Monday, November 14, 2016

Suspicious Behavior

"Well, well. You're the first woman I've ever met who said yes when she meant yes."

Johnny (Cary Grant)

I am a fan of Alfred Hitchcock's movies — something, as I have written before, that I picked up from my parents — but nearly all of his movies were before my time, and I have often wondered why his movies didn't win more Oscars. After all, many of his movies are considered classics today. You will always find them on "best of" lists. The American Film Institute included four Hitchcock movies in its list of the top 100 movies of all time. AFI included nine of Hitchcock's films in its list of the top 100 thrilling movies of all time.

Hitchcock himself was nominated for Best Director five times, but he never won. In spite of directing many of Hollywood's brightest stars in the 1940s and 1950s — some, like Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly, in multiple films — only one received an Oscar.

That was Joan Fontaine for her performance in "Suspicion," which was in American movie theaters on this day in 1941.

Hitchcock wasn't nominated for his directorial work in "Suspicion," but the movie was nominated for Best Picture and Best Score of a Dramatic Picture in addition to Fontaine's Oscar for her acting.

Fontaine played an introverted, rather frumpy heiress who married a rogue/charmer (Grant) she met on a train. After their honeymoon, Fontaine's character began to discover her new husband's shadowy past. He was a rather reckless gambler who sold two of her antique chairs to pay off a gambling debt, and she became suspicious of his motives when one of his friends turned up dead under mysterious circumstances.

Fontaine's character wondered if he planned to kill her for her money, especially after he questioned a friend of hers, who happened to be a mystery writer, about poisons that could not be traced, and you had all the pieces in place for a classic Hitchcock psychological thriller.

In the end, though, Grant's character was vindicated, and, in truly Hitchcockian fashion, the movie shifted in the final minutes from a tale that cautioned wariness when facing the unknown to a cautionary tale about making assumptions based on incomplete and inaccurate information.

It was Fontaine's movie, and she was rewarded with the Oscar, but Grant was the one who really stole the show with his magnetism.

The story I have always heard is that Grant was frustrated by what he perceived as Hitchcock's preferential treatment of his leading lady. That shouldn't surprise any student of movies. Hitchcock always had an eye for lovely ladies, and he featured them prominently in his movies. Fontaine was merely one in a rather long line that included the likes of Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Kim Novak, Eva Marie Saint, Janet Leigh and Tippi Hedren.

I guess Grant found this particularly egregious, though, perhaps because it was pretty well known that he thought Fontaine was unprofessional and temperamental, and he pledged never to work with Hitchcock again.

They must have patched things up because they made three more movies together, including perhaps my favorite Hitchcock movie of all, "North by Northwest."