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Film / The Unsuspected

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The Unsuspected is a 1947 thriller directed by Michael Curtiz.

Victor Grandison (Claude Rains) is the host of a true crime radio program in which he recounts the details of grisly murders. He also likes to indulge in a little Busman's Holiday work, as shown in the opening scene, where he goes home, strangles his secretary Roslyn to death with a rope, and then stages the scene to make it look like suicide.

That's the second death to hit the Grandison household in recent weeks. Barely a month before his wealthy ward, Matilda Frazier, was lost at sea in a shipwreck. Victor and his scheming niece Althea (Audrey Totter, Lady in the Lake) are surprised by the arrival of one Stephen Howard, recently discharged from the Army, who claims to have entered into a whirlwind marriage with Matilda right before her fatal voyage. Victor and Althea are suspicious because Matilda was a rich heiress—in fact, she actually is the owner of the mansion where Victor, Althea, and Althea's alcoholic husband Oliver live. This plot development is then knocked in a completely different direction when Matilda turns up in South America very much alive, having been rescued from the shipwreck by a fishing trawler.

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The plot may bear a tiny bit of resemblance to 1944 mystery Laura. Constance Bennett, whose career was on the downslide at this point, appears in one of her last big roles as Jane, the producer/director of Victor's radio show.


Tropes:

  • Artistic License – Biology: Victor puts what's supposed to be a fatal dose of sedatives into Matilda's drink. She drinks it, and eventually collapses. Stephen and Donovan save her by doing the routine where you walk the victim around and tell her to stay awake, which somehow works as an antidote.
  • Call-Back: Every time Victor kills someone or attempts to kill someone, there's a shot of his face upside down in a reflection. He's reflected upside down on a desk after he hangs Roslyn's corpse. He's reflected in a record on a player after he kills Althea. And he's reflected in a glass table after he's drugged Matilda.
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  • Chiaroscuro: Lots of use of this to establish the Film Noir mood, like in the opening scene, where Victor enters a moodily-lit study and murders Roslyn.
  • Double Entendre: Jane makes a lot of wisecracks to the effect of how she's lonely and she wants a man. Then there's the scene where Stephen and Althea are playing chess, after Althea has indicated her horniness for Stephen in every way she can short of actually grabbing his crotch. As Stephen ponders the board, a frustrated Althea hisses, "Does it always take you so long to make a move?"
    Donovan: You must be Miss Moynihan.
    Jane: I am, but must I be?
    ...
    Donovan: (as they're escorting Jane away in a car) You'll be safe with us.
    Jane: That's what I was afraid of.
  • Dramatic Drop: Averted. Steven shares the news that he was married to Matilda. Althea, drink in hand, twitches. Steven says "Don't drop that!" and grabs her drink.
  • I Made Copies: Mr. Press is a murderer that Victor has uncovered. Rather than expose him Victor is using him as a blackmail tool to do dirty work. Victor plays the secret recording he made of Press's confession during their first meeting. When Press angrily smashes it, Victor says he made copies, and if anything happens to him a copy will go to the police.
  • Impairment Shot: Matilda's vision blurs after she drinks the drugged wine Victor gave her.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Matilda is sweet and innocent and trusting, and worships Victor, whom she calls "Grandy". After returning home she is always seen in a white dress. She's a blonde. Althea is a slutty schemer, who seduced Oliver away from Matilda in the backstory, and who is trying to seduce Stephen in the present. After Matilda gets back Althea is only seen in tight black dresses. She's a brunette.
  • Never Suicide:
    • Roslyn's isn't. Of course in this case the audience knows from the beginning, as the camera shows Victor strangling her and making it look like a suicide.
    • Victor attempts this with Matilda by tricking her into writing a "suicide note" by telling her it's dictation for his show. His plan fails when she doesn't die.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The last shot is Victor being led through prison gates.
  • Ominous Fog: The mansion seems perpetually fogbound.
  • Phoney Call: A variation on this is Victor's go-to murder technique. He kills Roslyn while a recording of his radio show plays on the air, making everyone think he has an alibi. To kill Althea, he cleverly records an argument between her and Oliver and then splices it together with her actual murder. Then he arranges it to play while he's in sight of Matilda and Stephen, seemingly establishing that Oliver killed her.
  • Plot Hole: A rather gaping one. Victor's alibi for Roslyn's death is that he was doing his radio show. He accomplished this by playing a recording of his show—he always does so in advance as part of rehearsal—then playing the recording before going back and murdering Roslyn. The only problem with this is that as other scenes firmly establish, he does his show like everyone did radio shows back then, in a studio, with Jane the director, a whole production crew, and a live orchestra. All of those people would obviously have to know if Victor wasn't really there.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: Everyone is surprised when a telegram from Matilda arrives announcing that she is not dead.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Victor slips what's supposed to be a fatal dose of sedatives into Matilda's drink. Somehow, she survives.
  • Title Drop: When Victor is doing his show he often refers to "the unsuspected", that being people who got away with murder. In his on-air confession at the end he calls himself that.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: Victor kills Oliver by cutting the brake lines to the car and arranging for Oliver to drive away on a twisty mountain road.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Apparently Althea only seduced and married Oliver to spite Matilda. She's cheating on him constantly.
    Oliver: I have no claims on Althea. She belongs to mankind.
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