Most people who break the law and have a conscience feel guilty about doing so, knowing that they have done something wrong. At the same time, those same people usually try to avoid the consequences of said decision, whether it means prison time or something equally unappealing. Charles Laughton is just such a man and it is not the secret of the murders that he has committed that eat away at him, it is the thought that the poor woman next door who had been abused by her husband for who knows how many years, would be the one to take the blame. If they had simply gone unsolved, nobody would have been the wiser for it, yet for all his lack of compunction in the matter, Laughton’s character does indeed still know right from wrong.
Such is the subject of the The Suspect, a film released in 1944 and directed by Robert Siodmak, based on a novel by James Ronald. It finds Laughton as a well-to-do upstanding citizen, a married man with his own business and as fine a life as one could ask for. The marriage is a loveless one though and two things happen to change Laughton’s life for the better – his son moving out and meeting a young woman by the name of Mary Gray, played by Ella Raines. The two strike up a friendship which eventually turns to love, but it can go no further do to the pesky interference of the aforementioned first wife. It seems there is nothing to do but to get rid of her and as she will not leave, death looks to be the only option available. It is here that things take a turn for Philip Marshall, the devious man as portrayed by Laughton. How a man can simply go from one extreme to the next, from gentle and kind to one planning and carrying out a murder can never quite be explained, but Marshall does so and is eventually investigated for the crime, thus the title of the film coming into play. What makes the entire affair even more interesting is the fact that Marshall considers doing it once again when he is confronted by his neighbour, a man all too willing to blackmail Marshall for every dime that he has. So it is that two murders soon rest upon Marshall’s shoulders and Laughton’s portrayal of the man is utter perfection. He plays the gentleman well and one would never think the man as anything but, but it is during that second kill when his true colours are shown, that Laughton infuses a bit of glee into Marshall’s features, a moment that is downright chilling.
The only drawback from the entire movie is the fact that it was not very suspenseful, hardly at all in fact. There is a slight bit of tension and maybe even a whiff of anticipation when the second murder is about to occur, but it is soon past and the film continues on its set pace, hardly ever wavering in the slightest. What is quite surprising about it all is that The Suspect still manages to end up being a very solid drama. Murders it might have and a killer who is remorseless about it all, but it never lacks for one’s attention and with Laughton turning in such a great performance, viewers will be unable to turn away until that final parting shot.
4 out of 5