Johnnie Aysgarth, played by Cary Grant, holds onto his wife Lina McLaidlaw Aysgarth, played by Joan Fontaine, in Alfred Hitchcock's 1941 mystery Suspicion. (Photo by �� John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
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Cary Grant's Reputation Was A Reliable Tool For Alfred Hitchcock
In the 1940s and ‘50s, Alfred Hitchcock worked with Cary Grant on four movies: "Suspicion," "Notorious," "To Catch A Thief," and "North by Northwest." According to Graham McCann's biography "Cary Grant: A Class Apart," the director used Grant’s leading man star power to elicit different reactions from the audience.
In “Suspicion,” Hitchcock used the audience’s reluctance to believe Grant could play a murderer to shock them. McCann wrote, “however bleak the situation might become, they would not believe that a character played by Grant could really turn out to be a murderer. So [Hitchcock] planned to execute an audacious double-bluff, revealing Grant's character to be as bad, as cold, as evil as he had seemed to be.”
Hitchcock wanted “Suspicion” with Grant’s character murdering his wife, but the studio demanded that the couple ride off into the sunset towards an unknown, happy future instead. Hitchcock used Grant in different ways in each of their subsequent collaborations. In "Notorious," he's a more straightforward hero and romantic lead.
There's more of an edge to his performance in "To Catch A Thief," but even though John Robie is a gentleman thief, we're never supposed to be wary of him like we were Johnnie Aysgarth. In “North by Northwest,” Hitchcock finally uses Grant’s comedic skills, but in the end, the casting is the punchline of the film; Hitchcock made the actor who every man in America wanted to be into an everyman.