written by Samson Raphaelson, Joan Harrison and Alma Reville, based on a novel by Anthony Berkeley
After reading about how the studio refused to allow Cary Grant to portray a villain, as was his character in the original novel, it's hard not to be disappointed with the film. In hindsight, it's clear that the novel's ending -- in which Johnnie poisons Lina, but she has him mail a letter accusing him of her murder before she dies -- was what Hitchcock was aiming to shoot until nearly the end of the movie.
In fact, that's the way I was expecting the movie to go while watching it for the first time. The way Joan Fontaine played the scene when Johnnie brings her some milk -- which she suspects is poisoned -- I felt sure she was going to drink it as an escape from her misery. Dark though it may have been, I thought this would have be a bold change from the usual melodrama-romances of this era. What if, just this once in a Hollywood movie, getting married to someone you barely know was a poor idea? What if you fell in love with a monster? And, indeed, much of the movie explores these ideas as Lina's mistrust of her husband grows deeper. Unfortunately, this is all tossed aside by the new ending, turning Lina into a silly girl with an overactive imagination and Johnnie into a sucidial jerk.
Despite misgivings over the plot, the movie's very well-made otherwise. The two leads give great performances -- though I don't think Joan Fontaine is a good as she was in Rebecca, despite what the Academy thought -- and Nigel Bruce steals every scene he's in as adle-headed Beaky. The cinematography is similarly excellent, with some nice lighting (including the cool shot of the glowing not-poisoned milk). It's close to a great film, but just doesn't quite reach that level for me. (6/10)
Watched the region 1 DVD released by Warner Bros. in 2004. Great transfer and a nice featurette.
03 May 2009