The Suspect (1944)

The Suspect, 1944, mins, Blu-ray

Directed by Richard Siodmak – Phantom Lady, The Killers, The Dark Mirror, Cry of the City, Criss Cross

Starring Charles LaughtonWitness for the Prosecution, Spartacus, Ella Raines– Phantom Lady, The Web, Brute Force

The first film in Arrow’s second Film Noir boxset, which is a collection of four minor film noir from the Universal vault- that ‘minor’ tag fits this one quite well, as in all fairness The Suspect is a pretty slight melodrama with as much an Hitchcockian tone as a genuinely film nor one. Its saved from possible mediocrity by its cast, particularly Charles Laughton and the great Ella Raines, who manage to suspend our disbelief. Then again, considering my comments with regards Cry of the City last week, it may well be that the performances are as much due to director Siodmak, who does seem to have had a knack at getting fine work from his casts.

Laughton plays middle-aged businessman Philip Marshall who is in a loveless marriage in an otherwise idyllic Edwardian England. He is constantly nagged by his bitter wife Cora, who is played with scenery-chewing relish by an icily shrewish Rosiland Ivans. When their son has finally had enough of his unpleasant mother and leaves home, Marshall takes the opportunity to move to his son’s vacated bedroom in an effort to begin distancing himself from his wife. He has evidently put up with a cold and thankless marriage for his son’s sake and now that is done, now wants to make his own life.

Harper meets and befriends a pretty young stenographer, Mary (Raines); its an unlikely attraction (there certainly doesn’t seem to be any chemistry between the two actors) but it pushes Marshall to demand a divorce from his wife, and of course Cora refuses. Soon after, Marshall kills her, framing her death as an accidental fall so that he can marry Mary, but the police are suspicious. Marshall’s neighbour sees a chance for blackmail having heard Cora and Marshall arguing. Backed into a corner Marshall has to deal with the blackmailer whilst reputing the investigations of Inspector Huxley (Stanley Ridges), who remains convinced Marshall is guilty even if there is no proof and like some dog with his bone, refuses to let it go.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of The Suspect is how it suggests the lie of its Edwardian idyll; in a slightly Lynchian mode, it dares reveal the dark underbelly of Edwardian life vaguely akin to what Blue Velvet did with wholesome American suburbia. In just the same way as Marshall initially plays the role of happily married businessman while hiding his actual misery, Marshall’s pleasant neighbour Mrs Simmons (Molly Lamont) hides the bruises dealt her from her abusive husband, who is a drunk and a bully at home. It suggests an unpleasantness behind the mask of domesticity that is likely the films most noir aspect.

I won’t pretend though that The Suspect is anything more than a minor film noir; director Siodmak tells its story with great efficiency and really, its probably best considered a Hitchcockian thriller more than it is a noir. Laughton and Raines are fine, albeit Raines leaves little indication of how brilliant she was in that same year’s Phantom Lady (again with Siodmak). I really can’t believe I haven’t written a post investigating Phantom Lady, that was a very impressive noir with a great story, cast and marvellous visual flourishes that had me buying a copy on Blu-ray. Regards the visual side of things, The Suspect is fairly routine, although its beyond hilarious what Hollywood thinks Edwardian London looked like- limitations of the Universal backlot I guess. I almost expected to see the monster from Frankenstein peering from an alleyway.


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