Movie Critique - The Unsuspected

Stars: 4 / 5

Recommendation: A sinister-themed 40s murder mystery film noir that rivals the likes of Laura, but is sadly under appreciated. 

The Unsuspected is a 1947 American film noir directed by Michael Curtiz, produced by Charles Hoffman, and released by Warner Bros. The film cast includes Claude Rains, Audrey Totter, Ted North, Constance Bennett, Joan Caulfield and Hurd Hatfield among others.

Roslyn Wight, Victor Grandison's (portrayed by Claude Rains) secretary is found dead and police report it as a suicide. Victor also had lost his ward, Matilda Frazier (portrayed by Joan Caulfield), in a freighter accident at sea. And the investigation into both cases begins by the police, that leaves a trail of suspects, twists at every turn and also litter of more murders falling in the way.

The film was based on the 1946 novel of the same name by Charlotte Armstrong, which originally was a serial published in The Saturday Evening Post between August 11, 1945 and September 29, 1945; before it was published as a novel in 1946. Screenplay for the film was co-written by Bess Meredyth, wife of Curtiz, and Ranald MacDougall. 

We see Hurd Hatfield as Oliver Keane in the film. One can remember him for his memorable role of Dorian Gray in the 1945 American horror-film The Picture of Dorian Gray. I can never forget him no matter how many years pass. He has somewhat become immortal in my mind with that role. I also saw him in another film, the 1950 American crime film noir Destination Murder, where he is on the wrong side of the law.

We can hear one of the themes from the 1941 American film noir The Maltese Falcon. That's because composer Max Steiner reused it in this film. Although in the credits we only see Oscar winning composer Franz Waxman.

We meet Audrey Totter again. This is the third film that I am posting of hers in my recent watches - the 1947 American film noir Lady in the Lake and the 1947 American film noir High Wall.

As for Joan Caulfield, she is a beautiful belle in the role of Matilda Frazier. She gives me a Jean Harlow look in the film. There is an inside joke between Hurd Hatfield's Oliver Keane and Joan Caulfield's Matilda Frazier when Oliver compares to Matilda's portrait and says "No, Matilda hasn't changed. The painting has. It just died.". This is a clear reference to Hatfield's signature film The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Incidentally both Caulfield and Totter got their final career roles and screen appearances in the 80s and 90s American crime drama television series Murder, She Wrote. Caulfield played the role of Mary Rose Welch in the Season 4 Episode 9 Trouble in Eden first aired on November 22 1987; while Totter played the role of Sister Paul in the Season 4 Episode 4 titled Old Habits Die Hard first aired on October 11 1987. And what a coincidence that Hatfield also appeared on that show in three different episodes. 

And finally the main character around whom the film basically centers, Victor Grandison portrayed by Claude Rains. Who can ever forget him. He has given us several memorable roles in many films in the 30s, 40s and 50s. 

The opening and closing credits are typed on a bound manuscript while someone's gloved hands flips the pages. The cast are again listed as "The Players".

A sinister-themed 40s murder mystery film noir that rivals the likes of Laura, but is sadly under appreciated. A master manipulator as key character, a disillusioned heroine; and some morally loose supporting cast, makes this film a splendid thriller. Don’t miss it next time you come across it, I will guarantee you will take home some shivers. 

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Ted North credited as Michael North portrays the role of Steven Francis Howard in the film. He had been acting in movies for at least 7 years by this movie was released. Yet he was credited specially as "And introducing…". In fact this seems to be his final film role before he became an agent for several actors including Red Skelton, Amanda Blake and Milburn Stone. 

b. The radio station mentioned in the film is a play on words on the initials of Warner Bros. and Michael Curtiz - WMCB.

c. This is film debut of Fred Clark who plays the part of Police Detective Richard Donovan. 

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. Roslyn Wright is seen removing the phone receiver from her ear twice - once in the close-up and she repeats the movement again in the long shot. Same thing happens with Althea who was on the other end of the call on a pay phone. Her receiver is also seen being removed twice from the ear between shots. 

b. The position of the second "K" and the word "KILL" in the hotel sign "Hotel Peekskill" changes between scenes.

c. Barely there reflection of a crew member seen in the door window when Steven Howard enters the party.

d. The distance between Althea and Steven when she is giving him a lighted matchstick is considerably shortened between long shot and the close-up in the following scene. Again the distance between Steven and Matilda seem to shorten considerably when they are seated in the car between a side shot and interior close-up shot. 


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