THE SUSPECT (Robert Siodmak, 1944)

Based on James Ronald’s novel This Way Out and, although stopping short of any portrayal of the sensational 1910 trial, Robert Siodmak’s excellent The Suspect is inspired by Hawley Harvey (“Dr.”) Crippen’s apparent murder of his wife in London and flight to Canada with his mistress. Up and down, there are points of connection between Crippen and the film’s Philip Marshall as well as points of difference. While Crippen reached Canada, for instance, before being arrested and returned to England, Marshall has canceled the trip on his own and is poised to turn himself in to Scotland Yard. While Crippen was American-born, Marshall is British.
     Charles Laughton is superb as kindly shopowner Marshall, giving a subtle performance that relaxes perfectly into Siodmak’s tense, ominous frames. Philip’s wife, Cora (Crippen’s wife’s name, incidentally), is well deserving of being bludgeoned when she won’t give Philip a divorce and threatens to ruin him and Mary Gray, the girl he has fallen in like with, by exposing their (actually chaste) relationship to public scandal. There is a judicious fade-out on Philip’s reaching for the walking stick with which he will dispatch the incorrigible Cora. Scotland Yard Inspector Huxley visits, patiently determined to bring Philip to “justice.” Huxley teases Philip with his grasp of what Philip has done. We hear Huxley’s imagined version of the crime—there’s little doubt it is accurate—as he shares it with Philip; at the same time, the camera records different spots in Philip’s house, including downstairs, where Philip stood before picking up the cane, and the stairs up which Cora walked to retreat into her room. Equally objective and subjective, this brilliant passage stops the heart, disconcerts with the composure of the crime and, by projecting the dissociation that enabled Philip to kill Cora, complicates our view of the predicament Philip found himself in and the way he resolved it.
     One “necessary” murder leads to another. Poor Philip must also dispatch Gilbert Summons (Henry Daniell, expert), his next-door neighbor—this time, he uses poison,—who attempts blackmailing him. But pay close attention to how this all comes about. Huxley has manipulated Gilbert to force the scene that leads to this murder. Huxley will do anything to ensnare Philip. Gilbert pays the price, and Philip and Huxley share moral responsibility for his death. But, at least on Earth, there will be no “justice” for Inspector Huxley.
     Authority; power; entitlement; impunity.
     Huxley, the master manipulator, relies on Philip’s essential decency to persuade him to turn himself in. Huxley lies to Philip, telling him that Gilbert’s wife will pay for Gilbert’s murder. Speaking with a Scotland Yard underling, Huxley mocks Philip’s decency, noting that Philip thinks he is doing “something big” by turning himself in.
     I forgot to mention that Gilbert used to beat his wife.

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