The endings for Suspicion
2. Bill Krohn's research into the various endings considered for Suspicion
3. Bill Krohn's revised findings; which ending first previewed, other matters
[Our gratitude to Bill Krohn for sharing his findings and for helping to make the following script-excerpt available. Bill is Hollywood correspondent for 'Cahiers du Cinéma' and the author of the prize-winning 'Hitchcock au travail' (1999)/'Hitchcock at Work' (2000).]
Introduction by Ken Mogg (Editor of 'The MacGuffin'). Hitchcock told Truffaut that he always wanted to end Suspicion by having Johnnie (Cary Grant) poison his wife Lina (Joan Fontaine). A twist would have been that Lina so loves her husband that, even after guessing his intentions, she consents to drink the poisoned glass of milk he brings her. But, to protect society, she has first written a letter to her mother, incriminating Johnnie. At the end of the film, Johnnie, whistling, would have been seen dropping the letter in a mail-box ...
Clearly, Hitchcock had hoped to get around the studio's stipulation that Cary Grant should not play a murderer. But at an early stage RKO put their foot down, and Hitchcock was forced to drop the film's intended ending. According to Bill Krohn, once Hitchcock began developing the project, it was always going to be about a woman who falsely imagines that her husband is a murderer. (Bill sees Lina as a sort of Madame Bovary figure, given to romantic fantasies and wild imaginings.) In that vein, various endings were mooted. One of these, which screenwriter Samson Raphaelson found in an estimating script by Joan Harrison and Alma Hitchcock, begins with Lina suspecting Johnnie of murderous intent, and Johnnie going away to join the RAF; later, Lina learns that Johnnie is a hero, and has named his fighter with his pet-name for her, ‘Monkeyface’. But this ending was never shot.
Bill Krohn's research turned up some fascinating items. Not only did RKO have no objection, until Cary Grant was cast, to Johnnie's being a murderer: in a 1938 script Johnnie is just that, and ends up being gunned down in woods by the police. The treatment in the RKO file for that early version has 'Orson Welles' pencilled in the upper corner! Bill suggests that if Welles was indeed offered the part of Johnnie, it may have helped inspire the character he played in The Stranger (1946). (Another inspiration for that film, directed by Welles, was of course Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt .)
There is actually a second script in which Johnnie is a killer, co-written by Boris Ingster and Nathaniel West, just before Hitchcock came on the scene. That one, reports Bill, is framed by a court case where Lina is charged with shooting Johnnie. During the film, the pair divorce because he has killed someone, then she dumps her new beau and goes back to Johnnie, whom she still loves, figuring that since she got her inheritance after the divorce, the two of them can live in sin and she can survive as long as the money, and 'Johnnie's luck', hold out. But Johnnie's thoughts turn again to murder, he advances on Lina with a glass containing poison, she shoots him - and, returning to the present, we see that she's been acquitted and may be reunited with the nice guy! This, notes Bill, would have been much closer to the book, despite the crime-doesn't-pay ending, but is still rather censor-unfriendly - Lina is pregnant and only decides to live rather than succumbing to Johnnie's murderous plans because she can't let him kill her child.
Here, now, is a synopsis of Hitchcock's film (reprinted from 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story') up to the point where the ending excerpted below begins:
A train enters a tunnel. In the dark, Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant) brushes against the leg of a stranger, Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine). When he notices her dowdy appearance, he’s discouraged. But the next day he sees her at a local hunt, where she’s altogether transformed, and on being introduced, he proceeds to sweep her off her feet. Though Lina’s father (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) warns her of Johnnie’s reputation for wildness, the pair marry and settle near the Sussex coast. In the ensuing months, Lina learns much about her husband that deeply disturbs her, including his capacity to lie, to embezzle, perhaps even to murder. Indeed, the strange death of Johnnie’s dim chum Beaky (Nigel Bruce) makes Lina fear that she’ll be next. She knows that after her father had died, Johnnie had secretly insured her life. One night, Johnnie brings her a glass of milk which she refuses to drink.Now read on ...
An ending of Suspicion that was mooted
[In 446-457 Lina puts the milk down without drinking, then goes into Johnnie’s room, where she sees him putting some powder in a glass of water. She confronts him ...]
Johnny, what did you put in the glass?
Well, what else was there for me to do? I’m no good to you, no good to myself. I warned you before we were married ...
Then that was why you got the secret out of Isobel – that poison –
I thought I’d make my death less embarrassing for you than my living – I wanted to save you from the embarrassment of suicide.
But Johnnie, why? Why did you ...
Why? Oh, there are so many reasons – I don’t know where to begin. I started our marriage off on the wrong foot – I bought things I couldn’t afford – I thought I’d manage to get along as I did before we were married. Well, it didn’t work.
But you were doing it for me.
(talking right over her speech)
My gambling was just the beginning – and then I got in deeper – I knew Melbeck would find me out, but I was desperate. And when I went into that land scheme with Beaky – that was the biggest mess of all ...
(Lina becomes tense again as thoughts of Beaky and murder return to her mind.)
You spoilt that for me – but you were right ... I was risking his money, not my own. Then Beaky died – some fool let him take the brandy ... I wish now I’d gone to Paris instead of – Well, I didn’t stay in London ...
I went to Liverpool. I thought I might raise some money on our life policies.
(with tremendous relief)
You mean you were in Liverpool at the time Beaky was ...
(nodding and continuing)
But that didn’t come off either.
(excited, full of love and relief)
But darling, why didn’t you tell me? How could you go through all this without –
(going on, hardly aware of her)
I could take it all so long as you loved me; but since I came back and realized how you had changed –
What do you mean?
Let’s keep this simple, dear – you don’t love me, and we both know it.
The way you looked at me last night, and then this morning the way you started off to your mother’s-
(Then slowly, with emphasis)
Look at me!
(Slowly he turns his head and meets her eyes.)
Do you think I could live without you? I’d have died if I lost you.
Lina, I’ll never be able to make you happy.
I’m happy now, happier than I’ve ever been in my life – you’ll never know why – not really ... Oh darling!
(She embraces him.)
I’m beginning to understand you so well, I don’t think I’ve ever loved you as much as I do at this moment.
(unable to believe what he wants to believe)
You don’t know what you’re talking about – we can’t live here anymore – You’ll have to give all this up –
(She holds him closer.)
I may have to go to jail ...
(breaking out of the embrace; with ringing emphasis ...)
No, no – I’ll never let that happen ... I’ll get the money from Mother – Mother has money – We’ll get it somehow –
That won’t do. This is something I must do myself.
(with sudden new pride in Johnnie)
You will, darling – I know you will!
(holding her away from him)
This isn’t going to be easy on you ... I’m going to get a real job ... But we’ll have to live in a very cheap flat ... you’ll have very few clothes ... You may even have to learn to cook ...
Johnnie, those are the most beautiful words you ever said to a woman in your whole life!
(He looks at her for a moment, then realizing the full meaning of what she has said they go into an embrace.)
The above was excerpted from the RKO files held at the University of California, Los Angeles. Bill Krohn points out that copies of the script of Suspicion, without the particular ending published here, can be ordered from various sites on the Web. Bill would like to pay particular tribute to Professor Mark Crispin Miller's essay, "Hitchcock's Suspicions and Suspicion", reprinted in Miller's collection of essays called 'Boxed In' (1988).
November 12, 2001 [Editor's note. Our guest for the next few weeks, Bill Krohn, here discusses his research into the various planned endings of Suspicion, plus some related matters.]
