A couple years ago, a lot of Americans were talking about a Netflix documentary following the life of a Wisconsin prisoner and whether or not he was guilty or innocent of a murder. History does repeat itself, and back in 1947, a lot of Americans were hooked on their favorite radio shows, several that focused […]
A couple years ago, a lot of Americans were talking about a Netflix documentary following the life of a Wisconsin prisoner and whether or not he was guilty or innocent of a murder. History does repeat itself, and back in 1947, a lot of Americans were hooked on their favorite radio shows, several that focused on stories of the macabre, stories about murder. The film I wanted to focus on for the Claude Rains blogathon, and which starred the talented British actor, is The Unsuspected. The film has strong ties to such radio shows and implies that such shows were a popular part of America's pop culture.
Rains plays Victor Grandison, the wealthy host of a popular radio show that features him narrating true crime tales. With his smooth as silk, melodious and at turns basso voice, Rains was the perfect choice to be cast as Grandison. His characterization shows us a man who is at the top of his game-the advertisers and the creators of the radio show bow and scrape to him, so do his friends and his only blood relatives: two nieces, Althea(Audrey Totter) and Matilda(Joan Caulfield.) Victor is a complex man-he can be warm and charming and ultra polite, yet he can also be demanding and controlling.
The film opens with Victor's voice heard coming from a radio in a darkened office while a young woman is working late at a typewriter. A man approaches her with a hangman's noose in his hand and we see the startled and distressed woman scream. We soon realize that this woman is about to be murdered but the death will be made to look like a suicide. We will learn that the dead woman is Roslyn Wright, secretary to none other than Victor Grandison, the true crimes radio show host! All who know Victor and who also knew Roslyn are very sad that a seemingly good secretary and person, would have been compelled to end her own life. It's a sad event and a puzzlement. Life goes on and niece Althea decides to throw her Uncle Victor a surprise birthday party. She believes that there needs to be a happy event in her and her uncle's lives, as shortly after Roslyn's suicide, the other niece and Althea's sister, Matilda, has been lost at sea! Will the terrible events stop befalling this family?
At the birthday party, as all seem to be enjoying themselves, a stranger arrives. He is Steven Howard(Ted North) and he has a shocking announcement: he is Matilda's secret husband!!!! This news is very bothersome to Victor because if this Howard guy is telling the truth, it will mess up the dispersal of Matilda's share of the family estate. Victor secretly asks police lieutenant Donovan(Fred Clark) to dig up all he can on Steven Howard. Victor also invites Steven to stay at his home while he is in town.
As the weeks go by, Althea takes several chances to flirt with Steven since her husband, Oliver, (Hurd Hatfield) is a lousy drunk. Then the shocker of all shockers breaks: Matilda is alive!!! The Grandisons are notified that Matilda didn't die at sea but survived the ocean liner's sinking and was taken to a hospital in Brazil where she had been suffering from amnesia. She recovered enough to recall her name and family and where they live, but she has no memory of Steven or having married him!!
The plot of this film continues to twist and turn and several characters have hidden agendas to achieve. Steven is out to convince Matilda that they are married, but is he really telling all of them the truth? Althea and her husband have a failing marriage and her obvious attempts to lure Steven into an affair are part of her agenda. Why doesn't she just go ahead and divorce Oliver? Althea also has begun some investigating of her own as she doesn't believe that her uncle's secretary, Roslyn, committed suicide. Will Althea find the truth and at what cost? Looming over all is Victor Grandison. Why is he so controlling over Matilda and her life? Can she break free from his overly paternalistic ways or will she always answer to him with every decision she makes in her life? What connection did Victor have with his secretary? Was it merely a working relationship or something that turned more sinister? I don't want to give away the film's plot as I want you, dear reader, to seek it for yourself to view.
Even though the plot does sound like a soap opera, I did find that the cast gave a fairly entertaining effort that I liked. Look for Constance Bennett-early film star from the 1930s-as Victor's radio show producer, Fred Clark as a “hop right to it” police lieutenant, and Jack Lambert as a creepy hired hit man. I wasn't as familiar with Joan Caulfield or Ted North, who played Matilda and Steven; this was the first film I ever saw either of them act in. They do an ok job. Production notes I read mentioned that director Michael Curtiz-The Unsuspected was the first movie made by his own production company- had wanted Dana Andrews to play the part of Steve and Virginia Mayo to play the part of Matilda. However, during the pre-production phase, Andrews kept demanding that his part be made larger and Curtiz became so irritated that he fired him! Warner Brothers had an agreement to release the film and as Andrews was one of their stars, and he was a package deal with Virginia, his firing took Mayo off the picture too. I do think if they had remained in the film, their acting would have enhanced this film.
Where can you see The Unsuspected? It sometimes is on Turner Classic Movies, so keep an eye on their schedule. It is available to purchase through TCM and Amazon-on a dvd. Here is the opening scene in an advertisement for the film, which moviegoers in 1947 would have seen at the theaters. Incidentally, in the link from Youtube, Ted North-Steven-is credited as Michael North, and I don't know why because he later went by Ted in the rest of his filmwork.
Be sure to visit the site at the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society, or PEPS, to read others contributions to the blogathon, honoring the late, always great, British actor Claude Rains, on what would have been his birthday, November 10th, 1889.