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Alfred Hitchcock's 1941 'Suspicion' was met with a skepticism that continues to this day

Alfred Hitchcock's 1941 'Suspicion' was met with a skepticism that continues to this day
Director Alfred Hitchcock, right, with actors Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine, on the set of his movie "Suspicion." (RKO Radio Pictures)

When "Suspicion" opened in 1941, Alfred Hitchcock was already a big-deal director. He had a stellar career in Britain before David O. Selznick brought him to Hollywood in 1939, and he directed 1940's Oscar winner for best picture, "Rebecca." All of that set a high bar.

Many critics pegged "Suspicion" as a middling effort for the burgeoning auteur. Even today, most aficionados place the film well into the teens when ranking Hitchcock's 50-plus films. Reviewers were particularly torn over the film's ending, which differed from the Francis Isles novel, "Before the Fact," on which it was based.

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But Los Angles Times critic Philip K. Scheuer found favor in that same ending in an Oct. 12, 1941, piece he'd written on upcoming films.

"'Suspicion,' Mr. Hitchcock's latest, is a more honest, less pretentious 'Rebecca.' And it goes further — actually tops it. Still master of the casual, 'Hitch' epitomizes his title in a spine-tingler — literally! —- about a wife (Joan Fontaine) who suspects her husband Cary Grant of having murderous designs on her. The ending, one of many shot, has been criticized as abrupt. That, I think, is what makes it effective." — Philip K. Scheuer, Oct. 12, 1941

Hitchcock himself claimed to be displeased with the ending in his famous interview with Francois Truffaut, describing a scene that was never shot. According to Hitchcock, RKO did not want to portray Grant as a killer and at one point the studio cut out everything that made the actor appear sinister, leaving a 55-minute film. Fortunately, the director was allowed to restore the footage, if not the ending he wanted.

Hitchcock: "Well, I'm not too pleased with the way 'Suspicion' ends. I had something else in mind. The scene I wanted, but it was never shot, was for Cary Grant to bring her a glass of milk that's been poisoned and Joan Fontaine has just finished a letter to her mother: 'Dear mother, I'm desperately in love with him, but I don't want to live because he's a killer. Though I'd rather die, I think Society should be protected from him.' Then, Cary Grant comes in with the fatal glass and she says, 'Will you mail this letter to mother for me, dear?' She drinks the milk and dies. Fade out and fade in on one short shot: Cary Grant, whistling cheerfully, walks over to the mailbox and pops the letter in."

Joan Fontaine won the Academy Award for her performance, but she almost didn't qualify. Although the film opened in New York in November 1941, it did not play in Los Angeles until January 1942. After Fontaine won the New York Critics Circle Award for best actress, RKO scheduled a special screening at the Pantages on Jan. 12, the final day of eligibility under academy rules of that time.

The film opened at the RKO Hillstreet and the Pantages Hollywood. The Pantages is still going strong as a concert venue and the host to touring Broadway productions after several major renovations over the years.

According to Cinema Treasures, the RKO Hillstreet, downtown at Hill and 8th streets, opened in 1922 and closed in 1963. The building was torn down in 1965 and replaced by a bank. It most recently was a nightclub called the Vault. However, its sister theater in San Francisco, the Golden Gate, is still standing and serves as a performing arts center. The stage play "An Act of God" with Sean Hayes, which recently played the Ahmanson, is playing there.

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