Secretary Rosalyn White (Barbara Woodall) is alone in the home of her employer, radio personality and "teller of strange tales" Victor Grandison (Claude Rains). She is on the phone with Grandison’s niece Althea Keene (Audrey Totter). Althea hears a scream on the phone, then nothing; Althea then calmly goes back to her party. The next day, Rosalyn’s body is found hanging from the chandelier; the police deem it a suicide. Some months later, Althea hosts a party for Victor’s birthday. A surprise arrival is Steven Francis Howard (Michael North) who claims to be the husband of Grandison’s other niece, the recently deceased Matilda Frazier (Joan Caulfield). Welcome to the world of The Unsuspected (1947).
As part of the Spring 2019 Femme/Homme Fatales of Film Noir blogathon, we're going to take a look at this interesting film - which is worth watching for the Homme Fatale of the piece - the always intriguing Claude Rains (with a quick nod to one of the queens of noir, Audrey Totter!).
Any opportunity to see Claude Rains in action is one that should not be missed. He does not disappoint as the seemingly sympathetic uncle in this intricate mystery story. It's easy to believe him as a radio host who tells tales of murder and mayhem - likely scaring the hell out of the listening audience (his butler tells Grandison that he doesn't listen to the radio show. It's too scary. Grandison's response - "Do you like your job?"). Mr. Rains gets second billing to Joan Caulfield, however he is almost the whole show. When he is on the screen, I dare you to be able to take your eyes off him. With his imperious presence, one is never quite sure where he stands with regards to his two nieces. We believe he is a loving uncle to Matilda, but there is always that doubt - the true mark of a homme fatal! While Orson Welles was originally sought for Grandison (TCM article), and Robert Alda was announced as the film's lead (AFI catalog), the film is enhanced by Mr. Rains presence.
Not without her own great bon mots is Constance Bennett as Jane Moynihan, the director on Grandison's radio program: "After slaving all day over a hot typewriter, there's nothing I like better than a swan dive into a bottle of bourbon." Ms. Bennett is excellent as the one person in Victor's cadre who isn't afraid of him or after something.
This was Fred Clark's (Police Detective Richard Donovan) first film role, and he is good as a policeman with a brain. He was 28 when he joined the Navy in 1942; when he left the services (he had transferred to the Army), he started his acting career. He made a number of excellent films, including Ride a Pink Horse (1947) and White Heat (1949), but he his primary success was on television. He died in 1968, at the age of 54.
Dana Andrews was originally cast as Steve, but he wanted to part to be expanded; when that proved impossible, he withdrew from the production (as did his suggested co-star, Virginia Mayo) (Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film by Alan K. Rode). Actor Michael North was "introduced" in the film, but he'd actually appeared in 21 films and shorts, mostly under the name Ted North. We found him to be somewhat banal, but it does work for the film to keep him more in the background. The Unsuspected may have introduced him, but it was also his goodbye to moviemaking as a performer. He left acting to become an agent, representing clients such as Red Skelton and Amanda Blake.
This The New York Times review was not particularly enthusiastic, (though they liked Claude Rains and Michael North). In more recent years, the film has been discussed for the atmospheric camera work achieved by director Michael Curtiz and cinematographer Woody Bredell. (Film Noir Reader 4 by Alain Silver & James Ursini). Whether you watch it for the scenery, the acting, or the story, do consider giving this one a look. We'll leave you with the film's trailer:
This posting is part of the Classic Movie Blog Association's Spring 2019 Blogathon on Femme/Homme Fatales of Film Noir.