The Suspect (1944)

Randwick Ritz, Sydney:

04:15 PM, Thursday
May 02

10:00AM, Friday
May 03

2:15PM, Monday
May 06

Lido Cinemas, Melbourne:

04:15PM, Thursday
May 09

02:15PM, Monday
May 13

Rating: Unclassified 15+
Duration: 85minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Cast: Charles Laughton, Ella Raines, Dean Harens
Director: Robert Siodmak



Charles Laughton gave one of his best but least-known performances in Robert Siodmak’s outstanding melodrama.” – Danny Peary

London, 1902: A tobacco shop owner, Philip (Charles Laughton), is trapped in an insufferable marriage to a shrewish wife and starts a tender, chaste relationship with a younger woman (Ella Raines). When his wife finds out and threatens to expose the ‘scandal’, Philip is forced to take drastic action. A cagey and creepy police inspector and a vicious wife-beater intent on blackmail add to the moral ambiguities of this gently rendered crime thriller from veteran Hollywood director Robert Siodmak (Criss Cross, The Killers). Laughton’s mesmerizing, subtle and nuanced performance is outstanding.  4K restoration by Universal Pictures and NBC Universal Post Laboratory.

Introduced by Nicky Hannan at Ritz Cinemas and Paul Harris at Lido Cinemas.

If any individual has a right to ‘sign’ the film, it is Laughton in one of his most engaged and engaging roles, as a sympathetic wife-killer and a victim of blackmail, whose fatal flaw is eventually revealed to be his sense of simple decency.” – Paul Taylor, Time Out Film Guide

Builds towards a tremendously engaging third act that’s capped off with an almost impressively downbeat finale.” – David Nusair

A biting tale of three marriages, two wretched ones saved by murder and a joyous third brought down by the pesky hobgoblin, ‘a sense of decency.’” – Fernando F. Croce

By Bruce Hodson

Born in Memphis in 1900 while his parents were on a business trip, Siodmak was brought up in Germany. He entered the film industry in 1925 as a translator of American inter-titles into German, but by 1926 he was engaged in making ‘one from twos’ (editing down already existing films to make new films). His first feature film as director was an independently produced silent feature, Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday, 1929), made with a non-professional cast in collaboration with Edgar Ulmer, Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann and the legendary cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan. Siodmak was put under contract with UFA, directing more than a dozen features between 1930 and ‘37. Being Jewish and having incurred Goebbels' displeasure with the critical portrayal of family life under the Third Reich in one of the films he directed, Siodmak left Germany for France, where he directed a policier, Pièges (Snares, 1939), before emigrating to the US in 1940. After directing B movies for various companies, Siodmak signed a long-term contract with Universal, where his brother Curt was already a screenwriter.

Between 1941 and ‘51 Siodmak directed at least 20 features in Hollywood, all as assignments, graduating to 'A' budgets with Phantom Lady (1944), the first of five generally recognised post facto as films noirs, including The Killers (1946), and Criss Cross (1948); the latter screened at Cinema Reborn in 2021. Five other features directed by Siodmak, including The Suspect (1944), are sometimes variously listed as 'films noirs' but more often as melodramas with some noir elements. His films helped define and shape the preoccupations and development of the noir cycle.

Siodmak's career in Hollywood ended about the time the initial manifestion of noir cinema had faded in the early fifties. Siodmak's penultimate American film, an action romp starring Burt Lancaster, The Crimson Pirate (1952), quite unlike his previous Hollywood films, was filmed in England and Spain. He directed more than a dozen features between 1951 and ‘68, mainly in Germany but also in Britain and France, plus Custer of the West (1966) an American production filmed in cinerama in Spain.

Siodmak, like other German emigré directors, quickly learned to blend the expressionism of melodrama in German cinema with the technical versatility of the big studios. He ranged freely over the noir spectrum, adjusting to the varying demands of the scripts that were mostly based, often imaginatively, on pulp writing, with an eye for detail within broad brush strokes of mood and plot complexity. All five noir melodramas, including The Suspect, were made entirely within the studio but Siodmak also showed how studio sets could be effectively blended with location filming in, for example, Criss Cross and Cry of the City, which form a noir gangster trilogy with The Killers.

Siodmak apparently had a photograph of himself he liked to sign 'see odd Mack', so referring, it seems, to what critic and Charles Laughton biographer, Charles Higham, refers to as Siodmak's ‘owlish appearance.’ As Higham relates it, Siodmak was far from owlish on the set. In the final rehearsal period of The Suspect, Laughton ‘suddenly felt his familiar and overpowering conviction that his interpretation of the role was wrong.’ He charged at Siodmak, yelling that ‘all we have done so far is rubbish!’ Siodmak was ready for such displays of temperament. He angrily acted out the scenes as he had previously discussed them.  Laughton went into reverse, trying to placate the director to avert a possible stroke. But Siodmak could not be easily placated, insisting they play it the way discussed, otherwise Laughton could ‘get out. Get out anyway.’ Laughton told people that Siodmak was ‘the most hysterical director he had ever worked with’ and had to be coped with every day. Off the set a friendship survived and grew, Laughton reading aloud to Siodmak ‘every one of A.E. Houseman's one-act plays,’ Siodmak reciprocating with his own readings from The Bible and Samuel Pepys’ Diary (1).
David Thomson, in his A Biographical Dictionary of Film, comments on the links he finds between the fatalism of The Killers and ‘the irony and humour in The Suspect and [The Strange Affair of] Uncle Harry, rare studies of plain decency driven to break the law,’ both made by Siodmak in the same year.

