Being big fans of the label, we established a column devoted to these unusual gems. Thus “The Archivist” was born — a semi-monthly look at some of the best, boldest and most batshit motion pictures the Shield has to offer. Some of these will be recent additions to the collection, while others will be titles that have been available for awhile. With thousands of films procurable on Warner Archive (and more being added every month), there’s no possible way we’ll get to all of them. But trust me when we say we’re sure going to try.
I’ve had the opportunity to highlight some terrific Blu-ray releases for prior editions of The Archivist, and in today’s selections I’ll be doing a follow-up of sorts on a couple of those from earlier this year. First, The Archivist returns to the films of Alfred Hitchcock with Suspicion (1941), following up on previous coverage of I Confess and The Wrong Man. Then we’ll return to Raymond Chandler’s seedy noir world of detective Phillip Marlowe with Murder, My Sweet. The character enjoyed a prolific – albeit disjointed – Hollywood career, played by many actors, most famously Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep, also recently highlighted by the Archivist.
Opposites attract, and that’s what fuels the whirlwind romance of the demure Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine) and irascible cad Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant). Fun-loving Johnnie coaxes Lina out of her conservative shell and she falls deeply in love with him despite his personal deficiencies, which turn out to be even worse than she believed. After an extravagant globe-trotting honeymoon (which, it turns out, Johnnie has no means to pay for), she grows more concerned about his self-destructive tendencies. He’s broke, unemployed, a habitual gambler, and openly covetous of her family’s wealth. But even worse, his veil of personal secrecy and a string of problems make it clear that she can’t trust him.
Johnnie, always charming and apologetic, manages to explain his various problems and foibles, but as Lina catches him in lies and cover-ups of increasing gravity, she loses confidence and realizes that not only can he not be trusted, but his pattern of behavior points to some very sinister conclusions.
The usually lazy Johnnie abruptly sets out on a risky real estate venture with the funding of their friend Beaky, who is soon after killed in a mysterious incident. She fears that Johnnie has murdered him, and that she may be next: Johnnie seems to be inordinately interested in her life insurance policy of late.
The paranoia-fueled Suspicion comes from an interesting place the careers of its director and stars. By 1940, Hitchcock already had a achieved fame and a prolific career, beginning in the silent era and spanning over 30 films. This would be a lifetime’s worth of achievement by any measure, but amazingly, most of his best known films were still ahead of him. With Rebecca, he made a transition from England to Hollywood that kicked off an even more impressive and storied second half. Rebecca also proved to be a breakthrough for star Joan Fontaine, who secured an Academy Award nomination for Leading Actress. The pair teamed up again for Suspicion, bringing in Cary Grant, who was enjoying newfound superstardom.
Both Fontaine and Grant are quite incredible in their roles. Grant is both endlessly charming and chilling as the mercurially mysterious Johnnie, and would go on to become one of Hitchcock’s favorite collaborators, starring in three more of his films. Fontaine elicits sympathy and understanding as the tormented housewife who may or may not be in love with a sinister killer. A year after being nominated for Rebecca, she took home the Oscar for Best Actress.
Filled with intrigue and suspense, Suspicion is classic mid-tier Hitchcock (which is to say it’s very good), and a welcome addition to Warner Archive’s Hitchcock offerings.
Murder, Sweet (1944)
Two years before Humphrey Bogart famously played detective Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, Dick Powell got his chance to play that role in Murder, My Sweet, directed by Edward Dmytryk. While he would return to the character in radio performances, it was his sole screen credit as the tough-talking private eye.
It’s hard to hold a grudge against Bogey for piloting the role into an all-time noir classic, but it is a bit disappointing that Powell didn’t take on any sequels, because both his performance and the film it yielded are really enjoyable.
The complicated plot finds Marlowe tracking several different connected trails, trying to connect the dots. He gets two unusual visitors to his office – a hulking ex-con trying to find his old flame, and a wealthy young woman who poses as a reporter to try to divulge some information. But what’s the connection? He takes on the mystery head first, and before it’s over he’ll be slugged, drugged, romanced, arrested, and abducted.
Of special note is dreamlike sequence in which Marlowe is captured by his mysterious enemies and locked up in an unknown location for several days. Doped with drugs to keep him sleepy and compliant, his captivity is presented as a feverish and hazy nightmare trip, with stylish and surreal hallucinatory imagery.
While The Big Sleep is obviously the more famous and celebrated film, mostly due to its star, I actually enjoyed Murder, My Sweet a bit more. Both films have colorful dialogue and rather convoluted plots, but Murder is more energetic, and Dick Powell’s take on the character is a bit edgier – more acerbic and vulnerable, whereas Bogey’s version of the character is eclipsed by the actor himself, playing it in much the same way he played most of his roles.
Suspicion and Murder, My Sweet are both available now on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection.
Special Features and Extras – Suspicion
Before The Fact: Suspicions Hitchcock (21:36)
A very informative short documentary featuring interviews from several film historians who discuss many aspects of the film, most intriguingly its deviations from the novel and Hitchcock’s plans for alternate endings.
Theatrical Trailer (1:41)
Special Features and Extras – Murder, My Sweet
Feature Commentary by Alain Silver
Filmmaker and film historian Alain Silver is the author of numerous books and articles spanning multiple genres including many writings on film noir, and is also a veteran of many film commentaries like this one.