(On DVD, September 2018) For all of his famed ability at creating and sustaining suspense, Alfred Hitchcock could have a surprisingly romantic streak at times, and few of his movies manage to combine both traits as intriguingly as in Rebecca, perhaps one of the best depiction of the Gothic romance sub-sub-genre ever put on-screen, adapted from Daphne Du Maurier’s still well-known novel. The mystery here is intensely personal, as the new wife of a rich man has trouble measuring up to the example set by her predecessor, the mistress of a vast estate who clearly still has her fans in the household help. Against the lonely and oppressive backdrop of a house far too big for its inhabitants, the heroine starts wondering who’s not out to murder her. It escalates into a fiery climax, but the point of the film, after a sunny romantic first act, is the heroine looking over her shoulder, discovering deeper secrets about her new husband and his house, and sparring with a standoffish housekeeper. Rebecca is noteworthy in Hitchcock’s oeuvre in a few respect: it was his first Hollywood project after emigrating from Great Britain; it was produced/dictated by the legendary producer David O. Selznick and it’s the only Hitchcock film to win the Best Picture Academy Award. Both Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier are quite good as the leads, but it’s Judith Anderson who has the best role as the ever-faithful Mrs. Danvers. Otherwise, Rebecca is still good fun to watch, not quite noir but definitely Gothic enough to be visually interesting on top of Hitchcock’s usually skillful direction.
(On Cable TV, May 2018) Great casting can make or break a movie, but I’m still not too sure what it does to Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion. Casting Cary Grant as a suave, sophisticated, easily charming man who ends up hiding an inglorious past to his wife seems like a slam-dunk: By that point in his career, Grant had developed a screen persona ideally suited to this kind of role. But the sword cuts both ways, given how audiences weren’t (and still aren’t) so willing to accept Grant as a purely evil character. Hence the ending that explains a few things and allows viewers to walk away satisfied and reassured in Grant’s persona. It’s a relief of an ending, but is it the most appropriate one? I still don’t know. The novel on which the film is based took a far more ambiguous approach to the same material, keeping up the eponymous suspicion through which the heroine (Joan Fontaine; rather good) comes to regard her new husband. Still, Suspicion remains a joy to watch. Hitchcock had achieved an unusual mastery of balance between comedy and suspense at that stage of his career, and the film’s domestic-paranoia theme would dovetail with a number of similar thrillers throughout the 1940s. The lack of a dark ending may stop the film from reaching its ultimate potential, but I’m not sure I’d change it. After all, I do like my Cary Grant suave, debonair and (ultimately) on the side of the angels even if he’s been a little devil along the way.