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.
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.