Lina (Joan Fontaine) is in a first class train carriage when the locomotive goes through a tunnel and someone enters in the darkness, bumping into her. He is Johnnie (Cary Grant), and displays his disreputability from the beginning by asking her for change to pay for his ticket when the conductor arrives - he was meant to be in third class. But Lina is surprised to see this man in the pages of her society magazine, and that he has a position in high society; she is shy and lonely, he is interested because she's different to the usual women he meets, and soon the rogue is pursuing her...
Ah, but to what end? This was the question perplexing audiences with Suspicion, Alfred Hitchcock's Hollywood movie following Rebecca, which also starred Joan Fontaine - apparently it was she who recommended the source novel to the director with a wish to take the lead in it. You can see why, as it was the ideal role for her style (it won her the Oscar), the shrinking violet who finds inner resources when things get fraught with worry, as Lina does here when as the title suggests she begins to have second thoughts about her romance with the dashing Johnnie. Played by Cary Grant, how could he have been anything else?
Well, he could have been, but there were problems in resolving the plot, and they centered around whether moviegoers of the day would accept Grant as a schemer and potential murderer, as he begins to appear. For the first half hour, however, we got what could be summed up as a Hitchcock romance, without irony, and with a strong sense of how loverlorn Lina is, making Johnnie's interest in her something of a Godsend when she was doomed to be a spinster for the rest of her days, much as her wealthy parents believe she will be. As much in an effort to prove them wrong as she wanted to be married, Lina elopes with Johnnie, and they go on an extravagant honeymoon before settling in a lavish country house.
Here's where the problems begin, as if being in a Hitchcock movie was never going to allow domestic bliss for very long, but basically Johnnie, no matter how superficially attractive, is a ne'erdowell who hasn't the money to pay for his lifestyle, and was hoping his new spouse would pick up the tab for his profligacy. Now estranged from her parents thanks to her life choices with who they see as the wrong man, they need funds desperately, but exactly how desperate is Johnnie prepared to be? Here was where the thriller aspect grew, as Lina becomes convinced her husband would go as far as murder to get his hands on a way to perpetuate his reckless accumulation of debts (Grant, who didn't get on with Fontaine, had other reasons for thinking Johnnie would turn to homicide), and when she thinks he would go as far as bumping off Nigel Bruce that's a step too far.
Not really Nigel, of course, but the best friend character Beaky the erstwhile Doctor Watson was playing, who is oblivious to any apparent ill-feeling that may be directed at him; he can be tactless, but Bruce managed to make him likeable in one of his best roles ("All dogs are fond of me!"). Then the tension increases when Lina thinks Johnnie is going to murder her for the insurance, and it all points to a dramatic conclusion ahead... but did we get one? This can make Suspicion a difficult Hitchcock to watch twice for many people, simply because that ending was believed to be such a letdown. After a story taking Grant's abundant charm and a sinister look at what could be described as the dark side of his screen persona, to add a twist like that for the denouement was hard to take. Besides scuppering all that careful work in creating the paranoia, it leaves us not knowing what to think about Johnnie at all, or how far on the level he could be. Some put the blame on the studio, others on the filmmakers, but it's an awkward movie no matter what. Rather good score by Franz Waxman, though.
The sixties started strongly with groundbreaking horror Psycho, and The Birds was just as successful, but then Hitchcock went into decline with uninspired thrillers like Marnie, Torn Curtain and Topaz. The seventies saw a return to form with Frenzy, but his last film Family Plot was disappointing. Still, a great career, and his mixture of romance, black comedy, thrills and elaborate set pieces will always entertain. Watch out for his cameo appearances in most of his films.