8/10
Crime, Drama & Stunning Cinematography
19 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Some forms of beauty are best seen from a distance and maybe that's one reason why the stunning cinematography featured in "The Unsuspected" is better appreciated by many people now than it was at the time of the movie's initial release. This dark thriller about murder, greed, blackmail, deception and guilt boasts a group of characters whose complications are only surpassed by those of the twisting plot. The film is well acted and entertaining but it's the exquisite expressionistic visual style that is its most striking attribute.

Claude Rains stars as Victor Grandison, a successful radio personality who entertains his audiences by telling them true crime stories. Victor is sophisticated and affable and lives in a mansion where a series of premature deaths occur.

Victor's secretary, Roslyn (Barbara Woodall) is found hanged in circumstances which suggest that she committed suicide and shortly after, at Victor's birthday party which had been organised by his niece Althea (Audrey Trotter), a stranger called Steven (Ted North) arrives and shocks everyone by telling them that he'd been married to Victor's ward Matilda (Joan Caulfield), who was lost in a shipwreck and was presumed to have drowned.

Steven's arrival alarms Victor who assumes that he wishes to make a claim on Matilda's substantial estate which is close to being settled in Victor's favour. Victor's concern soon proves to be unfounded however, as Steven confirms that he's actually very wealthy and has no interest in Matilda's estate.

Victor is again surprised when it emerges that Matilda has actually survived the shipwreck but when she returns to the mansion and can't remember Steven, Victor becomes increasingly suspicious of him.

Althea is later murdered seemingly by her husband Oliver (Hurd Hatfield) who himself later perishes in a car crash which is caused by brake failure and Matilda is poisoned but again survives another close brush with death. An attempt is also made on Steven's life by a killer called Press (Jack Lambert) before the identity of the serial murderer becomes generally known and a very dramatic confession duly follows.

Althea and Victor are both very calculating and strongly motivated by greed, Steven's motivation is concealed for much of the story and Matilda's gullible nature contributes to her life being put in jeopardy for a second time. Oliver had previously been a painter and Matilda's fiancé but having been seduced by Althea later became a tragic alcoholic who never got over the loss of Matilda.

Claude Rains provides a marvellously subtle portrayal of a man who is charming, conceited and very wicked and who talks on his radio show about the sense of guilt that torments the unsuspected, the person who has not yet been recognised as being culpable for their crimes and who fears that one simple error could easily lead to them having to face the full force of justice.

The opulence of the mansion in which Victor resides provides the setting for most of the action but these interiors are also inhabited by numerous lengthy shadows which frequently create ominous shapes and project a constant sense of unease and menace. This uncomfortable atmosphere is made even more disturbing by the expert use of deep focus, interesting camera angles and viewpoints which distort the audience's view of certain images.

"The Unsuspected" provides a great deal of enjoyment for crime drama fans but also, thanks to the brilliance of director Michael Curtiz and cinematographer Woody Bredell, provides an exceptional visual experience which is truly marvellous and memorable.
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