The best account of the imbroglio over the ending of Suspicion (1941) is given in John Russell Taylor’s biography 'Hitch' (1978). Hitchcock had previously told François Truffaut that his preferred ending would have been for Lina (Joan Fontaine) to knowingly let her adored husband Johnnie (Cary Grant) kill her, as in the book by Francis Iles, but only after giving him an incriminating letter to mail to her mother, which we would have seen him do in the last shot. Asked if the ending was ever filmed, Hitchcock told his biographer no, and Taylor, who had access not only to his subject’s papers, but to the complete RKO files, added that the preferred ending was never even written down. Instead, from the outset Hitchcock and his collaborators wrote a screenplay about a woman who simply imagines that her ne’er-do-well husband wants to kill her to collect her insurance and pay back money which he has embezzled. In the ending that was first shot, Johnnie brings Lina a glass of milk she thinks is poisoned, she sets it down untouched, then steals into his room just in time to stop him from taking poison himself - and her paranoia is cured. For those who may wonder why two separate preview audiences laughed at this ending, it is now reproduced on this website. As I explained in 'Hitchcock at Work', Hitchcock then saved the day by moving a wild car ride that was to have come before the poisoning to the morning after, followed by a brief explanation (still involving Johnnie’s intention to commit suicide rather than go to jail) on a cliff overlooking the sea. When 'Life' magazine asked Hitchcock for stills showing 'the three endings for the film' [Bill explains 'three' in his entries for December 4, 5 and 6, below - Ed.], so that the public could make up their own minds, Hitch refused. Unfortunately, exactly what he feared has occurred. Following the Truffaut interview and subsequent commentary – which made things even murkier - so much speculation has arisen that the avuncular presenter on American Movie Classics not long ago confided to viewers who had just watched the film that 'somewhere in the vaults of RKO' there is an ending in which Lina gets pregnant by another man and commits suicide! Those speculations, combined with the fact that the clifftop confession does play like something pulled out of a hat, have led some critics to undervalue one of Hitchcock’s best '40s films. To the best of my knowledge, Mark Crispin Miller is the only critic who has taken seriously, in his essay “Hitchcock’s Suspicions and Suspicion”, the idea of Lina as fantasist, and applied it at length to interpreting the film - although I recently appropriated his reading in my commentary for the French DVD of Suspicion, introduced by the chapter heading "An English Bovary". Most critics have just taken it for granted that Hitchcock made a film about a woman married to a murderer and tacked on an unsatisfactory ending after the real one was unsuccessfully previewed. Pascal Kane’s 'Cahiers du cinéma' critique from 1971, which is unfortunately not available in English, makes that assumption and goes on to defend the film as an exemplary Hitchcock work, concluding that credulous Lina’s murder will still occur, being 'virtually programmed by the [happy] ending.' Since a more sophisticated version of this argument has been made by Ken Mogg, who lent me this pulpit, I will need to state the arguments pro and con ...
November 13, 2001 [Author Bill Krohn, Hollywood correspondent for 'Cahiers du cinéma', has his suspicions about Suspicion ... ]
See Ken Mogg’s introduction on this website to the original ending of Suspicion for background about RKO’s attempts to produce a more faithful adaptation of Francis Iles’ 'Before the Fact' before Hitchcock ever came to the studio. The fact that one of these treatments was shown to Orson Welles when he arrived at RKO suggests that the studio might happily have let Johnnie be a murderer if the right actor played the part: because Welles had played many tragic heroes and hero-villains on stage and on the radio, audiences would have accepted him in the role, as they later did in The Stranger (1946). In fact, it appears that even as Joan Harrison and Alma Reville were writing a treatment and first draft based on the idea that Lina is imagining things, Hitchcock and the studio were still toying with a casting idea that would have made a darker story possible. On November 16 and again on December 2, 1940, two months before the start of production, Hitchcock directed screen-tests with Michele Morgan and Edmond O’Brien. Is this, you wonder, why RKO was collecting lists of titles implying a murderous conclusion as late as December 10? (Fontaine and Grant were tested on January 31 and again on February 4, six days before the cameras rolled.) Since the first draft was finished on November 28, before the second Morgan-O’Brien screen-test, Hitchcock may well have felt - given the systematic ambiguity concerning Johnnie’s guilt or innocence that had to be maintained in the audience’s mind to the very end - that he would not have to have a whole new script written to start production on I’d Die for You (one of the suggested titles), starring Morgan and O’Brien, should the need arise. A French Lina, on the other hand, would have required more than a few adjustments, and in fact Claude Bonique-Mercier notes in a brief biographical sketch (in his 'Michele Morgan', 1983, p. 193) that the actress lost the chance to make her American debut under Hitchcock’s tutelage 'because of her accent'. A studio memo about the tests leaves it open whether O’Brien, an alumnus of Welles’ Mercury Playhouse who had been cast in a featured role in RKO’s Hunchback of Notre Dame (1938), was a serious candidate to play Johnnie with a fake British accent: 'Test [of] Michele Morgan for the part of Lina, supported by Ed. O’Brien.' Two things are certain: O’Brien played the role not once but twice for Hitchcock’s camera (where is that footage?), and if he had been cast opposite Morgan, the film could have been made as RKO had always planned, with a murderous Johnnie and a $650,000 budget. Perhaps the ambiguity of the screenplay that was being written would actually have permitted Hitchcock, with a few adjustments, to start making such a film on January 10, as RKO wanted, although the director was never overly solicitous about the studio’s deadlines for this picture. (The January 10 start date is mentioned in a December 12 memo from J. R. McDonough in UCLA’s RKO archives). Did that built-in ambiguity subsequently encourage him to hope that, even with Fontaine and Grant, he might eventually turn Before the Fact (the title used during production) into the film he wanted to make (call it the Ur-Suspicion), just by shooting a different ending when the time came? Ken Mogg was the first Hitchcock scholar to suggest this possibility, and it is hard to disprove, even when the scripts at UCLA show no trace of any such ending ever being put on paper. Moreover, in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' Mogg cites three strong pieces of evidence that Hitchcock was preparing audiences for just such a conclusion. 1) When Johnnie and Lina meet in a railway coach in the first scene, he is traveling first-class with a third-class ticket and doesn’t have enough cash to pay the stern conductor the difference, so he brashly asks Lina for help and settles for a postage stamp she has in her purse. As the conductor leaves, outraged at having to accept a stamp as 'legal tender', Johnnie fires a parting shot - 'Write to your mother' – which certainly seems to allude to the last scene of the Ur-Suspicion: Johnnie mailing the incriminating letter to Lina’s mother. 2) Later, just before Lina gets some unpleasant news from Helen Newsham in front of the village bookstore, Hitchcock himself is seen posting a letter in a nearby mailbox. 3) In an earlier scene, when Lina is walking through the village with Isobel, the mystery writer, the camera pans past that mailbox, which momentarily blocks our view of Lina. Noting Hitchcock’s cameo in 'Hitchcock at Work', I interpreted it, like Gene Phillips in his study of Hitchcock, as 'a sly allusion', an in-joke which eventually became public when Hitchcock told Truffaut (and before him Peter Bogdanovich) how he had wanted the film to end, but Mogg argues persuasively that by inserting all these postal references Hitchcock was laying the groundwork for an ending he could spring on RKO after it became evident that audiences weren’t going to accept Johnnie’s innocence, just as he had made plans to shoot a sound version of Blackmail without telling British International. More about that mysterious 'postal theme' tomorrow.
November 14, 2001 [Bill Krohn continues to track the evolvement of Suspicion ...]
There is no denying that both the stamp that Johnnie takes from Lina to pay for his railway ticket and the letter we see Hitchcock mailing halfway through Suspicion allude to the suppressed ending of what I’ve been calling the Ur-Suspicion: Johnnie's mailing of the incriminating letter to Lina’s mother. However, this private meaning – which Hitchcock made public when he started talking to interviewers about how he would have liked the film to end – is not the only one. When the stamp Johnnie takes from Lina during their first encounter was written into the script on April 23 (the day the production shut down for two weeks because Joan Fontaine had fallen ill), it was being added to a script where stamps, letters and telegrams had an important role to play from the beginning. In the November 28 first draft written by Alma Reville and Joan Harrison, a postal theme is sounded when Lina says goodbye to her parents without telling them that she’s eloping: instead, she says she’s going to the post office 'to buy some stamps'. That phrase stayed in the script but didn’t make it into the film, where Lina just says she’s going to the post office. But another first-draft postal reference did survive. Earlier in the film a lovelorn Lina really does go to the post office hoping that there will be a letter from Johnnie – there isn’t. Eliminating the irrelevant stamp reference while filming the touching elopement scene made for a perfect echo: Lina’s second trip 'to the post office' is not in vain because this time she and Johnnie are running away to get married. This modest romantic postal motif contrasts with the flood of sinister communications which arrive for Lina in the second half of the film when her suspicions have taken root: the telegrams announcing her father’s and Beaky’s deaths, the letter from Johnnie’s employer threatening him with prison if he doesn’t replace the money he stole, and the letter from the insurance company informing Johnnie that the policy will be paid only in the event of Lina’s death. We can also add the most sinister letter of all, the one that would have hanged Johnnie if the Ur-Suspicion had been made – still a possibility, it would seem, while this first draft was being written. In his December 28 'final' draft, Lubitsch-collaborator Samson Raphelson added a comic variation on these two postal clusters, as we might call them: Lina's hoped-for letter from Johnnie never comes, but he does finally send a collect telegram (which Lina’s outraged father is obliged to pay for) announcing that Johnnie will be attending the Hunt Ball – an uninvited visit during which he sweeps Lina off her feet. The next day a boy delivers a letter and package to Lina’s parents after she has 'gone to the post office'. Reading the letter, which announces the elopement, General MacLaidlaw drops the package with an off-screen thud. This postal one-two punch is repaid with a kind of grim exactitude when Johnnie receives two nasty surprises from his reluctant father-in-law: the antique chairs, brought by messenger, that dash his hopes of a lavish wedding present, and the telegram announcing General MacLaidlaw’s death, followed by the reading of a will which leaves Johnnie and Lina nothing but a portrait of the deceased. But Johnnie’s part in all this rather Lubitschian one-upmanship didn’t make it into the movie: the dialogue about the collect telegram was never filmed, and the arrival of the letter announcing Lina’s elopement was filmed but eliminated in the editing. (All the eliminated touches that I have described so far are in the script for sale from dealers like bookcity.com.) Instead, a symbolic circuit like the one I've sketched between Johnnie and Lina’s father was set up in the railway car at the beginning - a circuit this time connecting Lina and Johnnie, and with the stuffy conductor standing in for General MacLaidlaw before he ever appears. In my next "Editor's Day" item, I'll try to show how that suggestive little scene took root and grew as the story was being written and filmed.
