Hitchcock’s Suspicion Will Teach You Everything You Needed to Know About Love


The Sixth Annual Hitchcock Film Festival continues at the Heights Theater with a wonderful 35mm screening of Suspicion, regarded by some to be the master’s finest (and starring the intense Joan Fontaine, and a very strange Cary Grant.)

Suspicion review by Aaron Vehling.

Dear Aaron:

I’m getting married to this seemingly great guy in a couple weeks, but I’m not entirely sure he is who he claims to be. I haven’t met any of his family and he sometimes gives confusing and conflicting answers to simple questions about where he is, who he was with and what he was doing. I love him a lot, and let’s just say I’m not one of those people who has much luck in the dating world. So I figure this is my one shot at true happiness. I’m afraid to talk to him about it. I’m not sure what to do.

-My Lips Are Sealed



Your question reminds me of someone who was in a similar situation, but she ended up marrying the guy and it all became a mess. To avoid the emotional turmoil that wealthy Briton Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine) suffers in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1941 psychological thriller Suspicion, when she marries ne’erdowell Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant), here are some tips for you but also others who are similarly situated:

1. Don’t stay out of the dating pool for too long. It’s like going too long without caffeine or food. At some point you lose your ability and/or will to make informed decisions, and before you know it you’re at some shoddy gas station gulping down crusty, burnt coffee and inhaling radioactive hot dogs filled with starch-polymer “cheese product.” You didn’t even see the healthier, better-tasting options across the street or next door. Experiencing a decent number of people, even if goes nowhere, ensures you never have to feel like you have only “one shot.”

This is especially important if that one-shot man or woman serves up nothing but lies and maybe is just with you for your money.

2. No one is ever entirely who they say they are, especially when you first start dating. We all kick-start our marketing initiatives at first to keep things going, highlighting our positive traits — good looks, financial stability, reliability, encyclopedic knowledge of disparate facts and witticisms, perhaps — and burying the negative — little to no money, unemployment, gambling addictions and a thirst for blood. In most cases this stuff consists of little white lies, but every now and then you get a situation where it seems the day after the wedding that perhaps your spouse was full of it all along. You thought he was a rich, charming man from a good family and it turns out he has no money and gets by on a series of escalating lies and financial fraud schemes that are coming to a tipping point of jail time or worse. If only you had stayed away from the gas-station hot dogs.

3. Communication is key. You can save yourself sleepless nights and anxiety-induced stomach aches, and stave off long periods of awkward silent treatments, if you just tell your partner what’s on your mind. For example, if you were to ask your husband if he killed his friend Beaky (Nigel Bruce) while they were in Paris, perhaps he would tell you that he didn’t and it was all a misunderstanding. Perhaps that life insurance policy he took out on you, coupled with your knowledge of his felonious tendencies, won’t induce him to kill you, too. But you will never know what the truth is if you sit silently like a 1940s British aristocrat, aghast when you find out he has been asking your murder-mystery author neighbor about undetectable poisons. I mean, maybe all of this is just some curiosity he has. Maybe he just like’s murder mysteries?

3b. A corollary of this is the big “money talk.” Before signing that marriage license, make sure that your future spouse doesn’t have a history of embezzlement, gambling and other forms of financial tomfoolery stuffed underneath his tool chest of charms. Suss out if he is one of those types who trades on his good looks and artificially created status to further along a seemingly preternatural ability to be involved in a series of escalating situations that will culminate in something horrible happening, like death (maybe yours).

To learn all of tips for avoiding unhealthy surprises after the Big Day, I would recommend seeing Suspicion, one of Hitchcock’s great films. It is the first of four collaborations between the famed British director and Grant (also British). It would be followed by Notorious, To Catch A Thief and North By Northwest. Grant shines as the debonair and dashing hot-mess Johnnie and Fontaine puts in a performance as Lina that earned her an Oscar for Best Actress, the only such honor for a performance in a Hitchcock film.

Suspicion mines the familiar Hitchcock concepts of anxiety, fear, mistrust and lust (albeit with moral code limits), but there is more of an informal quality about it when compared to his more famous films from the late 40s and 50s. It is a dress-rehearsal for the degree of analysis to which Hitchcock would later subject his characters and audiences.

In future American films he would dig deeper into the dark, rotting psyches of humankind (see Vertigo and Rear Window), but in Suspicion there is a sense of levity that keeps the fatality question-at-hand from becoming too serious. For this reason, it might be a good starting point for those who are not yet ready for Psycho or the others listed above.

But while it might be less serious than other Hitchcock films, there are still those perennial questions about human relationships that come up. You still want to know who exactly Johnnie really is and what exactly it is he is lying about in relation to that trip to Paris. We are not only curious on Lina’s behalf, but on the behalf of all of those like letter-writer “Lips.” We all want to know: Just who is this person we’ve let into our lives? Just whom did I really marry?

Aaron Vehling is a former journalist and current communications professional who loves the music of Johnny Jewel and the films of Lars von Trier. Though he’s from Longfellow, Minneapolis, he now lives in Harlem, New York, on the same block as the mansion from The Royal Tenenbaums.

Suspicion screens Thursday evening at 7:30 at the Heights Theater. Purchase tickets here.

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