, his constant lies to her about where he is and what he's doing (gambling), and the sinister attitude he takes when she becomes suspicious. That it should end with the two of them quickly tying things up and living happily ever after make me puke.
There's something tantalizing about each time we catch Johnnie lying. Where is this film going? Everything seems gentle and innocent enough at first, he is clearly a man of status, so what's his deal? Why is he like this? And how is it he's poor. All along the film unfolds a manchild who is simply stuck in the comfort of his elitist privilege, unwilling to change at the expense of his pride. To be a working man when you can be a con, a cheat - why? This film hit me close to home in an uncomfortable way. I had to remind myself that at least going to auditions was work in itself, and that I was making the effort as one would go to job interviews. But I do feel this living in my little castle at home, often monastically, for days and weeks at a time not going to one "interview." And it is likely for similar reasons that has me empathizing, however weakly, with Johnnie.
Joan Fontaine is an absolute delight to be with, both with her elegant charm and beautifully beatific face, sometimes, other times longing in despair, hoping for truth. Cary Grant is Cary Grant, always sharp and on point. It's simple the way they play off each other: we like them, they're sexy, cute, have great chemistry, and we wouldn't mind seeing them fuck. Add to that Nigel Bruce as the delightful Beaky with his English jollity and fine whiskers, and this all seems like a happy little cozy world.
The film is seemingly lighthearted compared to other Hitchcock fare like Saboteur, but this would go on to become a Hitchcock trait in other thrillers like To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest; namely, the Cary Grant ones, which Hitch casts perfectly to compliment this contrasting style he's going for. The whimsicality always meets it's ominous fate as the real plot unfolds, Hitch penetrating the comfortable exterior of 'pleasant' Hollywood movies. There is nothing comfortable at the dinner table murder talk as the doctor cuts into the body of the chicken while relatedly talking about human autopsy - Hitchcock's genius associative montage, often repeated, in David Lynch's case most disgustingly in Eraserhead's bleeding chicken scene.
I love the quickness at which the film moves; there's a little self contained world this movie sets up, so there isn't time for anything else. The film opens in the train, in darkness we hear Johnnie swipe past Lina's leg in the train car - he's targeting her before we see anything. Hitchcock and trains go together like bread and butter, it's great to be here - Lady Vanishes, Strangers on a Train, North by Northwest to name a few. It is then established that they like each other, he seeks her out, she thinks of him, and after some hesitation on his part, they're together, much to the dislike of her military general father.
As always, we get to see intelligently designed cinematography, the staple of any Hitchcock experience, and what many allude to as being ahead of his time. Hitchcock was always trying to do more with a shot, not just leaving it to his cinematographer to light a clean image. Of course I am writing this in 2017 when spoofs have entered my brain, such as Mel Brooks' famous "caught in a web" scene with Dick Van Patten, deliberately stealing the shot, and it's meaning, from Suspicion. So it's hard not to laugh when I see Joan Fontaine symbolically caught in Johnnie's web of lies, standing isolated in her home with that constant shadow cast from above onto the room below.
The only actor to win an Oscar for a Hitchcock movie, Fontaine suits the part so well and she gets more and more concerned about the safety of her life and she does everything she can to stay away from murder.
Her husband is played by Cary Grant and he gives a good performance in the first of his many films working with the great director. There is also good support from Sir Cedric Hardwicke.
Hitchcock's direction is excellent and the atmosphere is very tense in places, and the dramatic climax will leave you talking about this movie for a very long time.
This is one excellent film-noir.