With one of his famous “unresolved endings” albeit a conventional romantic one, with perhaps shallower, less thoughtful audience members believing that Johnnie is really reformed after lying and manipulating his way through the entire plot, Hitchcock still has managed to create one of his classic ambivalent male-female character studies.
The rich only-child Lina is easily taken in by the lazy, charming, scheming n’er-do-well Johnnie who openly insults her by referring to her “affectionately” as Monkeyface throughout their relationship. A horsewoman, she figures she can control him (she says she’ll put the ‘bit’ in him) and that he really loves her despite such sneaky unforgivable acts such as selling off sentimental antique chairs–a wedding gift, no less, from her parents, and, unconscionably, trying to take out money against an insurance policy on her life. All very suspicious, of course, and midway through Lina has a potentially turning-point moment of wiseing up, by writing a farewell letter, then, ironically, tearing it up.
In one of his neglected, edgy classics, Suspicion, Hitchcock presents a deluded female protagonist who, despite numerous nagging doubts, naively clings to the fantasy that her chronically lying, scheming husband is really a good man at heart, who loves her very much. Completely baffling, of course, to the audience who is in on the real state of affairs from the beginning and which suspects Johnnie, long before Lina is finally convinced he is trying to kill her for money.
Cary Grant is outstanding, as his usual charming, generous, caddish self. (No one has ever played that role better except maybe George Sanders. C.f., his movie critic role in All About Eve.) He is also very funny and hard-to-dislike as his drinking/betting buddy Beaky points out. Somehow there is truth to what Lina wants to and finally believes about Johnnie and what he is like. But that is contradicted throughout the movie by such matters as Johnnie using and bilking Beaky as a convenient source of spending money. There is also the troubling matter of Johnnie’s handling of Beaky ‘s drinking problem and all the surface evidence that “Old Bean” who last attended Beaky before his murder was not some imaginary figure called “Olbean’ by the police, but rather “Old Bean” Johnnie.
And the climax of the car on the cliffs finale. Was Johnnie saving Lina or trying to kill her, unsuccessfully or with a sudden change of heart? Questions, questions. But Lina, unchanged and naively unwilling to believe Johnnie to be bad, buys into his final explanations, setting up what appears to be a conventional denouement. And yet that uncomfortable suspicion still left in more thoughtful audience members’ minds, questions like “Is he still lying? Are the final lies the consummate ones? Does Johnnie still plan to kill her for money? Is he promising reform just to continue using Monkeyface?” and so forth.
With perhaps the only answers being that they have both bought into who and what they are. That Lina, unchanged, will resume her irrational romantic fantasy, and that, realistically, Johnnie will never change and just continue to be Johnnie. Only an audience member, as shallow and naïve as Lina would accept and believe the movie’s apparent conventional happy ending. The sort of moviegoer with an innocent naivete like the female Charlie in the even darker Shadow of a Doubt, significantly Hitch’s own favorite film.
Hitchcock, himself, was a very divided personality who himself was interested in romance (To Catch a Thief, Rear Window, Spellbound, Rebecca, and Vertigo, which is why he could realistically portray the romantic dreams of characters in love. But he was a cynic who had experienced and portrayed the lies and manipulations of many people and characters, quite often aided and abetted by superficial charm. As he pointed out, the Iago-like villain would often get nowhere close to his goals and successes unless he was attractive or likeable in appearance. Otherwise, no one would trust him. You see this in the above-mentioned film Shadow of a Doubt as portrayed by Joseph Cotton in the role of the male Charlie.
Much like two alter-ego peas in the same pod, he shows audiences how humans contain/embody both good and evil, innocence and corruption. Or two ends of the continuum, so to speak. But unquestionably, the Johnnies of the world must needs require the lenient, manipulable Linas of the world in order to complete/continue their selfishly egoic games and schemes. In this cynical Hitchcockian sense, Lina and Johnnie can be said to ‘deserve each other.’
In that sense, the movie’s conventional happy ending was actually a cynical sop served by Hitchcock to conventional-bound audiences of /for all time, and remains more dualistically open-ended or negatively-toned than it might at first seem.