How can a movie as good as this one be so utterly undone by such a discordant ending?
Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion is an enjoyable, engaging movie until the last five minutes when studio interference makes it go completely off the rails. According to the stories, RKO felt audiences wouldn’t accept that Cary Grant’s character was a murderer and instead of following the original ending of the novel upon which the movie is based, gave us a happy ending of sorts. Or at least a half-hearted ending wherein Grant’s Johnnie doesn’t try to kill Lina, but instead saves her from hurtling out of the car due as they race along some cliffs.
Never mind that the movie has spent the previous ninety or so minutes setting up so that we, the audience, will doubt Johnnie’s word on everything, undermining his every good intention by revealing he’s a liar and hinting that he’s eliminated people in the past to get out of debt or for some kind of financial gain. The film even shows us how he could and probably did off his old friend, Beaky, who has a severe allergic reaction if he drinks too much hard liquor.
Of course, it’s easy to see why RKO might have wanted to not have Grant play a character capable of such deceit and murder since this was one of his first dramatic roles. But, seeing Grant play against the type he’d cultivated over the first few years of his career is exactly what makes this movie work so well. Hitchcock builds on our assumption of the type of role Grant has played up this point to help ratchet up the suspense. Of course, this overlooks that even in one of his funniest roles in His Girl Friday that Grant’s character there was entirely unredeemed and a bit unlikeable if you really step back and think about things.
In fact, over the course of their whirlwind romance (begun after Lina overhears her parents speculating that she’ll become an old maid), you can’t help but wonder if Johnnie really loves Lina or if he sees her as a new opportunity due to her financial standing. Indeed, his growing anger at her father who cuts her from the family fortune and then only leaves her a portrait when he dies seems to underline this, as does the fact that he Johnnie lies to Lina about large portions of his history.
It all helps build up the suspense, as does having a mystery novelist on hand to tell Lina and the audience of the creative ways that people can off each other and not be detected. This culminates in what may be the most suspense-laden walk up the stairs with a glass of milk in the history of the world.
The original novel has Lina drink the milk, knowing its poisoned. The movie version has Lina not drink and the two attempt to reconcile after what may or may not have been one more attempt on Lina’s life. As the two drive off and we fade to black, I couldn’t help but wonder at Lina’s life expectancy post-credits or if this was some kind of delusion she’s having after she’s drunk the milk and is slowly fading away from the poison that Johnnie put in her milk.