Rebecca McCallum concludes her analysis of Suspicion, part of her Hitchcock’s Women series exclusively for Moving Pictures Film Club.
The Spell of Murder Is Cast
Whilst out driving one afternoon, Johnnie asks Lina if she has any regrets marrying him, a question she adroitly turns around on him, possibly because she is worried she may answer too truthfully. In response he advises that she is the one thing he wouldn’t change and upon hearing this her face lights up. In a line that perfectly encapsulates her feelings towards him, she coos ‘I couldn’t stop loving you if I tried.’ This scene epitomises the dynamic in their relationship and the pattern of Johnnie’s behaviour, making Lina repel from and then subsequently soften towards him, that is repeated time and time again. Trying to come to terms with and understand Johnnie’s behaviour, Lina provides him with the chance to be honest about his job with Captain Melbeck. However, in refusing to share these details with her (whether he is conscious of it or not) Johnnie continues to fuel her feelings of doubt and suspicion.
It is not long before Johnnie cooks up another scheme as he and Beaky enter into a partnership to erect a housing development at a local beauty spot. Lina warns Beaky that, given Johnnie’s money problems, he is not being fair to his friend by giving him control to write his own cheques. Despite coming from a sincere place of love and concern, Lina is referred to as ‘unwifely’ and Johnnie’s tone towards her becomes alarmingly aggressive as he orders her to back off. Such a rebuke is not only hurtful to Lina – who is quite alone in her new home, removed from her family and any social life – but serves to further fan the flames of doubt. From this point on, Johnnie assumes a heightened presence wrapped in sinisterism, propelled on by Lina’s projections.
As the tension escalates, the house itself becomes a fertile breeding ground for paranoia and uncertainty and its formerly light-filled rooms give way to grotesque shadows. We see the trio playing scrabble in the lounge area as Lina form the words ‘doubtful’ and ‘murder’, implanting the idea into her mind that Johnnie will kill Beaky when visiting the beauty spot the next day. This internal turmoil causes Lina to faint or, to put it more aptly, to fade from light into darkness, reflective of her mood.
In the morning, when she wakes to find Johnnie and Beaky gone, she rushes to the beauty spot, looking apprehensively at the plunging drop from the cliff edge to the sea which becomes a metaphor for her current psychological state. Returning home, everything takes on an intense, ominous quality: the spider web-like shadows cascade and encase her in the hallway, and the home becomes an uninviting and menacing place of death rather than a reassuring place of warmth. Off-camera, Johnnie can be heard whistling The Vienna Blood Waltz as the composition associated with romance and cherished memories assumes a disturbing and threatening tone. Lina moves through the hallway into the living area and the darkness lifts as she sees that Beaky is alive and light is flooded into the room, signifying her relief. By contrast, she learns that rather than murdering his friend as she suspected, Johnnie has in fact just saved Beaky in a life-threatening car accident.
Later, with Johnnie out on a business trip overseas with Beaky, uncertainty and darkness creeps in again as represented by the arrival of the police at Lina’s door with news of Beaky’s death in Paris. It is clear she still suspects Johnnie, and there is a tense moment while she waits for the police to report the name of their suspect followed by an exhale of relief when it is not her husbands’. Once they have left, she looks to the portrait of her father and tells it repeatedly ‘he didn’t go to Paris’, demonstrating that even though she mistrusts Johnnie at this point, she also displays great faith in her husband. Just when she is about to reach a moment of despair, Johnnie arrives and she proceeds to question him. Beginning to suspect that she might be next on Johnnie’s murder list, she listens in intently to his conversation with the police as he confirms that he left Beaky at Croydon airport. It transpires that she was right to have faith in him: he never was in Paris after all.
A Poisoned Mind
Torn and conflicted, Lina visits Isabel (Auriol Lee), a local murder mystery writer who tells her of The Trial of Richard Palmer, a novel which features a death closely resembling Beakys’. As she scans her shelves for the book, Isabel suddenly remembers that she has lent it out to Johnnie, adding to Lina’s brewing convictions. Back at home, Lina finds the book tucked into a drawer along with a letter advising Captain Melbeck (Johnnie’s former employer) that he is looking into alternative methods for repaying him. This is promptly followed by a call from an insurance company confirming that a response to Johnnie’s query will arrive via letter the next day. In a state of agony, Lina waits for the letter and watches as Johnnie opens it, reads the contents and stows it in his jacket pocket. While he is in the bathroom, she seizes the letter and finds that he has queried a payment which can only be made upon her death. Shivering at the window, in the moment when she most suspects him, Johnnie enters, proceeding to hold her tight in an embrace.
With all the house staff away, Lina finds herself alone in the house with Johnnie one evening and a palpable fear begins to dawn. This tortured state of mind is reflected in her costume. She wears a white gown with glittering leaves wrapped around her shoulders and waist, their twisting and pointed nature representative of her inner conflict. The high neck and floor length of the garment also speak to how consumed and overwrought she feels.
Following conversations with local detective novelist Isabel about murder and poison -topics that Johnnie appears to find incredibly stimulating – Lina is on high alert. However, even as she suspects her husband, she still agrees with Isabel when she declares that Johnnie is ‘one in a million’. The writer also asks curtly ‘have you ever been able to deny Johnnie anything?’ before disclosing that Johnnie has wrought out of her details relating to undetectable poison. Hitchcock has been playing a cat and mouse game with both Lina and the audience, but now it finally seems that her convictions were ill-founded. However, the master of suspense cannot refrain from toying with us further when Lina goes to bed while Johnnie fixes her a drink.
Never is Johnnie presented as more suspicious than when he ascends the staircase of the shadow-laden hallway while carrying the illuminated drink. Dressed in black and with his face silhouetted, Johnnie represents the epitome of darkness and deception. Unable to read his facial expression, we are teased into imagining and projecting all the knowledge we have so far onto the deep-routed fear that he plans to harm Lina. Wisely, she does not touch the drink and the next morning decides to visit her mother. However, rather than allow her to travel herself, Johnnie insists that he drive her and – although mistrusting his intentions – she reluctantly agrees.
A Road to Resolution
Once in the car, convinced she will be killed, Lina’s (and Hitchcock’s) gaze is fixed firmly on the speedometer and the steering wheel. Suddenly her door opens, revealing the certain death that awaits in the ravine below, while she screams in terror. It is revealed that Johnnie was planning to kill himself with the poison but instead decided at the last minute to do the honourable thing and turn himself in to the police. Knowing the truth now, Lina declares ‘it’s a much my fault as yours’, and remarks on how if she had behaved differently Johnnie may have spoken to her about what was happening. She begs him to ‘turn back’ but there is no way of erasing what has taken place – there is only the future which will be built on a shaky foundation of lies and deceit. However, as in many of his films, Hitchcock hints towards the idea of a potential resolution being reached through compromise as Johnnie turns the car at the last minute and puts his arm around Lina. The long road ahead is reflective of their journey, but they are at least together, bound by love and honesty.
Rebecca will return in the New Year with more articles in her Hitchcock’s Women series.