Joan Fontaine plays Lina McLaidlaw, a shy and reserved heiress, who falls madly in love with playboy Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant) and marries him after a whirlwind romance. But she soon discovers that her new husband might not be the man she thought he was, and after a number of incidents shock her, she even begins to fear for her own life.
I would give this film 7 out of 10, because despite all the hokum, and a Hollywoodized ending, I did actually enjoy it a lot. I’m not sure that it stands up to a lot of scrutiny – woman marries man who clearly can’t be trusted and then is surprised when she can’t trust him. Nonetheless, it is entertaining throughout, and it is also interesting to view Lina through the eyes of modern viewer. Because the question that springs to mind is why on earth did she not kick him into touch, pack his bags and tell him to leave?!?! Of course, the film was made in 1941, and it perhaps was not so easy for a woman to divorce her husband without creating a major scandal along the way, particularly in the circles in which Lina and Johnnie moved.
Anyway….Joan Fontaine won an Oscar for her role in this film, although I thought that Grant outshone her in almost every scene (Grant however was shunned by the Academy for much of his working life, and didn’t even receive a nomination for his work in this film). Fontaine was good, but seemed overly-dramatic at times, although this is also something that seems to be the case in a lot of Hitchcock movies.
The main problem with this film is the ending, which Hitchcock changed, presumably to appease the censors. There are major spoilers ahead, so stop reading now if you don’t want to know anything further…
Of course, Johnnie had to turn out to be a good guy at the end – or at least not the bad guy that Lina had suspected him to be. Just when she thought that he was going to try and kill her (and that he had also killed a friend of his, whose death he stood to profit by), it transpires that no! He wasn’t trying to kill her at all! And he didn’t kill his friend either. So Lina forgives and forgets, and all is well again. Just like that. The problem here is that throughout the film, Johnnie HAS been shown to be completely untrustworthy – stealing from his cousin, gambling away money which wasn’t his, etc., etc. So okay, he’s not a murderer, but there’s still a whole load more stuff for him to answer to, but that is all forgotten by Lina. (Frankly, if this were real life, it would be hard to sympathise with her when he inevitably messes up again.)
BUT….I still enjoyed the film! I liked Cary Grant’s performance very much, and there were some good supporting actors, especially Nigel Bruce, who played Johnnie’s friend Beaky. Even Hitchcock’s trademark suspenseful music seemed well placed in this movie. So despite writing a post which appears to do little but criticise, I still think the film was worth watching, and if you don’t think too much about the storyline, I would recommend it, especially to fans of either Cary Grant or Alfred Hitchcock.
Year of release: 1941
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producer: Harry E. Edington
Writers: Anthony Berkeley (novel ‘Before the Fact’ as Francis Iles), Samson Raphaelson, Joan Harrison, Alma Reville
Main cast: Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Cedric Hardwicke, Nigel Bruce, Dame May Whitty, Heather Angel, Auriol Lee