Sunday, June 1, 2014

Above Suspicion ( 1943 )

"My love is like a red, red rose...." 

MGM journeys into the realm of espionage with Above Suspicion ( 1943 ), a witty jaunt into spy-laden pre-World War II Europe. 
Fred MacMurray plays Richard Myles, an Oxford college professor, who is happily ready to embark on a honeymoon on the Continent with his bride Frances ( Joan Crawford ). Before they depart however, a former colleague of his, now with the foreign office, asks the couple if they would do a favor to him, and jolly ol' England, by inquiring into the whereabouts of a scientist who has disappeared within the confines of the Fuhrer's Vaterland. He holds the secret plans to the Nazi's latest diabolical invention - underwater magnetic mines. As honeymooners they will be considered above suspicion and can look into the matter discreetly. Or so they are told. Ach du lieber!...before they can utter "uberraschung" they are caught up in a web of intrigue that leads them from Paris to the pine-laden Alpine forests of Innsbruck. 


Above Suspicion, based on the novel by Helen MacInnes, is an easy-to-follow and briskly paced thriller with some rattling good moments of excitement. Its purely escapist plot is given credibility through its deft handling by director Richard Thorpe ( Night Must Fall, Ivanhoe ) and its stellar cast. The film plays out along the lines of Desperate Journey with grand morale-boosting elements but very little plausibility.....but perhaps that's what makes both of these pictures so entertaining. Above Suspicion was released at the height of World War II, a time when so many American and British citizens were eager to make an active contribution to corking up the war for good. 

"Darling, the less you know, or appear to know, the better"

At one time or another we're all drawn in by the allure of being a spy; deciphering codes, staking out suspicious bookshop fronts, wearing disguises, hiding out in secluded chalets and, of course, capturing public enemies. Richard and Frances are no different, and Frances is especially thrilled to help the British secret service but, unlike his wife, Richard realizes the danger ahead. En route, our American heroes stumble upon cryptic clues, all the while being spied on with peering abnormality by dubious faces and sundry characters; their only key to unmasking friends from foes lies within the lyrics to Robert Burns eighteenth century melody. 

In addition to our leading cast, Above Suspicion features some excellent character support from Basil Rathbone, Felix Bressart, Reginald Owen, Richard Ainley, Bruce Lester and Sara Haden. Conrad Veidt is especially appealing in his role as Herr Seidel, one of the Brit's loyal allies within Germany. Veidt was often pigeon-holed as villains and it's a pleasant change of face to see him play this underground hero. Veidt died of a massive stroke shortly after filming commenced and Hollywood lost one of its most talented actors because of his passing. His entertaining dance floor sequence is a highlight of the film. 

Fred MacMurray was making a departure from his recent Claudette Colbert comedy teamings to take a dramatic turn and this role suits him quite well. Incidentally, Colbert would have made an excellent Frances had Crawford declined. 


Joan Crawford had been loyal to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer since they gave her her start in 1925. She made seventeen films with the studio but by the early 1940s her star-status was beginning to wane and fresh faces like Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr, and Greer Garson were receiving all of the choice scripts. Eager to showcase her acting ability, Crawford accepted a lower salary and switched to the less prestigious Warner Brothers studio after the completion of Above Suspicion. Within one year she was up for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal in Mildred Pierce.

Within Above Suspicion are hidden elements of Hitchcock-like suspense, featuring a labyrinth of twists and turns, car chases, and an assassination attempt at an opera, a scene taken right out of The Man Who Knew Too Much ( 1934 ). Overall, the film is like a tasty strudel filled with chunks of drama, comedy and action, all enfolded within thin layers of plot to make up a taut 90 minute thriller.

This post is our contribution to the super-sneaky Snoopathon hosted by Movies Silently. Be sure to check out all the great posts about the nefarious spies, agents, and Mata Hari's that appeared in films from 1920-1965. 

16 comments:

  1. Beside noting that A) this is a very fun write-up, and B) where can I get one of them chess boards? I'm not sure what I can say about a film in which Fred gets billing over Basil Rathbone and Conrad Veidt! I really have to see what this quartet does together on the same screen.

    What a fun choice!

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    1. That's what I'd like to know too...I love those chess pieces! Actually, I came across that photo on eBay several years ago by accident and that led me to discovering the film - anything with a chess board like that in it has to be worth watching methought. Let us know what you think of the film when you get a chance to see it!

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  2. Thanks so much for participating! This movie always makes me a little sad because of Veidt's tragic death. What a loss. But the cast! The cast!
    Wonderful review

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    1. When we heard about the Snoopathon the first film that came to our minds was Above Suspicion. My sister and I just enjoyed it so much the first time we watched it and it really captures that Nazi spies/European espionage feel so well....regardless of whether spies actually did hide out in bookshops or secluded chalets.

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  3. Now that's what I call a honeymoon! Married life is going to be pretty dull after that adventure.

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    1. I imagine Richard and Frances will find some more capers to get themselves involved with in the future. ;-)

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  4. I enjoyed watching this one on TCM a while back. I'll watch anything with Basil Rathbone or Conrad Veidt, and this one has Basil Rathbone AND Conrad Veidt. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Yes, Rathbone is a real winner when it comes to drawing the audiences in. I was only familiar with Veidt as "Jaffar" ( The Thief of Bagdad ) prior to watching Above Suspicion, and what different characters they be!

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  5. What a great review! This does sound like a "tasty strudel" with a fabulous cast! Thanks for a fun read!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed our review....I hope you enjoy the movie as well!

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  6. Well, I never knew Fred MacMurray and Joan Crawford made a movie together. This sounds like must-see, with a cast like that.

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    1. It certainly is a must-see for the classic film fan, if not for its plot than for its cast alone. Many people have mixed feelings about the movie, thinking it lags in spots or was ridiculous ( even Joan Crawford thought that )....but we liked it, and I hope you do too.

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  7. Great review - I haven't seen this Crawford gem for a few years but I do remember thinking it's so bittersweet because of Veidt passing so shortly after.
    Love the strudel comparison, off to consider what other cake and film pairings would be just as tasty ;)

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    1. Ha! Any film that can be compared to a good dish only helps to make it doubly enjoyable. Glad you enjoyed the post!

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  8. Fun review for a fun film! MacMurray and Crawford were a great duo in this one - an unexpected pairing, but good. And of course, Basil Rathbone. :)

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    1. It was indeed an unexpected pairing...I wonder what Miss Crawford thought when she heard she was going to be teamed with MacMurray. And yes, of course, Basil Rathbone makes any film twice as good as it would be without him.

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