December 10, 2014

Joan Fontaine, Suspicion

Won: Academy Award - Best Actress | New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actress

Joan Fontaine was bestowed the eternal title of "Academy Award winner" only a year after having made a big splash with an acclaimed performance...and just like good 'ol Jimmy Stewart, she ultimately won for a performance that has been deemed by many as being lesser than its predecessor. Obviously her winning is not her fault, and the fact that Suspicion is a terribly messy and narratively confounding picture isn't her fault either. Her victory can be easily be written off as a "makeup" prize, but the fact that she was named Best Actress by the New York Film Critics Circle (Inside Oscar says that RKO hadn't even planned on giving Suspicion a qualifying run until Fontaine had unexpectedly nabbed up the prize) as well suggests to me that voters in 1941 must have seen something here that they liked. I'll admit, after having read many negative critiques on Suspicion and Fontaine's win, I came in with the worst expectations. But surprise, surprise--I didn't think Suspicion or Fontaine was that bad (big fat sloppy mess? Yeah. AWFUL? nah).

Watching Fontaine early on, I initially wrote in my notes, "lacking in personality?" and "lacking in...something", before it dawned on me halfway through the film: Lina McLaidlaw is just plain bland as a character. Unlike the second Mrs. de Winter, there's just nothing that stands out in Lina's context that would allow for Fontaine to go for a richer performance, never mind an interesting heroine. This is yet another classic case of a horrible screenplay being a weight upon an actor's shoulders. Everything's just kind of in disarray, and with such shoddy characterization and development, it was tough for me to feel for Lina in the same way as I did the second Mrs. de Winter. And what exactly is her deal anyways? What redeeming qualities does Lina have? She's a pretty rich, talented, and beautiful heiress with whom we're supposed to believe has an (abrupt and very hasty) inferiority complex when it comes to the subject of marriage, and then she suddenly falls in love with someone and fluctuates back and forth between "oh my God is Johnnie trying to kill me?!" and "nah, I love Johnnie again". In any case the writing just makes Lina seem kind of stupid, such that I didn't even feel sorry for her in spite of the fact that she's supposed to be someone you root for because...y'know, her husband might kill her at any minute. She's still sweet and gorgeous in this film though her nervous tics are on full throttle this time around--she's constantly EMOTING, which in this case means cocking one eyebrow up to convey UNCERTAINTY, and after awhile it all feels kind of silly, especially when she's doing the same facial expression for a plethora of reactions, from "where is Johnnie??" to "Johnnie isn't at his job??" to "oh my god where are my chairs??". Still, she's the best thing Suspicion has to offer, and my guess is that Fontaine's a little all over the place because she doesn't have the very concise direction that Hitchcock had in Rebecca to benefit from this time around. Sure, she's paralyzed from doing anything interesting outside of her signature "omg" shocker face and the occasional fainting spell, but in my opinion she's never unwatchable. I suppose that voters were taken by her back then because the idea of a woman suspecting she may be murdered by her husband proved to be an interesting concept, and perhaps they liked what they saw back then. It's still a weak, weak choice for a Best Actress winner, but in my opinion it could have been much worse.


  1. What's strange about this performance is that she has very large screentime, but it doesn't help her at all, it's a very bland character involved in a very odd relationship. Nevertheless, I still think she's the best thing about this poor Hitchcock film.

  2. That's about right, and I have to agree. No Hitchcock film could be outright terrible, but this one never did engage me emotionally, even though its no trial to sit through.