November 19, 2001 [More from Bill Krohn on Suspicion. In a few days, it will all have come together ...]
In the Harrison-Reville first draft, the scene where Johnnie and Lina meet in a railway compartment begins when she notices that he is the handsome playboy she is reading about in an illustrated magazine, and does not take their acquaintance very far. The conductor informs Johnnie that he is travelling in a first-class compartment with a third-class ticket and obliges him to pay up. Johnnie is then joined by Helen Newsham and Cora, two fashionable friends who are also going to the country for the local Hunt, and the trio speculates that his dowdy travelling companion must be a governess – an impression that will change when they see her on horseback later that day. The postal theme, such as it is, is confined at this point to the little romantic motif of Lina 'going to the post office'. We can assume that the train scene was filmed on February 10, the first day of shooting, pretty much as it appears in the Reville-Harrison first draft, but Hitchcock must have been unsatisfied, because he ordered the set held. The wording of the production manager’s memo is intriguing: 'Set #1 [the train compartment] is not finished, will work again at the end of the Plot.' And in fact this scene would be completely re-shot (and the set rebuilt to accomodate a 'lighting effect') in May, at the same time as Hitchcock was filming the preview ending (Lina discovering that Johnnie has been planning to kill himself), which had also been merely sketched in when the film started shooting in February. Efforts to come up with a satisfactory first scene and last scene would continue throughout production – they were the only scenes to receive this kind of attention. The first rewrite of Lina meeting Johnnie on the train, dated February 18, introduces a transaction between them for the first time. When Johnnie needs a penny to get the conductor off his back, Lina shyly volunteers one. Joined by Helen and Cora, Johnnie learns that Lina is an heiress. Cora gives him a penny to return to Lina, betting him 5 pounds that he can’t date this prude, and he begins a phony conversation with the latter about concerts and museums, while the other two women watch in amusement, until it dawns on her that she’s being mocked. With wounded dignity, she gets up and leaves the compartment. This comic opening would be discarded, but it already shows Hitchcock and Raphaelson planning to establish Johnnie’s financial state and propensity for borrowing, so when the scene of the telegram arriving before the Ball was filmed six days later, Hitchcock could drop the harsh business of it being sent collect. In this phase of the script, the penny borrowed and repaid on the train initiates the rhythm that will structure the rest of the film: Johnnie does something that shocks Lina (the handsome playboy is supercilious and ill-mannered, if not literally penniless!), then reassures her (he always repays his debts - particularly his debts to her). Their evolving relationship is tainted now at the outset by ambiguity (the penny, the 5-pound bet), which will become more sinister with each new shock, but now the rhythm is nothing but the ebb and flow of what passes between the two of them - the General has been relegated to a supporting role, like the conductor. Undated pages inserted at the end of the February 18 script then show the collaborators hitting on the postage stamp idea, which would probably have been incorporated in a March 6 rewrite of the first scene that makes Johnnie more of a brash charmer, complaining to Lina about leaving the window open because he has a hangover, talking about how much he drank the night before, and going to sleep when she reads him a passage from her 'Child Psychology' book about narcissistic male children who are adored by their mothers. When the conductor wakes him up and demands payment, Lina again bails him out with a penny, but Cora and Helen are dropped in this version, as well as the rather nasty bet and the equally nasty prank that followed it. Then, in the loose pages I referred to earlier, when Lina stuffily insists on being paid back her penny ('I don’t like to be taken for granted'), Johnnie first offers her a check and then takes an old letter out of his pocket, pries off the stamp and makes her take it. With this addition, all the elements of the scene that would finally come together weeks later had been assembled, including the idea that Johnnie should win us over by taking a verbal poke at the conductor. Forced to go through his pockets looking for change to satisfy the stern official, he pulls out a golf tee and a woman’s lipstick, and when he finds he is a penny short, before Lina offers to help, he asks the conductor if he couldn’t use the lipstick. This suggestion picks up on a strategy he uses in the Reville-Harrison first draft to get rid of an interior decorator who is insisting on presenting a bill Johnnie knows he can’t pay: 'Don’t you think this room is a little effeminate?' he wonders out loud, then says he’s sure it will be fine and shoos the poor fellow away. Like that bit of gay-bashing, the lipstick joke succumbed to Hitchcock’s eraser and was never filmed, but it would eventually be replaced by the equally insulting parting shot that is in the film: 'Write to your mother!' When the scene on the train finally gelled on April 23, however, it would become part of a symbolic circuit much larger than the discarded one which made Lina’s marriage part of a struggle between Johnnie and the General, as we shall see in a later installment.
November 26, 2001 [Our current guest-editor, Bill Krohn, emailed us tonight: 'It's a good thing your webpage favors the "work in progress" approach.' He thinks the final wrap-up on Suspicion will occur by the end of this week. Now read on ...]
The story so far: After starting production on Suspicion in early February of 1941 with an unfinished script and a last-minute cast that committed him to a happy ending, Hitchcock polished as he filmed, concentrating particularly on the film’s crucial first and last scenes, which were rewritten several times during production. Lina’s first meeting with Johnnie, which was filmed on the first day of production (February 10), was rewritten for the last time on April 23 and completely reshot in early May, just before wrapping, with a new opening. Hitchcock had originally planned to begin the scene and the film conventionally with an establishing shot of a train, followed by a closeup of the photo Lina sees of Johnnie in an illustrated magazine: pan up to the real Johnnie, dozing on the seat across from her. And this photo/reality substitution would have been repeated at the end, when Lina, searching for Johnnie after he runs away, sees a photo of him sporting an RAF uniform in the same illustrated magazine. But the April 23 rewrite (done after Hitchcock decided, perhaps because of cost overruns, not to film the RAF ending), had the scene beginning this way: 'Lina McLaidlaw is seated in the corner of a first-class railway compartment ... With a warning shriek, the train suddenly plunges into a tunnel ... As the train emerges out of the tunnel into the light once more, we find Johnnie Aysgarth in the act of stepping over Lina’s legs. JOHNNIE: "I’m terribly sorry – I hope I didn’t hurt you."' The production report for May 7 notes that the 'light effect' took some minutes to set up, and when Hitchcock filmed it, he revised it in a very interesting way: The film begins without an establishing shot, in total darkness, with the sounds of a train and a compartment door banging shut: 'JOHNNIE: "I’m sorry – is that your leg?”' Then, as the lights come on to show him stashing his bag over his seat: '“I had no idea we were coming into a tunnel.”' This opening, which does away with the slightly risqué shot of Johnnie straddling Lina’s legs, could be taking place in the movie theatre, when the film goes dark after the director’s credit and before the film begins. (In Notorious, their next collaboration, Hitchcock would introduce Grant as the silhouette of the man sitting in the seat in front of us, watching Ingrid Bergman being terribly gay at a party.) As Mark Crispin Miller has pointed out in an article about Suspicion as a predecessor to Rear Window, with its hero who is a surrogate for the voyeuristic movie audience, this suggests from the very first image that Lina is a spectator – specifically of the kind of romantic woman’s film that Suspicion’s title cards seem to be proposing. And at the end of the scene, Hitchcock uses the discarded opening to put her and us back into the mood for romance – Lina sees Johnnie looking dashing in 'The Illustrated London News', then raises her eyes to confirm that the rather boorish individual across from her is the same man. The spinsterish provincial, a closeted romantic, has found her hero. Incidentally, the photo she sees is actually a still from a scene that was shot for later in the film, when we would have seen newlywed Johnnie, who is supposed to be at his office, at the track with his friend Beaky – not shown in the photo – and the flirtatious Mrs Newsham. This insert of the shot in the newspaper is all that survives of that scene, which was eliminated in the editing – it would have been the only scene in the film showing Johnnie without Lina. The cut scene also would have put us out of synch with Lina’s suspicions in the next scene, when Mrs Newsham pulls up in her fancy car and twits her by revealing that she has run into Johnnie at the track, because it would have shown Johnnie resisting Mrs Newsham’s advances with the comment that he will never be unfaithful to Lina except with a racehorse. Without the racetrack scene, the film is entirely from the point of view of Lina, who has been subtly designated as the on-screen stand-in for the audience, so that when her romantic marriage with the dashing playboy on the train darkens into a Gothic chiller about the unsuspecting girl who married a murderer, we have no choice but to see it her way.