Described by Siodmak as ‘the best story I have told,’ The Suspect was adapted from a novel, This Way Out, by British writer James Ronald: ‘a highly sympathetic account of an ordinary middle-aged man driven into committing murder which could have been made into an effective film noir’. (2) In his essay on five films noirs and five melodramas with noir elements directed by Siodmak between 1944 and ‘49, Walker speculates that ‘Universal (perhaps struck by the potentially exploitable echoes in the story of the Crippen murder case) took the decision to set the film [in Victorian London] at the turn of the century.’  Walker further notes that, ‘the effect is to dilute the noir ambience of the story [granting] an aesthetic distance’, further compounded by the casting of Laughton as Phillip Marshall, a hen-pecked husband long wishing to escape from his wife Cora's relentless shrewishness (2).

After a marriage crisis, Phillip Marshall meets a young woman, Mary (Ella Raines), rescuing her from the despondency of fruitless job-hunting. She comes to genuinely love the flabby middle-aged tobacco shop manager for his gentleness and kindness. By this time, Philip is established as a thoroughly sympathetic character.

When Cora (Rosalind Ivan) finds out about their relationship, she refuses to divorce Phillip. Furthermore, she vows to ensure that both of them lose their jobs. Phillip admits to Mary that he is married with an adult son and must give her up. Then, driven beyond endurance by his wife on Christmas eve, Phillip is finally driven to act.

The Suspect moves into film noir territory when an inquisitive police inspector, Huxley (Stanley Ridges), visits Phillip and informs him that he knows Cora was murdered. Huxley re-enacts the murder on the staircase viewed from Phillip's point-of-view, Huxley speaking off screen. As Walker notes, in this scene the chiaroscuro of film noir comes fully into play.

After being confounded by a surprise move by the accused, not to be outdone Huxley persuades Phillip’s neighbour, Simmons (Henry Daniell), a dissolute wife-beater, to supply evidence incriminating Phillip, who is now in the grip of ‘uncontrollable impulses.’

Walker shows through comparative analysis how structurally similar The Suspect is to Fritz Lang's key film noir, Scarlet Street (1945). Both “heroes” retain audience sympathy but Phillip cannot be considered a genuine “noir hero”:  Chris (Edward G Robinson), in Scarlet Street, is punished by conscience while Phillip has no guilt for his crimes.

Apart from the already described re-creation by the inspector of the first murder, both structurally through a linear narrative and in terms of the mise en scene, The Suspect is the most classical of Siodmak's noir films in the unobtrusive deployment of camera movement and placement, depth of field in the compositions, and seamless editing. Siodmak’s direction, combined with the subtlety of Laughton’s performance, reinforces the script’s propensity to avoid actual melodrama - not without irony, given the director-actor collision on the set.  Laughton ultimately appreciated the opportunity after too many typecast roles. Both he and his wife, character actress Elsa Lanchester, counted his performance as Phillip Marshall among the best of his prolific film career.

The Suspect was made soon after what is now generally regarded as the first film noir, Stranger on the Third Floor (1944), in parallel with several other unconventional period thrillers: John Brahm’s The Lodger, Edgar G Ulmer’s  Bluebeard, and George Cukor’s Gaslight, all ‘quasi-romantic narratives accentuated by dark and sinister atmosphere' (3). In the following year Brahm made Hangover Square as a baroque set-piece, ‘a melodramatic vision of controlled chaos and romantic destruction’, which paralleled the conventions of ‘40s noir subjectivity (3).

The Suspect is also in a period setting but, as already noted, only one scene is unmistakably noir in dealing with the theme of maladjustment and murder from the point of view  of the murderer rather than the victim. This provides the frame for developing the moral shadings and repressed violence behind a veneer of Victorian middle class gentility, treating the murderer as acting from commonplace motivation. The way that it breaches this veneer, more redolent of Hitchcock than of Lang, and the restraint in the playing, coalesces into the film's final image.


1. Charles Higham, Charles Laughton: An Intimate Portrait, Doubleday, 1976, pp. 128-9.

2. Michael Walker, ‘Robert Siodmak’, essay in The Movie Book of Film Noir, ed. Ian

Cameron, Studio Vista 1992.

3. Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward, ‘The Period Film’, Appendix in Film Noir, Overlook Press,

third edition, 1992, pp. 327-331.

Restored in 4K in 2021 by Universal Pictures at NBCUniversal StudioPost, from the original 35mm nitrate original negative and a 35mm nitrate comp fine grain. The picture elements were scanned in 4K on an ARRI film scanner for a 4K workflow. Universal applied digital processes to improve flicker and stability, address a jump cut and image lag, and clean up dirt, scratches, and gate hairs. Audio was restored primarily using the nitrate comp fine grain. Digital audio restoration tools were applied to reduce anomalies, noise floor, hum, camera noise, and overall level adjustments. Audio restoration services were provided by NBCUniversal StudioPost and Deluxe Audio.

Director: Robert Siodmak; Production Company: Universal Pictures; Producer: Islin Auster; Script: Bertram Millhauser, Arthur T Horman, from a novel This Way Out by James Ronald; Photography: Paul Ivano; Editor: Arthur Hilton; Art Direction: John B Goodman, Martin Obzina; Set Decoration: Russell A Gausman, E R Robinson; Sound: Bernard B Brown; Music: Frank Skinner; Costumes: Vera West.

Cast: Charles Laughton (Phillip Marshall), Ella Raines (Mary Gray), Dean Harens (John Marshall), Stanley Ridges (Inspector Huxley), Henry Daniell (Simmons), Rosalind Ivan (Cora Marshall), Molly Lamont (Mrs Simmons), Raymond Severn (Merridew)

USA | 1945 | 82 mins | 4K DCP | Colour | English| M

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