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The Suspect

10 Mar

A man trapped in a hellish domestic situation and driven over the edge by intolerable circumstances, challenged by a hydra-like fate at every turn. It sounds very much like a typical noir scenario, doesn’t it? Well, swap the glare of neon on rain-swept sidewalks for the soft glow of gaslight on damp cobblestones and it becomes apparent that The Suspect (1944) is indeed classic film noir. The setting may be Edwardian London but the moral dilemma confronting the protagonist leaves no doubt as to what category the movie falls into.

Philip Marshall (Charles Laughton) is essentially a nice guy, we’re reminded of this again and again throughout the film. He’s first seen on his way home from his job in a London tobacconists, pausing outside his front door to exchange pleasantries with his neighbor. As he enters his home though it becomes immediately apparent that all is not as it should be in his personal life. His bitter and acid-tongued wife Cora (Rosalind Ivan) informs him that their only son is moving out; a temper tantrum and the ensuing actions of Cora having proven to be the final straw for the boy. Marshall himself accepts the news calmly enough, it’s nothing he hasn’t been expecting though it also acts as something of a watershed as far as his own attitude to the marriage is concerned. Exasperated by Cora’s shrewish behaviour, Marshall moves into his son’s old room and seals what amounts to a de facto separation. The situation is reinforced, and is moved onto another level, when he meets Mary Gray (Ella Raines). As these two lonely people gradually embark on a relationship, the first instance of the film’s ambivalent morality comes to the fore. Essentially, Marshall and Mary are indulging in infidelity yet the seemingly chaste nature of their relationship, coupled with the not insignificant fact that both of them appear genuinely happy in each other’s company, encourages us to view it in a wholly sympathetic light. Matters are muddied still further when Cora’s poisonous nature threatens Mary’s future, even though Marshall has reluctantly agreed to end the affair. Everything heats up from this point as Marshall finds himself facing a dilemma, and the only solution he can see is the removal of Cora. Again, our moral sense tells us that this is wrong, and again the vile spitefulness of Cora ranged against the likeability of Marshall (and Mary) means the viewers face their own ethical quandary. The Suspect though is an extremely clever piece of filmmaking, and the decision not to show the murder actually taking place is a further example of its deft manipulation of the audience. By taking this approach, the movie leaves at least a seed of doubt in our minds – it almost feels like it wants to encourage us to believe that Marshall may not really have done away with Cora. Thus far we’ve seen a dysfunctional marriage, an apparently doomed romance, infidelity and murder. However, before the credits roll blackmail, the persecution of the innocent and the possibility of some kind of redemption are all stirred into the mix. I won’t go into details regarding the ending here, but I will say that I felt it adopted a nice ambiguous tone, one that is entirely appropriate given all that’s gone before. Personally, I consider it another example of the film’s skill in sidestepping the strictures of the Hays Code – the door remains open (albeit by only a hair’s breadth) for the kind of resolution the moral guardians of the time would have certainly frowned upon.

Robert Siodmak remains one of the most important figures in the development of film noir throughout the 1940s. His work, taken as a whole, would serve as a pretty good introduction to this style of filmmaking, and his movies are easily up there among my favorites. He started off his noir cycle quite brilliantly with Phantom Lady and then moved on to the odd and unsettling Christmas Holiday. The latter film began to explore the corrosive effects of an unconventional family dynamic and The Suspect continues this focus on troubles in the home, although from a different angle. In fact, Siodmak would go on to expand on this theme in his next noir project too, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry; the films actually have some elements in common, namely Ella Raines turning up to charm lonely men trapped by suffocating domestic arrangements. Much of the movie is consequently shot indoors, particularly in Marshall’s home, and makes good use of the atmospheric set design that was typical of Universal productions. I mentioned before that Cora’s death is never shown, but there is a marvelous sequence where the dogged detective, Inspector Huxley (Stanley Ridges), visits Marshall and reconstructs the crime. The whole thing takes place on the staircase with Marshall at the foot and Huxley enveloped in the shadows on the landing. As Huxley narrates his theory as to how events may have played out, the detective is literally absorbed into the darkness and the camera darts back and forth between the positions he imagines Marshall and Cora occupied. While it only lasts a few minutes, it really draws you in and neatly highlights the flair and artistry of Siodmak.