November 27, 2001 [Bill Krohn further addresses his, and others', suspicions ...]
As we have seen, Hitchcock and Samson Raphaelson started revising the first scene of Suspicion almost as soon as it had been shot. It finally came together on paper on April 23 and on film on May 7 and 8. In the April 23 version of the scene, Johnnie cheekily takes a stamp from Lina’s purse (an idea that began to take shape in drafts dating from early March), which he tries to pay back in another scene rewritten on April 23 and filmed in May – the Hunt he has come to Lina’s village to ride in. After seeing her looking glamorous on a horse, he rides after her, grabs her horse’s reins to stop her, and offers her a stamp to repay the one he took. She rejects it and it flies out of his hand into a mud puddle. When he recovers it and brushes it off, he sees she has ridden away, leaving him with the stamp stuck to his fingers. (This scene was shot and later eliminated.) Persistent, Johnnie has friends take him to Lina’s home for a proper introduction. When they shake hands, Lina looks down to see, in an insert, that Johnnie has put a stamp in her hand. This detail was not scripted, but production memos show that Hitchcock was planning to shoot it as late as August 8, when the film was basically already finished. The stamp’s travels describe a new version of the symbolic circuit that was originally scripted between Johnnie and Lina’s father, and displacing this subtle postal battle between men into the love-game with the stamp makes the same points about Johnnie in a less obnoxious way: he seems to be after Lina’s money (the stamp on the train), but falls for her when he sees her looking beautiful on her horse (the stamp at the Hunt), and finally gets her to accept his symbolic repayment (the stamp in the sitting room), which he offers to a softer version of the girl he met on the train, curled up with a book about Modern Art while waiting for her parents to go to church, after which she will probably moon over his photo in 'The Illustrated London News'. Eventually Hitchcock would eliminate not only the collect telegram (never filmed), but the letter announcing the elopement (filmed and cut out), so that Lina’s hopeful trip to the post office to see if dear Johnnie has written, and her alibi about 'going to the post office' when they elope, would have become the logical conclusion of the romantic postal motif begun on the train, with Johnnie once again – belatedly – paying his debt. Do youngsters in England play 'post office'? In any event, that is what Lina and Johnnie have been doing, until another kind of postal motif erupts, putting their relationship in doubt – the series of sinister letters and telegrams in the film’s second half that make it appear that he is planning to murder her. This extended postal love game is actualized in the film, but in a truncated form: Hitchcock cut the horseback scene between Lina and Johnnie and never filmed the payoff in the sitting room, leaving the stamp motif 'unfinished,' as he told François Truffaut he was obliged to do with the blue footprints in The Man Who Knew Too Much (set up when Louis Bernard crashes into a man with a bucket of paint while fleeing the police in the marketplace), which he was planning to shoot on the Paramount backlot practically up to the moment the negative was cut. Left unfinished, Lina and Johnnie’s stamp game has taken on, for some critics, the dark meanings attached to letters in the second part of the film, and something Hitchcock added to the train scene when he reshot it for the third time on May 14 has certainly done nothing to allay those suspicions.
November 28, 2001 [How did Hitchcock's mind work? Here's further evidence, assembled by Bill Krohn after delving minutely into the production of Suspicion.]
Hitchcock apparently didn’t feel that the train compartment scene was quite right after reshooting it on May 7 and 8, because he retook the last few shots of the scene on May 14, just before the picture wrapped. This was presumably when Johnnie’s unscripted poke at the conductor about the stamp – 'Write to your mother!' – was added, perhaps at the suggestion of Cary Grant, who frequently contributed comic bits to his films. While it certainly adds nothing to the general 'postal theme' which had by now been scripted and filmed, the remark brings the encounter between Johnnie and the official to a highly satisfactory conclusion, and so has a reason to be in the film apart from the peculiar one of alluding to an ending that was never filmed. (The happy ending that would be unsuccessfully previewed on June 13 was being filmed, on May 14, 15 and 16, even as this new conclusion to the film’s first scene was added.) The same thing can be said for the cameo of Hitchcock mailing a letter in front of the village bookstore, which signals the beginning of the film’s sinister second half, when the possibility of murder has entered the picture via Johnnie’s remark at the end of the previous scene: 'One of these days it will kill him.' Already well-known to American audiences (his caricature had even appeared in ads for the comedy Mr and Mrs Smith), Hitchcock signals by his mere presence dark doings to come, even if his action in this walk-on would have appeared innocuous in 1941 to all but a very small handful of spectators close to the production who knew about the 'incriminating letter' ending. But only that handful of spectators would notice the imposing presence of the mailbox in the earlier tracking shot of Lina and Isobel, the mystery writer, walking down the street just before Lina spots the chairs Johnnie sold in the window of the antique shop: the looming black object comes between them and the camera, obscuring Lina as she tells Isobel that she has just bought her latest mystery novel for Johnnie. A little bit of spatial choreography to make RKO’s one-set English village more real? Why not – but why a letter-box? And isn’t it a virtual admission of the poverty of the set that the letter-box looms even larger when Lina is walking away from a very unpleasant conversation with Helen Newsham about Johnnie’s day at the races (during which the letter-box is visible behind them in a solitary front-angle shot that seems to have no other reason for being there), one that will lead her to have an even more unpleasant conversation with Johnnie’s erstwhile employer, Captain Melbeck, during which she will learn that her husband has been sacked for embezzlement? The second tracking shot was filmed on the 13th, right after Hitchcock’s cameo, with camera rails laid in a different position than they had been on the 12th to put the camera closer to Lina’s troubled expression ... and to the letter-box. Could these repeated intrusions (four in the space of just under seven minutes of film) possibly be a very distant allusion to the cruel nickname Lina’s family gives her in Francis Iles’s novel? ('You funny little monkeyface,' Johnnie says fondly while they’re on their honeymoon, using his pet name for her for the first time. 'My family used to call me letter-box,' Lina replies, ashamed. In the October treatment, written before one of Hollywood’s reigning beauties was cast as Lina, Joan Harrison has her explain that the nickname means her mouth is 'big enough to post a letter in.') Perhaps; although fans of Iles’s novel would probably be too busy bemoaning the massive liberties the filmmakers had taken with their source material to appreciate the homage. But when even the remotest possible public meanings have been ruled out, this slightly blurred dark mass that twice covers Lina's face like a dark cloud, a pure piece of mise-en-scène too fleetingly glimpsed to ever coalesce with a four-square literary device like the 'postal theme,' remains for me the most convincing proof that Hitchcock was up to something when he filmed these tracking shots, and his cameo in March, as the creator of this website persuasively argues in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story'. I will try to determine just what that might have been, from the skimpy, contradictory evidence available, when I return to the eternal question of the film’s ending before handing the reins back to Ken.
December 3, 2001 [Author of 'Hitchcock at Work', Bill Krohn, this week concludes his analysis of how key parts of Suspicion evolved during production and post-production. Today, more about Hitchcock's intentions.]
