The Unsuspected (1947) with Claude Rains

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You Can’t Foresee It! You Can’t Forget It!

Yet another in our recent spate of really fine choices is The Unsuspected, a spectacular film from 1947 which presents a wonderful mystery, though most would drop this in their noir file. It fits there as well, except perhaps not as neatly.

Although not onscreen, one of the real stars of this picture is director Michael Curtiz, who after the his multiple successes, including Casablanca and Mildred Pierce, was getting the cream of the Warner Brothers’ scripts at this point. And he delivers again with a very tight, suspenseful, and atmospheric piece which is extremely highly recommended.

Cinematography from Woody Bredell is also extremely well done, especially for a completely (if memory serves) interior film. Bredell creates a seething and crisp atmosphere with excellent shots, many coming from below waist level- incorporating ceilings and all.

Joan Caulfield gets the top billing somehow over Claude Rains, who really steals the picture. Actually perhaps it is his to begin with.  Caulfield is one of Claude Rains’ nieces, who is the legendary radio performer Victor Grandison. Also sharing the house is another of Grandison’s nieces, Althea (played by Audrey Totter).

The film opens with a scream (literally) as Claude Rains’ secretary is hung from a chandelier in her office. Officially it is a suicide but we know better- especially as Michael Curtiz slyly shows us the murderer. He makes several more pretty clear admissions of who the guilty party is also in case you missed it.

I must back up a bit, as Joan Caulfield is, at the start of the film, presumed dead – lost on an Atlantic voyage. During an early party Ted North (playing Stephen Howard) appears, claiming to be her husband. He begins befriending the family and secretly poking around in the supposed suicide. I will let you take if from there.

The suspense builds through a little bit of trickery almost out of a Columbo episode and a few other murders get put in our queue. There is quite a bit of deception and suspense which builds throughout, accompanied by Franz Waxman’s delicious score.

Also in good support we have Constance Bennett as Claude Rains’ radio producer. It is a somewhat secondary but still very important role. This was a period in Bennett’s career was on the decline – she would only make a handful more pictures and The Unsuspected is the last really strong work as well as her career continued to fade, though she was having a bit of a comeback prior to her death in 1965.

Audrey Totter also performs extremely well as the gold-digging niece Althea. She is another in a real spot on job of casting. I am not overly familiar with her work but after a handful of films she chose to leave MGM, being disappointed in the roles she was being offered. If there is a weak link perhaps it is Ted North as “Mr. Howard.” This as North’s last film.

And need we mention the estimable Mr. Claude Rains? As always, devilishly stylish, deceptive, and devious. Ooops! Think I just gave it away.

In the interests of getting you to watch this one – it flashes by on TCM and is available from the Warner Archives as well (though no review copy provided), I am keeping the details to an absolute minimum!

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