Charles Laughton was one of those larger than life actors who was forever in danger of overcooking a performance – anyone who has seen Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn will know exactly what I mean – but could also display great subtlety when handled correctly. Siodmak seems to have reined him in successfully and the result is a finely nuanced portrait of a man resigned to a life of disappointment who’s offered a glimpse of fulfillment. A character such as Philip Marshall could quite easily fall into the villainous category, and it’s to Laughton’s credit (with the assistance of that clever script) that he remains such a sympathetic figure at all times. Of course the fact that Laughton found himself paired off with Ella Raines doesn’t hurt either. At first glance Laughton and Raines make for an unlikely couple. Still, it works on screen, and Raines’ ability to project her particular brand of alluring loyalty (a quality Siodmak clearly recognized and exploited very well in their three collaborations) plays a significant part in that. Rosalind Ivan’s role as Cora is a thankless one in that her character honestly has no redeeming features; every time the audience might feel some vague stirring of sympathy she quickly reverts to type. Nevertheless, as a textbook example of bile and vindictiveness, it’s remarkably effective. The real villain of the piece, the man who elicits the most antipathy, is Henry Daniell. He pretty much built an entire career on playing slimy, scheming ne’er do wells and The Suspect offered another opportunity to get his teeth into such a part. He’s supercilious, unscrupulous and self-absorbed – a character it’s uncommonly easy to despise. And finally, a brief mention for Stanley Ridges. Always a reliable presence in any film, Ridges brings a calm authority to his performance as the detective who appears almost reluctant to do his duty.

Some of Siodmak’s noir pictures have proven pretty difficult to see over the years, though the situation has improved somewhat. The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry is currently only available in fairly poor quality (although a pretty good print has been broadcast on TV) but it seems to be earmarked as a future release by Olive in the US. The Suspect is another of the elusive ones; it was released on DVD in Spain a few years back and I was lucky enough to pick up a copy. That edition now seems to have gone out of print, although there do appear to be copies still available. There’s also an Italian release but I can’t comment on that – I do have a few other titles by that company though and have had no complaints thus far. The Spanish DVD is taken from an unrestored print – there are small scratches, cue blips and the like – but it still looks quite nice. The contrast, always important when it comes to noir, is fine and the film has been transferred progressively. There is a choice of the original English soundtrack or a Spanish dub. Also, there are no problems with subtitles – they’re optional and can be disabled from the setup menu. As a fan of Siodmak’s work, I like the film a lot. There is a certain amount of melodrama on show but it’s of the attractive noir variety. Laughton is excellent and admirably restrained, and the presence of Ella Raines is very welcome. Most of all though, I enjoyed the way the tale manipulates and subverts our notions of morality. Overall, it’s a quality entry in Siodmak’s noir series and recommended viewing.

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37 Comments

Posted by on March 10, 2014 in 1940s, Film Noir, Robert Siodmak

 

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37 responses to “The Suspect

  1. john k

    March 10, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Colin, I do believe that you pointed me towards the Spanish release of this film some time back and I am glad that you did,the transfer was excellent BTW.
    I would say that the film would appeal not only to Noir fans but also those who like Victorian Melodrama. Also Colin, a while ago you said you were not going to be as prolific as usual because of work commitments. Happily there has been lots of activity so far this year on RTHC. As always I feel that you have covered everything this fine film has to offer and I am glad that you made reference to the splendidly venal Henry Daniell. Another very fine choice Colin and another wonderfully written review.

    I have often wondered what happened to Siodmak’s career especially considering the outstanding quality of the films that he made in the Forties. He ended up doing all these obscure films in Europe and was a very odd choice to direct CUSTER OF THE WEST. The Siodmak that I would really like to see is THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH an obscure Brit flick, highly regarded by some.

     
    • Colin

      March 10, 2014 at 8:17 pm

      Thanks John. I think I may indeed have directed you to the Spanish DVD when it was first released. It’s a pretty good transfer and shows the film off well. And yes, I agree this film would appeal to fans of Gothic melodrama; it’s a very polished piece of work all round and has something for almost everyone.

      As for my output, I’ve been doing my best. I can’t promise to keep knocking out stuff as regularly all the time, but when I get the chance I will.

      Can I second your call for a book on Siodmak’s work. He was such an important noir director, pure class, and he does seem to have been sadly neglected in print. On The Rough and The Smooth, I’ve never seen the film myself but it’s available on DVD on this VCI set.

       
  2. Vienna

    March 10, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    Great review as always. A good film and cast. The writers are playing with us, making Laughton’s character so likeable.
    Rosalind Ivan’s character too one-dimensional.
    I agree Stanley Ridges always reliable.
    Hope someone writes a biography of Siodmak.