The following account of how the ending of Suspicion came to be is based in part on second-hand information because large areas of the RKO production record are currently hard to get at. But after picking the film apart into its successive script-versions, I want to speculate on its production in a way that leaves the door open to taking it seriously as one of Hitchcock’s best 40s films, a flawed but brilliant first attempt at what would eventually be done to perfection in Rear Window. To supplement what Hitchcock said years later to Bogdanovich, Truffaut and Taylor, I will quote from a little-known interview that appeared in the 'New York Herald Tribune' on December 7, 1941 (no wonder no one read it!), when Suspicion was already a hit (half a million in profit, with virtually no foreign moneys coming in) and Hitchcock already hard at work on Saboteur. Stories had been appearing in print about RKO’s struggle to do justice to 'Before the Fact' since before Hitchcock took on the project, and I have yet to find a contemporary review which doesn’t talk about the ending as one of many that had been considered. His setting-the-record-straight interview with the 'Tribune' makes no mention of the 'incriminating letter' ending, which he would only begin talking about years later, but if we make allowances for the inevitable show of solidarity with the studio when Oscar ballots had yet to be mailed out (Suspicion eventually received three nominations), and if we put what he says together with what we know about the knotty process he had only recently brought to a successful conclusion, it gives us a pretty accurate glimpse of Hitchcock’s thoughts about turning Francis Iles’s novel into a film. He begins by contrasting cinema with plays and novels and emphasizing what it has in common with short stories. 'The short story and the screen play have unity and speed in common,' he explains, 'and one thing more – each, in my opinion, requires a twist ending ... For instance, all through Suspicion belief piles up in the wife’s mind and the audience’s that the husband is a murderer. The written novel had time for soliloquy and brooding. So when the husband is proved actually to be a murderer it is psychologically right and proper. But that conclusion wouldn’t do in a film or a short story. Build him up as a killer with all the tricks of a trade and then say yes, he is a killer, and the audience would ask a weary "So what?" Esthetically the novel’s outcome is perfect. In a picture it would be simply flat. No, it’s got to have a twist .... I knew as soon as I read ‘Before the Fact’ that there’d have to be a different ending ...' (And indeed, even the ending Hitchcock says he was not allowed to film would have been different from the novel.) 'It is axiomatic in Hollywood that unhappy endings breed commercial failures ... But supposing we had forgotten all that and made the husband a murderer – then we’d have had the Hays Office to deal with. The code demands that a murderer face punishment by law. All right. The man poisons his wife and it’s psychologically right and as esthetic as all get-out [i.e., as esthetic as hell - Ed.]. But it will take an anti-climactic reel or two to turn him over to justice. That’s no good.' Hitchcock is omitting from his retrospective analysis the 'twist' of the incriminating letter, which would supply swift justice, solving both problems posed by making Johnnie a murderer, but what if this were a description of his reasoning in 1940 when he was first presented the Nathanael West-Boris Ingster script, which RKO was nervously considering filming with Laurence Olivier when Hitchcock came to RKO on a loan-out from David Selznick? One great flaw of that script, in which Johnnie is a very bad character indeed, is precisely the long wrap-up (Lina kills Johnnie in self-defense and is tried for it), and the same is true of an even earlier version in which he is hunted by the police and shot down in the woods. Given Hitchcock’s esthetic, which dictated speed and surprise, it is perfectly logical that he, and not RKO, would have objected to this ending, assuming that he had not yet thought of the letter gimmick. This is just what the record seems to show he did.
December 4, 2001 [Bill Krohn reveals that there may have been a variant of the previewed ending of Suspicion ...]
After accessing memos in the RKO archives, Donald Spoto says that it was actually Hitchcock who, when the West-Ingster script for 'Before the Fact' was proposed to him, sold RKO on the idea of filming the story of a woman who imagines things, and who had Joan Harrison and Alma Reville start writing something along those lines. This meshes with what Lionel Godfrey says in 'The Light Touch', his biography of Cary Grant: that Hitchcock actually asked RKO to give him the project, and that he thought the West-Ingster script was 'beautiful,' but wanted to take the story in another direction. It is quite possible that Hitchcock only hit on the 'twist' of the incriminating letter, as a way of punishing Johnnie, after he had sold RKO on this approach, and after two new drafts with happy endings had been written. This would explain the late appearance of 'A Letter to Mail' in the last of three lists of suggested titles, dated December 10, preserved in the Hitchcock Collection at the Herrick Library. Perhaps if Michele Morgan had not had a thick French accent when she did her two screen-tests for Hitchcock in late1940 he could even have implemented the idea with Morgan and Olivier, RKO’s first choice for the role. But when Morgan didn’t work out, he may well have been hoist by his own petard, because it was evidently the next draft (finished on December 28), with dialogue by Samson Raphaelson, that sold the project to an enthusiastic Joan Fontaine, although Cary Grant, at least in retrospect, has said that he would have preferred to play a villain, as he was apparently willing to do for Hitchcock in Dial M for Murder. 'I thought the original was marvelous,' Grant told Nancy Nelson during the 70s. 'It was a perfect Hitchcock ending. But the studio insisted that they didn’t want Cary Grant to play a murderer.' The 'perfect Hitchcock ending' would of course be the incriminating letter, which all witnesses have said the studio would have none of once they had stars like Fontaine and Grant. Why, then, did Hitchcock persist in laying the groundwork for this ending while filming, a decision that must have been made at the start of production when he was ordering sets to be built, including the village street set in which the letter-box plays such an ominous role? (The last-minute adjustments Hitchcock ordered for this set on March 11 consisted only of deepening the store behind the bookshop window. The letter-box must have been part of the original plans for the set, and therefore of Hitchcock’s plans for the film.) Here again the 'Tribune' interview is helpful: 'Toward the end of the film Grant brings Miss Fontaine a glass of milk which she believes is poisoned. It seemed logical to me that she should drink it and put him to the test. If he wished to kill his devoted wife, then she might well want to die. If he didn’t, fine and good; her suspicions would clear away and we’d have our happy ending. We shot that finish. She drained the glass and waited for death. Nothing happened, except for an unavoidable and dull exposition of her spouse’s innocence. Trial audiences booed it, and I don’t blame them. They pronounced the girl stupid to willfully drink her possible destruction. With that dictum I personally do not agree. But I did agree that the necessary half-reel of explanation following the wife’s survival was really deadly.' In the preview ending as shot, Hitchcock says here, six months after the events he is describing, Lina actually drank the milk before discovering that Johnnie had contemplated suicide. Even though the preview cards do not show the audience balking at this idea, it is certain – and perfectly understandable now that we have a rough text of what was shown to them – that they balked at the 'necessary half-reel of explanation' that followed. But that is precisely the alternative Hitchcock was faced with when he went into production in early February, except that the 'half-reel of explanation' at that point was more like a full ten minutes. A review of the solutions that were tried on paper once he had committed to a happy ending will help us understand why, on strictly esthetic grounds, Hitchcock was simultaneously preparing the way for a solution he knew would work.
December 5, 2001 [Today, Bill Krohn's penultimate report on the making of Suspicion adds more detail on the different revelations and explanations that were considered for the film's ending.]
The endings which appear in early drafts of Suspicion indirectly support Hitchcock’s surprising statement that in the ending previewed Lina actually drank the milk and only realized her error about Johnnie when it dawned on her she wasn’t dying – that is more or less what happens in all of them. Two other common features: in all the early endings Johnnie realizes that Lina has suspected him of murder – a detail that would be eliminated in the endings actually filmed – and none of them mentions suicide. It wasn’t until the preview ending, written during the hiatus while Fontaine was out sick, that Hitchcock and Raphaelson hit on the idea of Johnnie planning to kill himself – a 'twist' that hardly had the shock value of Johnnie mailing the letter that would send him to the gallows in the last shot, although it must have looked like genius to Hitchcock in comparison to what he had on paper up to that point. In the November 28 draft by Harrison and Reville, which set the pattern for the ending, Johnnie berates himself after realizing what Lina has been thinking and compares his life to Hogarth’s 'The Rake’s Progress.' (The comparison survives in the name of the London club where Johnnie claims he was when Beaky died: the Hogarth Club.) Raphaelson’s initial contribution in his December 18 screenplay and additional drafts appended to it was to stick with the idea that Johnnie is as guilty as if he had done the things Lina imagined because he might have done them – a morally dubious (albeit very Hitchcockian) proposition that Raphaelson expanded into an even longer monologue by Johnnie about being born into the impoverished branch of an illustrious family and turning to gambling (and cheating) to pay for the expensive tastes he acquired in childhood, a monologue that builds up to the most infelicitous sentence Raphaelson, one of the best screenwriters in Hollywood, ever put on paper: 'You were writing my story more accurately than I lived it.' In one of these variants Johnnie even takes the theory of virtual guilt to the limit by shockingly announcing 'You’re right. I’m your murderer. I killed you!' and going on to explain: 'You saw me as Beaky’s murderer, and yours. That makes me as guilty as if I had done it.' If we consider that all of these quotes are from drafts done just before and after the start of production, I don’t think we have to posit a Machiavellian strategy of Hitchcock’s to understand why, when he was signing off on the plans for the Village Street, he stuck a letter-box in the middle of it, just in case. If he were really trying to sabotage the happy ending to get his way, why would he keep trying to find a happy ending that worked? When Fontaine went home sick on April 23, he and Raphaelson started to rework the ending by cancelling the second part, which would have sent Johnnie off to fight the Battle of Britain, and trying out two ways of ending the film in the bedroom: in the first Johnnie says 'You were willing to die for me ... you never knew that at any moment since I first laid eyes on you, I would have died for you.' This harks back to a March 15 draft that still segued to the RAF, but the alternative typed up the same day, April 23, takes the conclusion in a different direction: Johnnie’s monologue about his sad childhood and virtual guilt is cancelled; instead he swears, 'No more betting, no more lying, no more cheating. You believe me, don’t you dear?' Lina: 'Yes, of course I do.' They embrace, and in the last shot 'She looks out over his shoulder at the audience [italics mine] – she smiles, very maternally and very understandingly, while she strokes his hair. But we know she cannot believe him.' The collaborators subsequently hit on the suicide 'twist,' which was filmed in May and previewed in June, but their first attempt at a conclusion free of melodramatic speech-making (anticipating by almost forty years the last shot of Family Plot) would become the basis for yet another rewrite that Hitchcock initiated ten days after shooting wrapped, as soon as he had had a chance to see the whole film cut together with the preview ending in place. Significantly, the new ending that was started on May 26, which may even have been filmed, was a happy ending, too.
