Saturday, April 11, 2020

“The Suspect”—Film Noir Set in Merry Old London

The Suspect (1944) directed by Robert Siodmak (Criss Cross) is a film noir set in London at the turn of the twentieth century. It stars Charles Laughton and Ella Raines.

The movie is set in early 20th-century London, but notice how Ella Raines is
dressed in 1940s glamor in this lobby card art.
Laughton plays Philip Marshall, a kindly gentleman married to an insufferable woman (Rosalind Ivan). So insufferable is she that their adult son leaves the house because he can’t stand living under the same roof with his own mother! After his son leaves, Philip occupies his son’s room, refusing to share space with his wife.

Marshall is a respectable accountant and well-liked by all who know him. When a young stenographer named Mary Gray (Ella Raines) comes to him looking for a job, Marshall is smitten with her. They begin a chaste affair, but this is film noir so nothing ends well, right?

Ella Raines (in period costume) with camera assistants Robert Lazlo and Frank Heisler and cinematographer Paul Ivano on the set of The Suspect
Siodmak’s direction is crisp and he gets a great performance out of Laughton and the other cast members. Laughton's character is completely sympathetic and I found myself decidedly on his side during the whole movie. Henry Daniell plays Gilbert Simmons, Marshall’s wife-beating drunkard of a neighbor, a role he plays to perfection. Daniell made a career out of playing these kinds of villainous characters. He was the evil Reverend Brocklehurst in Jane Eyre (1943) the year before.

Robert Siodmak (1900 – 1973) had a very successful career in Hollywood and is best known for his thrillers and films noir. He signed a seven-year contract with Universal and directed The Killers (1946), the film that made Ava Gardner a star. He worked with some of the top movie stars during Hollywood’s Golden Age, including Deanna Durbin, Gene Kelly, Burt Lancaster, Dorothy McGuire, Yvonne de Carlo, Olivia de Havilland, and Barbara Stanwyck. Often compared to Hitchcock in his prime, he never got the recognition that the Master of Suspense did, but most of his films hold up remarkably well and are worth watching.

Charles Laughton (1899 – 1962) had a long career on the stage and in Hollywood. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Henry VIII in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) and was nominated for two other Best Actor Oscars for his performances in Mutiny on the Bounty (1933) and Witness for the Prosecution (1957). His performance in The Suspect is considered one of Laughton’s most natural screen performances, which is credited to director Siodmak, a close personal friend of the actor.

Ella Raines (1920 – 1988) was born in Washington State where she studied drama at the University of Washington. Howard Hawks spotted her in a college production and signed her to a contract. Right out of the gate, she starred in some big movies, including Preston Sturges’s Hail the Conquering Hero and Tall in the Saddle (both 1944) where she shared equal billing with John Wayne. As her movie career declined in the 1950s, Raines worked in series television starring as Janet Dean, Registered Nurse (1954-55). She appeared on the cover of Life magazine twice, once in 1944 and in 1947.

Join us on Zoom April 14 for a discussion of The Suspect at 6:30 p.m. Central Time. Click here for details on how to participate. It’s free!

Some questions for discussion.
1. From what you know about film noir, do you think this film fits that category? Why or why not?

2. Does The Suspect have a femme fatale? If it does, who is she?

3. What is the first crime committed in the film?

4. Was the London setting believable to you? Was it important? Could it have worked set in America during the same time period?

5. What about the ending? Was it what you expected?

Here’s the press caption to the photograph above: Clark Gable came to Joan Bennett and Walter Wanger’s party at unique Sportsman’s Lodge with Ella Raines. At the table were Greer Garson and Richard Ney. The whole valley turned out for Walter’s opening of “Canyon Passage” at the Studio Theater, the biggest crowd in months, but only about 50 attended the dinner preceding the premiere.
Canyon Passage was released in 1946 starring Dana Andrews, Brian Donlevy, and Susan Hayward. It was filmed in Technicolor, which was rare in those days for a western. Producer Walter Wanger and movie star Joan Bennett were husband and wife at the time.

*Original blog post said that Ella Raines was discovered by Howard Hughes. This is incorrect, it was Howard Hawks.

1 comment:

  1. What happened to Ella Raines's career? She started off big, but there didn't seem to be much traction.


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