     
    • Colin

      March 10, 2014 at 8:19 pm

      Cheers. Yes, Rosalind Ivan’s part is very one-dimensional. She plays a totally reprehensible type and you have to wonder how Laughton’s character put up with her all those years.
      And good to see someone else hoping for a Siodmak book.

       
  3. Paul

    March 10, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    A Siodmak biography would be a great read, and it seems that “The Suspect” would be an entertaining watch. I will certainly keep my eyes open for a chance to take this one in, as I have really grown to enjoy more of Laughton’s work over the years. Thanks as always Colin. Your writing is constantly inspiring me to watch other films.

     
    • Colin

      March 10, 2014 at 8:24 pm

      Thank you Paul. If you like Siodmak’s work, then The Suspect won’t disappoint. I really like Laughton too, even when he let rip and chewed up all the scenery within reach. A film like this shows how subtle he could be though and Siodmak appears to have kept him on track.

       
  4. kristina

    March 10, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    This I must see! I’m a big fan of Phantom Lady and of Ella Raines, who must be one of the more magnetic, sharpest and underrated beauties of noir (and in general). Siodmak had a knack for creating such lush looking ( and dark when needed) movies. Well done and a pleasure to read as usual :)

     
    • Colin

      March 10, 2014 at 8:28 pm

      Very kind of you Kristina. Yes, Siodmak’s movies all look terrific, whether he was making a film noir or an action spectacular like The Crimson Pirate.
      And I’m a big fan of Ella Raines too. I definitely feel she was/is underrated and I always know I’m going to see something good when her name appears in the credits.

       
  5. Cavershamragu

    March 10, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    Great to read such a detailed look at this one Colin – it’s been ages since I saw it as a lad and in fact have a tendency to mix it up with Uncle Harry – but wonderful pedigree and a great combination of star and director. Must watch it again some time – thanks chum,

     
    • Colin

      March 10, 2014 at 10:14 pm

      Thanks Sergio. There are some similarities to The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (a film I like quite a lot although some people have issues with the resolution) I think, so your mixing them up is not something I find all that surprising to be honest.

       
      • Cavershamragu

        March 10, 2014 at 10:16 pm

        I love Laughton when he is subdued but must admit, had never considered this as a Noir really until now but you’ve really persuaded me!

         
        • Colin

          March 10, 2014 at 10:23 pm

          Laughton had great features for the movies and could impart so much so easily – he didn’t actually need to indulge in fireworks. Siodmak evidently recognized that and got a terrific performance out of him.

          I do sometimes have my doubts when it comes to borderline noir cases but I feel this is the real deal, even if the location and era are atypical. The skewed morality seals it for me.

          And the film is also a great showcase for the studio bound atmospherics that make pictures such as this a real delight.

           
          • Cavershamragu

            March 11, 2014 at 8:07 am

            You’ve completely convinced me – and certainly it’s the theme and treatment that determine the Noir-ness of it after all!!

             
            • Colin

              March 11, 2014 at 8:28 am

              I think so. You can nail the look – plenty of films, especially in the 40s, did so – but if the theme doesn’t contain noir motifs, then it ain’t noir.

               
              • Cavershamragu

                March 11, 2014 at 8:35 am

                Having said this, I think you are a bit more generous than I would be with CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY which I just couldn’t get along with, and I really did try – apart from anything else, Durbin’s make up is extremely odd in places and took me right out of the movie!

                 
                • Colin

                  March 11, 2014 at 8:41 am

                  Yes, well I do think Christmas Holiday is the least accessible of Siodmak’s noir films. The whole feel of the film is quite strange, partially as a result of the casting of the leads, so I’m not surprised if you struggled with it. I think I was kind of bemused when I first saw it, but it does grow on you.

                   
                  • Cavershamragu

                    March 11, 2014 at 8:50 am

                    OK, I will give it another go – but I still say that she looks damn peculiar in much of the film, especially in the church sequences, seemingly under inches and make-up

                     
                    • Colin

                      March 11, 2014 at 8:53 am

                      Fair enough point. Maybe they wanted to create a look for Durbin that reflected her character’s apparent fall from grace?

                       
                    • Cavershamragu

                      March 11, 2014 at 8:58 am

                      You are generous to a fault my friend – I suspect they just wanted to make her look older and it backfired!

