Joan Fontaine won her first and only Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Lina McLaidlaw, after being nominated the year before for her performance in another Hitchcock picture, 'Rebecca', with Lawrence Olivier. The movie also received two unsuccessful Academy nominations, for Best Picture, and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture.
The basic plot concerns a quiet spinster, Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine) who is swept off her feet by, and marries, a rascally playboy, Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant). Lina slowly realises that her new husband has some dark secrets and she begins to suspect that he is plotting to murder her for her money. Her confusion and increasing unhappiness as she begins to unlock the mysteries of Johnny's life, are skilfully shown and Hitchcock ratchets up the suspense and tension in typically brilliant fashion.
The ending of the movie has always been contentious. Because Cary Grant was such a huge star, the studio decreed that he could not be allowed to play a murderer, and pressurised Hitchcock to make his character less villainous than in the book. Iles's novel ended with Johnny facing the loss of his wife who has willingly taken the poisoned milk he brings her. Hitchcock's new ending sees Lina's suspicions allayed by a repentant Johnny and she tells him that they will face the future together. It is a contrived ending and does not follow seamlessly from the earlier part of the film.
Nevertheless the movie is a first class production, well directed and full of classic performances. Fontaine's performance was well worth the Academy Award and the audience ia able to feel all of her bewildered fear and anxiety. Cary Grant is his usual suave and assured self and there are also good performances from Nigel Bruce as Johnny's close friend, Beaky Thwaite, and from Leo G. Carroll as Johnny's cousin and employer who is swindled by him.
Main CastCary Grant ... Johnnie Aysgarth
Joan Fontaine ... Lina
Cedric Hardwicke ... General McLaidlaw
Nigel Bruce ... Beaky
Dame May Whitty ... Mrs. McLaidlaw
Isabel Jeans ... Mrs. Newsham
Heather Angel ... Ethel
Auriol Lee ... Isobel Sedbusk
Reginald Sheffield ... Reggie Wetherby
Leo G. Carroll ... Captain Melbeck
CreditsDirector ... Alfred Hitchcock
Producer ... Alfred Hitchcock, Harry E. Edington (both uncredited)
Screenplay ... Samson Raphaelson, Joan Harrison, Alma Reville
Original novel ... "Before the Fact" by Anthony Berkeley (as Francis Iles)
Music ... Franz Waxman
Cinematography ... Harry Stradling Sr.
Format ... B & W
Distribution Company ... RKO Radio Pictures Inc.
Release date ... November 14, 1941
Running time ... 99 minutes
Academy AwardsOne Win:
Best Actress ... Joan Fontaine
Two Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... RKO Radio Pictures Inc.
Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture ...Franz Waxman