Suspicion, while middle tier Hitchcock as best, still is another example of how well Alfred Hitchcock was at the things he was good at.
Suspicion, despite its title is not as heavy on the thrills as other Hitchcock films. This could be related to the title which was chosen against Hitchcock’s wishes (he though it a trashy title and wanted to name it Johnnie after Cary Grant’s character). He also wanted to adhere closer to the book “Before the Fact which the film is based on. In the novel the character of Lina may or may not have actually been killed by Johnnie, but the studio did not want to present a film where Grant was shown to be a killer.
So how does Suspicion work on the level of being a Hitchcockian piece of suspense? The film is successful in that it plays almost based on the doubts and fears of Joan Fontaine’s Lina. Typically you will have some outside force that begins the suspense, Fry starting the fire in Saboteur, the kidnapping of the child in The Man Who Knew Too Much or Jeff spying foul play in Rear Window. In Suspicion, it’s one simple thing: Johnnie Aysgarth is broke and Lina suspects he’s after her money. Hitchcock revealing that Johnnie has no money from the beginning is a good move for the story. Often something like this would be held as some big twist later on, but giving it at the start allows the audience to feel what Lina is feeling as the film goes on. From making the word murder while playing Scrabble to imagining Johnnie throwing his friend and partner Beaky off a cliff, these are palatable feelings that the director ties into. Lina’s husband has no money, he’s constantly trying to come up with ways to gain it. He was recently fired from a job for embezzlement and he expressed disappointment that her father did not leave them money after his passing. As the circumstances become more common, Lina’s fear being to mount.
Another reason this works is Joan Fontaine’s performance. This was her second film with Hitchcock. The first was Rebecca. The role of Lina is similar to that of the second Mrs. de Winter. She’s kind of plain, bookish and quiet. The difference is Lina is from money and her Rebecca character is not. Almost as if the new character has learned some lessons from the first. Fontaine is excellent in conveying small expressions to show mounting fear. This certain would be why she won the Academy Award for Best Actress, making her the only performer to win an Oscar directed by Hitchcock.
While Suspicion may not reach the heights of Hitchcock’s filmography, it is still a very solid yarn that shows again some very primal human fears and how we enjoy partaking in it.