                       
                    • Colin

                      March 11, 2014 at 9:04 am

                      You’re probably right. I was trying to be kind and casting around for (unlikely) explanations. :)

                       
                    • Cavershamragu

                      March 11, 2014 at 9:09 am

                      I wouldn’t wish to bang on about it (…) but look at this a minute – there is something very off about the way she is made up for the latter parts of the movie (and I say this as someone who is not what you’d call a Durbin expert, I’ve seen very few, sadly including the one she made with Laughton which does sound like a laugh)

                       
                    • Colin

                      March 11, 2014 at 9:13 am

                      I haven’t seen that many of her films myself – not the biggest musical fan – but you’ve got a point there. It looks like a botched attempt to create a cheapish/femme fatale look.

                       
  6. john k

    March 11, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Firstly Colin; just to backtrack it was Vienna, not I, who suggested a book on Siodmak, but having said that it’s a darn good idea.

    I was thinking about how another German born director John Brahm, like Siodmak, got sidetracked by mainstream Hollywood during the Fifties. Brahm, like Siodmak, made some outstanding films in the Forties. Both of these groundbreaking directors had the most amazing visual style, although Brahm’s later TV credits are vast. It’s a pity that they were not making mainstream Hollywood films in the Fifties; just think about what they could have done with FOOTSTEPS IN THE FOG for instance. That’s not to take anything away from Arthur Lubin, who I think did a great job on that film.

    Nice to read such supportive comments regarding Ella Raines, I really wish that she had made more Westerns, she was ideal in that genre. I would like to track down the Noirish sounding STOLEN FACE starring Raines who gets top billing. This was the final film of Jack Bernhard an interesting though somewhat mysterious director. Ella Raines final feature was the British B Movie MAN IN THE ROAD, where she appeared to have aged considerably. It’s a minor film to be sure but not without interest. In her private life Ella Raines had a tempestuous 29 year marriage to a war hero/fighter pilot whose career ranged from World War Two up to Vietnam. I have always felt that their story would make an ideal subject for a Martin Scorsese picture.

     
  7. john k

    March 11, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    Whoops!-just to correct my above statement the Ella Raines/Jack Bernhard film I mentioned SHOULD have been THE SECOND FACE. I got confused with the very fine Hammer Noir starring Lizabeth Scott. Both films seem to have similar plots.

     
    • Colin

      March 11, 2014 at 2:19 pm

      Ah, I came upon those comments as a group when I got in from work last night and must have mixed up the one who suggested a Siodmak book. My apologies Vienna, but we all seem agreed on how welcome such a work would be.

      John, I liked Raines in Tall in the Saddle so I take your point about it being a pity she didn’t work in more westerns. Actually, I may well do a piece on The Walking Hills, which I recently acquired, soon.

      On John Brahm, he made some highly memorable films in the 40s and I’d also like to have seen what he might have done had he not moved into television. Still and all, some of his TV work is so impressive I think he left a pretty strong legacy for us anyway. Maybe he wasn’t as distinctive as Brahm, but I also think Robert Florey is another director whose film career ended a little too soon.

       
      • John k

        March 12, 2014 at 3:27 pm

        Totally agree regarding Robert Florey Colin, in fact I hi-jacked Toby’s blog recently and listed the films Florey directed from Paramount’s G-Men/Crime Thrillers series. The lion’s share of these outstanding B Movies were either directed by Florey or Louis King, another director that I really admire. PAROLE FIXER, directed by Florey is a dandy B Flick and has a hot coffee in the face moment that predates THE BIG HEAT. Anthony Quinn BTW is on the receiving end of the coffee. I am at the moment sourcing Florey’s WOMEN WITHOUT NAMES and KING OF ALCATRAZ from this outstanding series. A remastered version of Floey’s excellent Noir THE CROOKED WAY hopefully will surface one day.

        I look forward to reading your take on THE WALKING HILLS, a very underrated and overlooked Western with a formidable cast. I also liked Ella Raines in RIDE THE MAN DOWN a Western that has a host of admirers over at Toby’s. I like that film very much except for the moment where Ella is punched in the face by Forrest Tucker, for no reason except to show what a totally repellent fellow his character is. Ella does, however, in an earlier scene kick the hell out of about four guys; I do wish the filmmakers had not included the punch in the face scene which is the only negative point to an excellent Western

         
        • Colin

          March 12, 2014 at 8:57 pm

          John, I’d also like to get my hands on a better looking copy of The Crooked Way than what’s currently available. I think it’s a terrific and a better version of what’s essentially the same story as Somewhere in the Night.

