Take yourselves back to 1941.
Cary Grant’s star was very much on the rise but his reputation rested in Hollywood as much or more on the successful comedies he made such as The Awful Truth costarring Irene Dunne (sharing the photographic limelight with Grant and unnamed canine above) and Bringing Up Baby rather than on “serious roles.”
In Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion, he won himself a serious role, top billing and approval of his leading lady (Joan Fontaine). She was cast, as she later wrote, as a dowdy, gawky heiress, married against her family’s wishes to Johnny, played by Cary, a scheming adventurer bent on getting his wife’s money.
What a showcase for Grant — a jaunty, super-handsome (he was 37 at the time) rake with a soupcon of evil. The novel on which the film is based has him killing his wife at the end. (Preview audiences gave thumbs down to that denouement, demanded a more upbeat ending and got it in the final theatrical release.)
Fontaine recalled that Cary was fascinating to work with. He took his career very seriously. He knew how to be lit to his best advantage, and demanded that he be so. He was the STAR of Suspicion, after all. Everything had to be just right. In her autobiography written many years later, Fontaine (above) wrote that the only mistake he made on “Suspicion” was not realizing that the part of Lina (the mousy wife) was the major role. It was through her eyes that the story unfolded. She had all the sympathy.
Cary found this out halfway through the shooting schedule. That, plus Hitchcock’s “divide and conquer” technique (of handling actors) created a temporary distance between us by the end of the film.
Joan’s view of the pre-eminence of her part was validated by her Oscar nomination for that “major” role. As it turned out both Joan and Olivia de Havilland (infamously feuding sisters) were up that year for best actress citations — Joan for Suspicion and Olivia for Hold Back The Dawn.
As soon as the previous year’s winner Ginger Rogers announced from stage that “the winner is…Joan…,” Fontaine recalls that, I froze. I stared across the table, where Olivia was sitting directly opposite me. ‘Get up there, get up there,’ she whispered commandingly.
Now what had I done! All the animus we’d felt towards each other as children, the hair-pullings, the savage wrestling matches, the time Olivia fractured my collarbone, all came rushing back in Kaleidoscopic imagery.
My paralysis was total. I felt Olivia would spring across the table and grab me by the hair. I felt age four, being confronted by my older sister. Damn it, I’d incurred her wrath again!
Sisterly battles aside, it was Fontaine — and not Grant — who walked off with the Academy Award. Check out Suspicion, one of Hitchcock’s early great ones. Cary was terrific but Joan was the “star.”