Suspicion (1941) is Hitchcock’s worst movie.
That’s a bold statement about a movie nominated for Best picture, won Joan Fontaine an Oscar for her portrayal of Lina Aysgarth and allowed Cary Grant to play more than just a romantic lead for 95% of its run time. Grant carrying the glowing glass of milk up the stairs to an ill Lina is a standout among the plethora of Hitchcock’s enduring images. Still, the movie drops to the bottom of my list because the ending is a slap in the face to all that had gone before. All of the tension Hitchcock masterfully built, all of the lurking evil Grant brilliantly played was ruined by the glaringly bad ending Hitchcock was forced by the studio to tack on for fear of ruining Grant’s “heroic” Image with the public.
Before the Fact (★★★), the 1932 psychological thriller Suspicion is based on, has great intentions and almost delivers. From the very first line, the reader knows who the murderer is, the question becomes who will he kill and will he get away with it? Iles tells the story from the victim’s point of view – another unique choice – but any sympathy you might feel for Lina Aysgarth has evaporated by the end of the novel. She is a born victim who only half-heartedly tries to get out of her situation before using tortured logic to absolve Johnnie of past and future crimes. Lina isn’t sympathetic, merely pathetic, and as I neared the end, I was openly rooting for Johnnie to kill her already. The ending, famously different from Hitchcock’s adaptation, was bold and would have been unsettling and affecting if the reader had been able to root for or sympathize with Lina even a little. I admire Iles for committing to it, but wish the execution of the characterization of Lina had been stronger so I would have cared what happened to the character.