          And while I have your attention here, I know you often talk about the A C Lyles westerns. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of them but I noticed that Buckskin seems to be due for release in Spain, although it doesn’t appear to actually be available to order just yet.

           
          • john k

            March 13, 2014 at 3:18 pm

            Thanks Colin, I did notice BUCKSKIN but it appears to be 4×3 so I will not be getting that. I think we discussed the film on the Hanging Tree thread,or at least Richard W gave us a mini-review of the film. It’s not that I really like these films but I would like to re-visit some of the better ones to see how they stand up.

             
            • Colin

              March 13, 2014 at 8:32 pm

              Ah, I didn’t notice the aspect ratio. I quite understand your not wanting the movie under such circumstances.

               
  8. Rod Croft

    March 12, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Colin,

    The Nazi Party seizure of power in 1933, began an intellectual exodus from Germany.

    In his book entitled, “German-speaking Artists in Hollywood – Emigration Between 1910 -1945″, it is reported that the Author, Cornelius Schamber, (Emeritus Associate Professor of German at the University of Southern California), discusses such emigres, as Wyler, Wilder, Preminger, Lubistch, Lang, and more. Their careers, both before and after emigrating, are examined, as is their contribution to the film industry of the U.S.A.

    While no mention is specifically made of Siodmak, I would be surprised if details of his experiences are not included, in view of his contribution to the industry. The book is available “on line” ( both new and second-hand) and was originally published by “Inter Nationes, Bonn (1996).

    Once again, Colin, you have produced a thoughtful and well-written review.

     
    • Colin

      March 12, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      Thanks Rod. The European, and especially German, influx into Hollywood as the 30 wore on played a major role in shaping the look and mood of US movies. I doubt if film noir would have developed as it did had the arrival of these people not taken place.

      I wasn’t aware of that book – so something else to look into.

       
  9. Jerry Entract

    March 13, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Been away for a few days, Colin, so have not added anything to this strand. I think this film contains my favourite performance by Laughton due to its subtlety and this presumably is down to the great Robert Siodmak, as earlier suggested. Of course the director went on to make two of the very best, in my opinion, films noir – “Cry Of The City” and “Criss Cross”. Of course, lighting expertise was one major factor he brought to these films but again with “Cry Of the City” he drew what I think was probably the finest-ever performance out of Victor Mature. A director that stood very tall for too few years.

    Thanks, Colin, for such a fine review and a reminder of why I liked this film so much when I saw it many years ago at The National Film Theatre.

     
    • Colin

      March 13, 2014 at 8:37 pm

      I like all of Siodmak’s noir work Jerry, it’s of consistently high quality in my opinion. I’ve written about both Cry of the City and Criss Cross in the past, and I feel the latter is arguably the best of the lot.

       
  10. muriel

    March 16, 2014 at 11:16 am

    Although Rosalind Ivan has a one dimensional part in this movie, I always enjoy her. She was quite a card. And Henry Daniell – swoon!. He was always one of the great villains, but he could be sympathetic too – as in “The Body Snatcher”. I think his distinctive voice guaranteed he would be.
    With an ensemble like this one, the movie has to be worth watching. They just don’t have interesting movie casts like this nowadays.

     
    • Colin

      March 16, 2014 at 11:38 am

      Good point there Muriel. The era produced a large pool of excellent character actors, something impossible to replicate without the studio system. I guess many of these people became typecast in a sense but they also polished their craft, and films like this really do highlight this.

       
  11. Judy

    March 22, 2014 at 9:49 am

    Ella Raines seems to be in the air at the moment for me! First of all I saw her in ‘Hail the Conquering Hero’, which is great – then you reviewed this film, Colin, and another blogger, Aubyn at Girl with the White Parasol reviewed another of her films, directed by Robert Siodmak, ‘Phantom Lady’, which you have also reviewed here in the past.(She didn’t like it as much as you did.) I really want to see both these films now.

    I have seen ‘Christmas Holiday’, and found it atmospheric and powerful. Must say I think Gene Kelly is surprisingly good at on-the-edge characters, after also seeing him recently playing someone with a lot of problems in ‘Marjorie Morningstar’ – the thing that’s really hard to believe in that film is his character being an unsuccessful dancer! Anyway, another great review, Colin, and I hope to catch up with more Siodmak – and Raines.

     
    • Colin

      March 22, 2014 at 3:56 pm

      Thanks very much for stopping by Judy.
      I really like Ella Raines and only wish she’d made more films. And you should definitely seek out more Robert Siodmak films – his work is just so classy and can be returned to many times.

       

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