December 6, 2001 [In his final report on the scripting, production, and post-production of Suspicion, Bill Krohn reveals a further mystery about the film's ending.]
The last ending but one written for Suspicion was a comic one. Hitchcock and Raphaelson started it on May 26, before Johnnie’s bedroom confession had been previewed, and revised it on June 14, the day after the first unsuccessful preview. (Here I can refer the curious to 'Hitchcock’s Notebooks' by Dan Auiler, with one caveat: the script pages reproduced on pp. 69 and 76 are incorrectly dated 5/14 – they should be dated 6/14.) Perhaps anticipating that the preview ending would get laughs, Hitchcock and his collaborator devised a way for Lina to realize her error that was guaranteed to have that effect: a cutaway shows that the family dog is present in her bedroom when she starts to drink the glass of milk, and when she sets it down still full, Johnnie, with a remark about 'waste,' feeds it to the dog. Lina’s horrified reaction reveals her suspicions, and a discussion ensues that ends with Johnnie swearing to reform, and Lina passionately telling him that she believes him. Johnnie: 'Do you know – I’m beginning to believe it myself!' They both laugh. The confessional ending was previewed again on June 23, and again drew a discouraging response from the crowd. Then, on June 25, just before flying to New York to appear on the radio show 'Information, Please,' Hitchcock reshot the ending in the bedroom, a fact I only discovered recently when delving into the production files for this guest editorial. Because only script and production files are available at UCLA, there is no way to tell, just from the scene numbers on the production report, what the content of this reshoot was. There are three possibilities: 1) It may have been the 'leave ‘em laughing' ending just described. 2) Hitchcock may have tried reshooting the preview ending to make it work. 3) He may even have finally tried shooting the unhappy ending with the 'twist' of the letter, which was certainly foreshadowed in the body of the film. Only the continuity reports typed up daily by the script supervisor for use by the editor can tell us what Hitchcock filmed that day, and for several years now, RKO post-production records have been unavailable to scholars. Fortunately, a helpful soul in the Turner organization has promised to research the matter for me. I will report the results here in January, and in the meantime I invite the reader who has stayed with me this long to cast his or her eye over the evidence I’ve presented and make an educated guess. (My money is on 2.) Whatever the mystery ending was, no account before this mentions it or any attempt to preview it. Instead, we know that Hitchcock rushed back from New York because the new head of production, Sol Lesser, had recut the film, and the director seems to have spent much of July getting his picture put back together The third and final ending he came up with in these tense circumstances – moving the wild car ride to the morning after Lina thinks Johnnie tried to poison her and shooting a brief confession scene on a cliff – was not just an editing job, as I too hastily stated in 'Hitchcock at Work'. It actually involved reshooting bits of the scenes leading up to the wild ride and most of the ride itself. Once again, Hitchcock’s interview in the 'Tribune' offers the best explanation of how he came to this ending after doing everything in his power to pull off a long dialogue scene that would be right at home at the end of a film by Raphaelson’s regular collaborator, Ernst Lubitsch. (Hitchcock would finally pull that one off with the help of a constantly moving camera in Under Capricorn.) 'Short stories and films are taken in all at one sitting,' he tells the 'Tribune' interviewer. 'There are no breaks to give the audience digestion time. The plot in each case must spin directly to a conclusion, and speed is essential to directness.' Speeded up, the 'twist' of Johnnie’s innocence worked with the audience, as Hitchcock points out when he sums up the Suspicion experience at the end of the piece: 'Well ... those troubles are over now, for better or worse. By the run, I judge that it’s for better! And the troubles were never as bad as they might have been. I’d greatly prefer to have a story stall at the end than in the middle. There won’t be any such difficulties with my next – I trust.'
• [Editor's note. My deep thanks to Bill Krohn for publishing his breakthrough research on Suspicion
here first. A different version, with added emphasis on the
aesthetic implications, later appeared in the French journal 'Trafic',
and then a different version again in the 'Hitchcock Annual',
2002-03 edition. But now, in late 2003, Bill has had
occasion to revise some of his findings. See below. KM]
October 14, 2003 [Editor's note. Bill Krohn's topic this week concerns the various endings of Suspicion that have already been much-discussed - here and elsewhere.]
Hitchcock criticism is an eternal work in progress, and an infintely rewarding one. Having written three versions of my Suspicion article, starting with the research log I kept here a couple of years ago when I seized the pulpit from Ken and refused to give it back, I find that now it won't let go of me. After reading Rick Worland's guest editorials here, and corresponding with Ken about some of the details, I realized I had mis-described something. For those who, like Professor Worland, haven't seen the new 'Hitchcock Annual' (2002-03 edition) and are going by my postings here, we've learned a bit since then: for one thing, thanks to Ned Price of Time-Warner, we now know that the second ending of Suspicion, filmed after the two unsuccessful previews, was the one with the dog (see below). After hearing the reactions at the first preview, Hitchcock sent RKO President George Schaefer a telegram in New York, where Schaefer was preparing to screen the film for RKO's annual sales convention, telling him to turn off the projector after the wild car ride (which at that point preceded the milk scene and the very long, talky climax, set in the Aysgarth's bedroom, the pages for which are posted on this website). Hitchcock told Schaefer he had a much better ending, and indeed he did - he had already written a draft of it in May, after wrapping, and now proceeded to refine it: Johnnie brings Lina the milk; she doesn't drink it; he feeds it to the dog, who is sitting by the bed, and she realizes then that it wasn't poisoned. There's a quick clearing-up conversation, he promises to reform, she says she believes him, he says he almost believes himself, and they both laugh - call it the 'leave 'em laughing' ending. This is the ending Hitchcock shot on June 25, after the second preview, and there's no indication that it was ever shown to anyone. But when Ken pointed out to me that preview cards quoted in Professor Worland's article on the film [in 'Cinema Journal', Summer 2002, pp. 3-26 - Ed.] refer to Lina's drinking the milk - which I had thought was inconsistent with the theory expressed in that article that the leave 'em laughing ending was shown at the previews - I referred back to the pages reproduced in Dan Auiler's 'Hitchcock's Notebooks' (1999) and saw that, indeed, she does drink the milk in the second ending just as she did in the first, but leaves enough for Johnnie, with a remark about waste, to feed it to the dog, leading to the denouement. A minor detail? There are no minor details in Hitchcock. He later told an interviewer in New York, after the film was released to considerable acclaim and box-office success, that some members of the preview audience had laughed when Lina drank the milk, and that others complained about the long talky scene that followed. He then specified that while he agreed with those who complained about the talky ending, he felt that it was perfectly logical for Lina to drink the milk. However, like Professor Worland, I had assumed that Hitchcock would have wanted to eliminate the detail that made people laugh. Now I see that, true to his sense of the character and the film he had made, he kept that detail, knowing that some audience members would laugh, then topped it with the moment when Johnnie feeds the milk to the dog, which would have provoked an even bigger laugh, this time from the whole audience, so that the joke would be, in retrospect, on the scoffers who couldn't believe that a woman could love her husband so much that she'd drink milk she believed to be poisoned. This gutsy choice corresponds better to my sense of Hitchcock than my tacit assumption that he would simply let preview audiences rewrite his ending for him. This was, after all, the man who boasted that he could play audiences like a pipe organ. Actually, I almost wonder if the fact that the first draft of the second ending was written right after wrapping, before the previews, doesn't mean that he already anticipated the laughs. Impossible? When Torn Curtain was going to be previewed somewhere in Arizona, Hitchcock wrote Lew Wasserman, the head of Universal, to warn him that some members of the audience would laugh during the prolonged murder of Gromeck. To be continued.
