***Johnny Boy, Indeed-Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion
From The Pen Of Frank Jackman
Suspicion, starring Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1941
The twentieth century, the triumphant “age of democracy,” at least in the developed West was not a particularly good time for properly trained elite school gentlemen, assorted nobles, and wayward royalty as the stresses of war, the masses, and the vigor of more secular states did in more empires than one could shake a stick at from Russia to Britain and France and broke up empires without regret. They, those sullen gentry, especially daunted second sons and certainly forlorn third or more with no hope inheriting more than a piss-pot, those degreed nobles who could neither hold onto their estates against a fellahin world or pay the damn mortgage after successive generations of entailment, social if not legal, those “kings” among men working as dime a dozen waiters in Parisian cafes or huddled in some backwater corner reliving their former splendors to a bored world all had that insufferable proper training, good breeding and only hanging with the best café society.
But the twentieth century (and now extending into the twenty-first) besides bringing fellahin uprisings and democratic veneers was preeminently the “age of the cash nexus” as well and that little problem of entailed estates, social or legal, and mortgaged to the hilt princely residences required more that some nodding acquaintance with fellow blue-bloods before selling the family silverware for one last blast before the streets. All of this by way of introducing a stellar British example of the wayward proper gentry left adrift in the twentieth century (and extending into the twenty-first for the progeny), Johnny A., (no full last name needed as his is emblematic of the breed), and his self-imposed financial problems in the film under review, Suspicion. Oh yes, since this film does not hinge on some left-wing sociological analysis and has the imprimatur of Sir (belatedly Sir) Alfred Hitchcock, a director known for mudding the waters with some off-hand intrigue and suspense before resolving all doubts, has the smell of murder in the air, murder most foul if certain imaginations are allowed to get the better of the situation.
Here’s why we can speak candidly of murder, murder most foul. Our boy Johnny A. (played to a tee by Cary Grant who seems to have been born to fill such ruined high bred, good fellow well met, gentry cinematic roles), all good breeding and manners was a sporting man, a serious sporting man who had run out of possibilities with the known gentry but who still had those nagging problems of owing every Tom, Dick, and Harry around. And one of those Tom, Dick, and Harrys is his friendly bookie who is looking for his dough when Johnny boy’s nags ran out. See he figured that if Johnny had won he would have to have paid out so fair is fair. And Johnny is smart enough to see that if he wants to live another day to make that surefire bet that will get him on easy street that he must agree with such a proverbial thought.
So what is a hard-pressed man about town to do? Well here was Johnny’s scam (guys like Johnny spent many a sleepless night working out the details of such plans rather than face the prospect of gainful employment which would lead to nightmares). Or what looks to an untrained eye like an easy scam He “hit” on this dowdy spinsterly rural gentlewoman, Lina (played by Joan Fontaine, who as the film progresses remarkably loses that dowdiness, loses it all the way to an Oscar), who also has plenty of breeding, very good manners and, some dough, although as a 1940s woman she is not expected to use her obvious intelligence beyond the knitting table. Oh yes she is also looking for a man to sweep her away (although she did not know it). See Johnny, all bluster and sweet sweep her off her feet moves, figured to marry her and live off of her largess like any proper squire. Which he did, both swept her off her feet and married her. Nice work Johnny and good luck on easy street.
Well not quite. The problem was Lina’s father, a gentleman of the old school, who had insured Lina’s spinsterly future by keeping her on a short leash, a yearly allowance and not any real dough. And once he passed on later in the film, to show one final kick in the shins distain for Lina’s choice of husband, he left Lina with a thimble full of good thoughts but no dough. Oops, Johnny.
Once Johnny figured out the score (after running up the bills on the expectation of fatherly largess) he of course decided to go to work, nothing too heavy maybe managing some well- established estate, and make something of himself. Make a crestfallen Lina proud. Hold on, have you been reading this plotline, Johnny was a sport not a worker bee and so the only work he was doing, his only gainful employment, was scratching away at every scheme he could figure out to keep the creditors from the door, or worse. And that is where murder, murder most foul, really where suspicion of such deeds comes in. A series of events unfolds which look very much like somebody is being set up for murder, murder by the book if you want to know, and that somebody is Lina. At least as Johnny grows distant, as untoward things begin to happen that is what Lina believed her fate to be.
That series of unexplained coincidences from the mysterious death of Johnny’s partner in a real estate scheme just before it was to be completed by a party, or parties unknown, to those various suspense-building untoward things happening to Lina drives the last part of the film. Remember too Johnny was a sport, a con man, a flimflam man and not built for murder. Know this as well, if you can believe this about sporting Johnny, in the end, despite his financial problems and whatever drove him to pull his scams on her he actually loved his Lina. Go figure, right.