Suspicion – Alfred Hitchcock
The role of Lina McLaidlaw is not unlike that of the nameless heroine of Rebecca (1940). Lina is a shy, self-effacing, repressed English girl, the daughter of a retired general (Cedric Hardwicke) and his respectable wife (Dame May Whitty). Nothing exciting or adventurous has ever happened to her, and she is almost resigned to ending her days as an unwanted spinster with a sheltered existence. Then she encounters Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant), a lovable scoundrel, and is swept head over heels into romance. She cannot believe that Johnnie returns her love, but when he woos her boldly and asks her to marry him, she blindly consents, knowing little about him and turning a deaf ear to her parents’ disapproval of him.
In order to prove his love, Johnnie takes a job when he learns that his wife’s monthly income is not sufficient to support them both, but he bets on the races with his earnings and is soon driven to stealing from his employer to pay his gambling debts. Gradually, the evidence against him builds. He is exposed as a liar and a thief, charming but completely irresponsible, and little by little Lina begins to suspect him of the worst.
Johnny has a drinking buddy, a jovial, well-meaning friend named Beaky (Nigel Bruce). One night, as. Lina plays anagrams with them, her thoughts are clouded by her gathering suspicions about Johnnie. As her thoughts drift from the men’s conversation, she rearranges the letters on the blocks before her, and they spell out the word “murder.” Immediately she leaps to the conclusion that Johnnie intends to kill Beaky. Soon after, Beaky is found dead, and, in Lina’s mind, circumstances point to Johnnie as the killer. The suspense and sense of dread builds slowly but inevitably.
When Lina learns that her husband could benefit by her death, and when she is driven ill to her bed and he waits on her, she is more certain than ever that he intends to kill her. He brings her the fateful glass of milk to aid her in sleeping, and the suspense Hitchcock achieves during this sequence is maddening. Will she remain silent and drink the milk? Does she subconsciously desire to be the willing victim of her husband’s villainy? Will she plan an accident and upset the glass, at least postponing the moment of death? Or is the whole pattern of suspicion a false one, a web that she herself has spun in her mind? Could it be that Johnnie is utterly innocent, a victim of circumstances?
In the film’s last reel, Hitchcock proves himself to be the ultimate master of suspense. He builds on every clue, every plot turn. In the final confession scene, he is dependent upon Cary Grant’s skill as an actor, just as he was dependent on Laurence Olivier’s in the confession he made to Joan Fontaine in Rebecca.
Hitchcock has been accused of making the same picture over and over again, and, in effect, this may be true. However, it must be remembered that there are only so many elements to be used in building a suspense story pictorially. The central character must either run away from damaging evidence, or he must blindly run toward it. He is either in danger himself, or he is creating danger for another. Ultimately, it is Hitchcock’s penchant for minor detailing in the development of each film that persuades the audience that this time the situation is truly different, and there is always that certain Hitchcock twist whith could make it seem so.
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