October 15, 2003 [Bill Krohn reflects further on Suspicion, etc.]
Speaking of endings ... would that Hitchcock had been able to save the first ending of Topaz, the duel, which provoked some laughter when the film was previewed in San Francisco. Instead, after a mixed review from an audience recruited from fans of Leon Uris's trashy, jingoistic bestseller, which Hitchcock had treated, rather, in the spirit of John Le Carré, he did more or less what he had done in 1941, after the Suspicion previews, and shot a leave 'em smiling ending at the airport, showing Stafford and a jaunty Piccoli boarding planes bound for different sides of the Iron Curtain. Unlike the second ending of Suspicion, the second ending of Topaz had to be completely new - the duel ending, which had already been filmed three times to get it right, was of a piece, and couldn't be partially revised like the first ending of Suspicion. Again, the second ending seems never to have been previewed, and when Samuel Taylor objected, distressed as Samson Raphelson had been in 1941 at the ending with the dog, Hitchcock created a third ending in the editing room, as he had for Suspicion when the pressures on him got too strong to ignore for a director who wanted to go on working in Hollywood. Also, in the case of Topaz, he let a studio editor 'trim' some 20-odd minutes from the film, which still is in need of a full restoration before we conclude that Hitchcock had lost it by this point in his career. I am one of a small minority - which also included a number of people at that fateful preview - who believe that he hadn't. What had changed was that Lew Wasserman was a cannier studio head - but not a better one - than George Schaefer. After months of Hitchcock stubbornly refusing to make major cuts, Wasserman let a British distributor who had a quasi-monopoly of UK theatres threaten not to show the film if it weren't substantially cut to permit an intermission when more popcorn could be sold. When Hitchcock (remembering, perhaps, the British distributor who almost kept The Lodger from being released at the start of his career) yielded to the pressure and allowed the film to be massacred, Wasserman, who was not about to be bossed by anyone, then told his unwitting British catspaw to go jump in a lake and showed the film in the UK without intermissions. Okay, we've come a long way from Lina drinking most of the milk in an ending that was never shown, but I think the point is worth making. Hitchcock, we know, was prey to all sorts of anxieties. Robert Boyle told me that he was afraid of 'everything' - so much so that if he looked out of a second-story window his plams would start to sweat. Albert Whitlock added, during the same conversation, that their old friend was 'terrified' of the Universal studio manager - a relatively unimportant underling who worshiped Hitchcock and would have done anything for him - because to Hitchcock, he was 'a cop'. But Hitchcock made The Birds at Universal, taking chances every day that would have daunted someone less sure of himself, like insisting, over the dead bodies of the studio's sound department, on using a virtually untested electronic sound technology - located in Germany! - for the soundtrack of a picture that was already weeks over schedule. When the censor made him reshoot the ending of North by Northwest to indicate that Roger and Eve are married, he held up another film that was over schedule, with the head of MGM breathing down his neck, to shoot the new 'button' of the train going into the tunnel, with the sole purpose of sticking it to the censor. In the last analysis, and with all due deference to a powerful idea that was first expressed in France, the home of the auteur theory, in the 70s, according to which a film auteur was part of an industry and ideology that exerted an influence on the work, not to mention the shared cinematic language he was obliged to employ to produce his unique statements - nonetheless, no one was Hitchcock's co-author: not the audience, not the Production Code, and not even the studio, to whom he yielded only under extreme compulsion. In this he showed more courage than a number of swaggering contemporary filmmakers I could name who aren't burdened, as he was, by a potentially crippling anxiety complex. The measure of courage isn't feeling fear; it's going ahead even when you do, and I think Hitchcock was plentifully equipped with that virtue, so rare in Hollywood today. In my next post, I will be obliged to admit a major mistake that Rick Worland's posts and my discussions of them with Ken have permitted me to correct. I will also try to sum up my present view of Suspicion, that Hitchcockian work-in-progress (through most of 1941!) that seems to have become an eternal work-in-progress for his exegetes - at least for this one.
October 21, 2003 [Editor's note. An appropriately dog-tired Bill Krohn tonight continues - and revises - his findings on the previewed endings of Hitchcock's Suspicion. Note: I can confirm that the references below by Bill to Dan Auiler's 'Hitchcock's Notebooks' (Avon Books, New York, 1999) make perfect sense if you have a copy of the book open before you. KM]
Returning to Suspicion one more time, I have a major error to confess and correct - simultaneously one of the pains and one of the pleasures of an empirical approach to film analysis. What I claimed here and in the 'Hitchcock Annual' (2002-03 edition) to be the ending shown to preview audiences in June, 1941, was not. In fact, it may post-date the previews, because it introduces for the first time the idea of suicide by Johnnie to explain why he was so interested in poisons. Steven DeRosa has asserted that a preview ending had Johnnie going off to join the RAF (actually this was the first ending set down in the rough script turned in on December 28, 1940), although there isn't a single mention of airplanes in the comments of preview spectators (a detail that would seem to have begged for some comment in view of the fact that the feature playing with Suspicion at the second preview was I Wanted Wings). More recently Rick Worland has written that preview audiences saw what I call (above, October 14) the leave 'em laughing ending with the family dog (actually the ending Hitchcock filmed on June 25 to replace the preview ending, according to memos furnished to me by Ned Price of Time-Warner), although there isn't a single mention in any of the preview reports of Johnnie feeding the leftover milk to the dog. And I made a similar mistake: nowhere in the preview reports does any spectator mention Johnnie's planned suicide, although there is a fair amount of griping about the fact that Lina drinks a glass of milk she believes to be poisoned. Those comments in themselves should have tipped me off, but it recently took Ken Mogg's eagle eye to remind me that in the so-called preview ending published on this website Lina doesn't drink the milk - whereas her drinking it was much discussed not only by disgruntled preview spectators, but by Hitchcock himself, who defended her action in the longest interview he gave about the film at the time of its release. Ken's gentle correction sent me back to those preview reports and to the different endings archived at the Margaret Herrick Library to see if there was an ending which 1) was written in time to be previewed in June and 2) matched all the details mentioned in the preview reports and contradicted none of them. I discovered that there was one, which has been published already by another researcher. And the winner is ... Dan Auiler, who did us all a service by reproducing in its entirety the ending which was previewed - notwithstanding in a form that still makes my head spin when my eyes try to trace a path through the pages of 'Hitchcock's Notebooks' (1999), where it is hiding like Wally in one of those puzzle pictures for children. Here, based on comparison to the easier-to-read pages bound into the script at the Herrick, is a skeleton key that will permit anyone with a copy of Dan's wonderful book to read what I am now convinced was the ending previewed in June of 1941: Auiler p. 64 beginning with scene 437 to top of p. 65; bottom of 65 to last third of 66; bottom two-thirds of 67 to the very top of 68; bottom of 68 to middle of 69; top of 71 to bottom of 71; bottom of 78 to middle of 79; near top of 81 to bottom of 81; near bottom of 84 to last third of 85. If you own 'Hitchcock's Notebooks', happy hunting till the next post; if not, now might be a good time to buy it, because there's more than one surprise in this 'new' preview ending - not the least being that it is pretty good! Much better, in any case, than the half-baked suicide ending that is still posted on this website [whose introductory wording for that scene will be revised soon - Ed.]. My thanks to Ken (coupled with red-faced apologies) for sending me back to the Library one more time. Next, a brief description of the ending and my reasons for thinking it is the one preview audiences saw on that fateful Friday the 13th.
October 24, 2003 [Author and critic Bill Krohn today fills us in on what the first previewed ending of Suspicion contained. Note that this ending was previewed twice, the first (as Bill notes) on Friday June 13th, 1941, in Pasadena. After adverse reactions to those screenings, the film's present ending - the clifftop scene in the car - was substituted.]
