Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Joan Fontaine in Suspicion

Joan Fontaine received her second Oscar nomination and only Oscar for playing Lina McLaidlaw, a scared young wife in Alfred Hitchcock's movie, Suspicion. It's easy to see why Joan won for this performance: the Academy realised how incredibly stupid they were when they did not give her the award for Rebecca, one of the greatest performances of the 1940s. This is another proof for what Katharine Hepburn once said, that always the right actors win Oscars, but for the wrong roles. Moreover, Joan's case became much more interesting since her win worsened the feud between her and her sister, Olivia de Havilland.

Suspicion is a fascinating movie, but what else do you expect from the great Alfred Hitchcock? It's certainly one of his lesser and least memorable works (it's not even close to, say, Vertigo or Rear Window), however, Suspicion is just great to watch. Although the exposition is a bit slow and lazy (yes, probably a bit boring), the rest of the movie really makes up for it. After a while, the whole thing becomes really tense. Plus, Hitchcock's mixture of genres (romantic movie and thriller) is just brilliant. Also, Cary Grant is one of my favorite actors, so I always like him very much. This is not his best performance, though.

Joan Fontaine (as I said) deserved an Oscar for Rebecca, hands down. She was so incredible in that movie, covering such a wide range of emotions: fear, desperation and so on. Although she was only 23 at the time, she was already so masterful with the emotions (better than her sister ever was) and I would have expected something like that from this performance hadn't I seen it beforehand. I knew that this wouldn't live up to that great work, but I remember really enjoying it for the first time. I wasn't even influenced by the many negative reviews about her.

And Joan Fontaine is indeed quite enjoyable as the terrified Lina. However, this time I couldn't overlook the flaws in this performance, which are mostly obvious in the beginning. The whole beginning of the movie is rather slow, so it's the actor's task to make it enjoyable, however, I think they failed at doing so. At first the chemistry between Joan and Cary Grant is not that strong and it has to develop a lot as the film progresses. Fortunately, the chemistry somehow becomes much better between them.

Although Joan's work here is quite uneven, it's positive thing about it that her performance really develops and gets better and better in time. It starts out extremely weak and her presence doesn't have very much weight. It might be, though, that it was the aim of those scene to show Lina a very boring and grey person, who's not very interesting. If that was the purpose, than Joan really succeeded. I wasn't fully convinced that Lina was really seduced by Johnnie. Or she just wanted to get married and not to be called a spinster. Well, that's an interesting option. However, there isn't much mystery in this performance.

When the story gets a bit more exciting, Joan's performance also becomes very good. There were scenes where I said "wow, she's quite good actually". Her presence became so much stronger, plus she was somehow able to deal with the emotions much better, she perfectly showed how terrified and uncertain she is. You can defend her that you couldn't make such a character interesting, but I feel that Joan could have added more to it in the beginning. And the second part proves my point. I actually did develop an interest in Lina and I really cared about her.

Still, she's not very impressive even in the second half since the direction is so masterful there that it totally overshadows the rest, everything pales in comparision with it. Although Joan's performance improves a lot in the second half, she's not an exception. I'm not saying that she's not enjoyable, but she did not completely satisfy me. That's too bad, because that's what I hate the most: mediocre performances. I don't want to take anything from Joan, but this is not better than average, unfortunately. I really-really wanted to love her, but I wasn't able to.

All things considered, this is a good performance by a great actress, who's unfortunately rarely talked about nowadays. Although Joan's achievement as Lina is quite uneven and a bit unimpressive, there's something interesting and enjoyable about her that makes you keep watching. Not close to Rebecca, but I think that I shouldn't make comparisions.
A weak 3,5.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...


Fritz said...

Very nice review of an often harshly criticized performance (including by me, lol)