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USA/UK 1944
Directed by
Robert Siodmak
91 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Suspect

Director Rober Siodmak, aided by his cinematographer Paul Ivano, lends a good deal of “Expressionist” style to this suspense thriller. That's a good thing as in terms of plot the film barely holds together.

Charles Laughton plays Philip Marshall, a mild-mannered tobacconist living in a quiet suburb of London with his adult son (Dean Harens) and harridan of a wife (Rosalind Ivan). He is resigned to his lot but one day he meets a pretty young woman, Mary (Ella Raines), and begins a platonic relationship with her. His wife finds out and threatens to ruin them both by creating a scandal, this being Victorian times when divorce was severely frowned on.  How far will this kindly man go to protect the only good thing in his life?

If one struggles to believe the narrative pretty much from beginning to end (from the question of why would a very attractive young woman seek employment in the male preserve of a tobacconist’s to why Inspector Huxley (Stanley Ridges) is so obsessed with Philip’s guilt that he provokes Philip’s wife-beating neighbour (Henry Daniell) into blackmailing him, to why at the film’s end does Philip simply walk away from all he holds dear, and so on) what does work, and indeed surprisingly so, is the relationship between Philip and Mary.

Usually the notion of a beautiful younger woman hooking up with an older man of no evident physical appeal, lacking money or status causes one to roll one’s eyes. Here however, thanks to the performances of Laughton and Raines, it works. Laughton is best known for his scenery-chewing but his Philip is a quiet, self-effacing little man caught on the horns of a moral dilemma. If his solution to this situation is more than a little hard to accept, the best parts of the film are in the development of his relationship with Mary.  Raines, who had a solid career in the 1940s and ’50s largely in B-films, convinces us that Philip really is her shining knight while Laughton makes Philip deserving of our sympathies.

One small niggle, assuming that one can accommodate the motivational inconsistencies, is that the American accents particularly that of the son, are needlessly jarring.

Although critically and commercially successful The Suspect has largely faded from sight but deserves to be better known.

FYI: Siodmak had worked with Raines on Phantom Lady which was released the same year.




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