The summaries of the preview comments for Suspicion archived at the Margaret Herrick Library are fascinating to revisit from time to time - one can imagine Hitchcock and Alma sorting through them. What did they make of this answer to question 6, 'Do you have any suggestions?': 'Fade out on the cliff with a shot of boughs close-up'! Personally, I was pleased with this suggestion for improvement: 'Possibly the glamor shot of Joan Fontaine on horseback was a little out of place.' (For my interpretation of this striking extreme closeup, which is excessive unless one interprets it metaphorically, see my article on the film in the 2002-03 'Hitchcock Annual', p. 104. In any event, it stayed in the film.) In any case, it would seem from the following response that the April 23 ending archived at the Herrick Library and reproduced by Dan Auiler in 'Hitchcock's Notebooks' (see my previous post) is the one shown at the preview: In response to question 5, 'Did you like the ending?', viewer #110 at the second preview wrote: 'Yes, in a way. The doubt on the heroine's face was a different type of ending.' Indeed - because after portraying the world almost exclusively through Joan Fontaine's eyes throughout the film, Hitchcock in the April 23 ending broke the fourth wall by having her look at the audience with an expression of skepticism at Johnnie's promises to reform. A brief summary: Hitchcock went into production with the ending that was turned in by Samson Raphaelson on December 28, 1940, in which Lina drinks the milk, talks to Johnnie while waiting to die, and then realizes she isn't dead, leading to a long scene of mutual confession that ends with him slipping away next morning to join the RAF. Happy ending as she catches up with him months later, a decorated hero of the Battle of Britain, with her nickname on his plane. In March Hitchcock and his collaborators, Alma Reville and Joan Harrison, made a stab at shortening the scene in the bedroom, and when Fontaine fell ill for two weeks on April 23, a new ending was typed up, and the set for the RAF office was crossed off the list of sets to build, indicating that a decision had been made to do away with that scene and go with a new ending that wouldn't need it. (The original list of sets for the film subsequently found its way into one trade review, causing understandable confusion among researchers.) Hitchcock had filmed a cliffhanger before Fontaine went home: the last shot in the can showed her cringing on the bed at the sight of the door to the bedroom opening and Johnnie standing there with the milk. Building on the December 28 version, the April 23 rewrite then shows her drinking the milk and asking to be left alone after they kiss. Here's viewer #49's description of the reaction at the Friday the 13th screening: 'It was very difficult to understand in many places. Especially after Joan Fontaine drinks what she thinks is the death potion. And how the audience laughed! You violated the principle of every human - preservation of life at any cost. Here a woman willingly drinks the supposed poison her husband offers, proclaiming love of her would-be murderer. What sane woman would act that way?' The heroine of Frances Iles' novel, Hitchcock must have muttered after reading that - he replied at length to the charge in a December 7 interview after the film had opened and done well (with the milk left untouched on the bedside table). At the June 13 screening, the film continued for another page or so as Hitchcock and Raphaelson had first planned: Grant leaves, then opens the door and looks at her still sitting up in bed. Her head bows. 'Johnnie starts to tiptoe across towards the bed. He comes around the side, close to her. He goes down on one knee and peers into her face. Lina opens her eyes. She sees Johnnie kneeling there. He makes a move forward - comes and sits beside her and takes her in his arms - CAMERA moves in to the two heads -' (Auiler, p. 66). Played in close shots, according to the script, the scene would have continued with Lina saying, 'It's all right, dearest. I know I'm dying. But it's all right.' (Was this what got the laugh?) Her admission leads to the mutual confession, ending with Johnnie swearing to reform. He: 'You believe that, don't you dear?' She [with his head resting on her shoulder]: 'Yes darling - of course I do.' Then: 'As she says this, she looks out over his shoulder at the audience - she smiles very, very maternally and very understandingly, while she strokes his hair. But we know that she cannot believe him...' (Auiler, p. 85). 'Left a doubt,' wrote viewer #79 on June 13; and his/her homonym, viewer #79 at the second preview, concurred: 'Do not quite understand whether she believed him or not.' The famed Fontaine raised eyebrows must have been working overtime, because this sentiment was probably the commonest one expressed after both screenings. 54 out of 79 at the second one didn't like the ending, and half their number found it 'confusing.' Next week: what it all means.
October 27, 2003 [I'm grateful to Bill Krohn for his indefatigable pursuit of the truth about what Hitchcock wanted for the ending of Suspicion - and which endings, exactly, were tried out at previews. Thanks, Bill. KM]
Wrapping up this unexpected return visit to Suspicion, what does the newly-identified preview ending tell us about Hitchcock's intentions in that film? First of all, he really wanted Lina to drink the milk. He was attached, in other words, to Iles' ending, in which Lina lets Johnnie murder her for love. In the preview ending, therefore, he carried the suspense - Is Johnnie really a murderer? - about as far as it could go. Johnnie goes out after Lina drinks, sees her head nod when he peeks through the door of the dressing room, then sneaks in and kneels next to her as if checking for signs of life. Only when Lina opens her eyes does the situation reverse itself. And despite laughs from some in the audience when Lina drinks, Hitchcock kept that crucial detail in the lead-up to the second ending he filmed [but never actually previewed - Ed.], where Lina drinks most of the milk and Johnnie feeds the rest to the dog, tipping her off that it isn't poisoned. This would have given audience members who laughed at Lina's drinking the milk the opportunity to join in the general laughter at Johnnie's unexpected gesture, with Johnnie and Lina joining in at the end as well. Indeed, Hitchcock continued to defend the logic of Lina drinking the milk in a long interview published on December 7 in the 'New York Herald Tribune', after a third ending had been filmed and released where finally she did not drink it. 'It seemed logical to me that she should drink it and put him to the test. If he wished to kill his devoted wife, then she might well want to die. If he didn't, fine and good; her suspicions would clear away and we'd have our happy ending. We shot that finish. She drained the glass and waited for death. Nothing happened, except for an unavoidable and dull exposition of her spouse's innocence. Trial audiences booed it, and I don't blame them. They pronounced the girl stupid to willfully drink her possible destruction. With that dictum I personally do not agree. But I did agree that the necessary half-reel of explanation following the wife's survival was really deadly.' Knowing now that he filmed the ending involving the dog immediately after the previews, I hear him arguing in the interview for that second ending, rather than for the third ending, which was contrived in the editing room before release, in which, among other things, Lina doesn't drink the milk, which is sitting on the bedside table untouched the next morning when she and Johnnie set off for the fateful ride to her mother's house. This is important because it confirms what Hitchcock told Bogdanovich and others: he preferred Iles' tragic ending, with the added twist of Lina giving Johnnie an incriminating letter to mail before drinking the poison, so that when he drew out the hypothesis of Johnnie's guilt as far as it would go, he was attempting to have his cake and eat it too, giving the preview audience the dark thrill of watching a woman literally die for love, then revealing the truth. In fact - and this is the second point to be learned from these recent discoveries - Hitchcock also wanted the happy ending which was previewed to be ambiguous, leaving open the possibility that Johnnie is lying about his actions, as reflected in the doubting look on Lina's face in the last shot. Judging from the preview report, many spectators who saw this ending did find it ambiguous, but the majority who did so merely thought the ambiguity was confusing and complained about it. (One suggested that it would be fun after Johnnie's vows to quit gambling to see him and Lina together at the races.) A second complaint was that questions about who killed Beaky and why Johnnie was so curious about the undetectable poison hadn't been answered. So Hitchcock and his collaborators experimented with two approaches in the writing: a comic ending that didn't explain these things but left no lingering doubts about Johnnie's guilt, and a more drawn-out ending in which it developed that he was interested in poison because he planned to commit suicide. This approach - written out at length in the scene I mistook for the preview ending - was the one that finally carried the day, when Hitchcock found that he could explain everything including what Johnnie was doing when Beaky died and still speed up the ending with a wild car ride originally intended for earlier in the film. I would simply add that in doing so he was also returning to the ambiguity which he favored for the ending of 'this kind of story,' as he told Truffaut when discussing the ending of The Lodger: 'In a story of this kind I might have liked him to go off into the night, so that we would never really know for sure.' Bogdanovich told Hitchcock that he did in fact find the happy ending of Johnnie and Lina driving off ambiguous, as if Johnnie might tbe preparing to kill Lina when they return home, and I have suggested another way to read it based on preview responses which indicated that some spectators were uncertain whether the wild car ride leading up to the happy end might not be a dream. That is, in the version we have, everything that happens after Johnnie hands Lina the milk - waking up the next morning, packing to go to her mother's, the wild car ride and Johnnie's impassioned explanations on the cliff side - could be part of a dying woman's dream. A grim idea, but finally in keeping with Hitchcock's wishes, which would have been to take the situation to its logical conclusion with Lina's death.