The Unsuspected

The Unsuspected is a 1947 American black-and-white film noir directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Claude Rains, Audrey Totter, Ted North, Constance Bennett, and Joan Caulfield. The film was based on the novel written by Charlotte Armstrong.[2] The screenplay was co-written by Bess Meredyth, who was married to director Curtiz.

The Unsuspected
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMichael Curtiz
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based onThe Unsuspected
1946 novel
by Charlotte Armstrong
Music byFranz Waxman
CinematographyWoody Bredell
Edited byFredrick Richards
Michael Curtiz Productions
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • October 3, 1947 (1947-10-03)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2 million (US rentals)[1]


A woman, Roslyn Wright (played by the uncredited Barbara Woodell), is found dead hanging from a chandelier in a posh mansion occupied by Victor Grandison, a popular "true crime" radio story host. Roslyn was his secretary.

Victor also recently lost a niece, Matilda Frazier, presumed dead from a boating accident. But at a birthday party thrown by another niece, Althea, everyone is surprised by the appearance of Steven Howard, who claims to be married to the missing Matilda.

Victor is accompanied by his radio producer, Jane Moynihan, at the party. He is unsure what to make of the stranger, particularly with a family estate to be settled, and asks a detective named Donovan to investigate. Matilda turns up, but claims to have no memory of Steven or their marriage, despite his efforts to prove it to be true. Acting suspiciously, meanwhile, is Althea's husband Oliver, drinking heavily.

In time, Althea comes to believe her uncle Victor killed his secretary. Victor confirms this to Althea, then murders her as well. Steven confides to Matilda and Jane that he was actually Roslyn's husband, determined to discover the truth about her death. Police forces get involved with several car chases, and when proof is found as to what really happened, police converge on Victor as he gives a symbolic confession on his radio show.



The Unsuspected was originally a magazine serial then published as a novel in January 1946. Warner Bros bought film rights prior to publication and in May 1946 announced that Michael Curtiz would direct. Ranald MacDougall wrote the first screenplay.[3][4]

Warner Bros had just signed a 14-picture contract with Michael Curtiz's production company, Michael Curtiz Productions, and The Unsuspected was to be the first movie under the new arrangement. Curtiz's wife, writer Bess Meredyth, was on the board of the company, and she worked on the script. Humphrey Bogart was mentioned as a possible star early on.[5] When Bogart proved unavailable, Claude Rains was cast instead.[6] Charles Hoffman was assigned the job as producer.[7]

Eve Arden was announced for a role.[8] Dana Andrews, Virginia Mayo and Cathy O'Donnell also were to be used; all three were under contract to Sam Goldwyn who was lending them to Curtiz for $150,000 plus 15% of the profits. However Andrews was unhappy with the size of his role and wanted it built up to be the same size as Claude Rains'; Curtiz refused and the deal fell through, as he only agreed to take Mayo and O'Donnell in order to get Andrews.[9][10]

Andrews was replaced by Michael North, who just had completed The Devil Thumbs a Ride.[11] Joan Caulfield was borrowed from Paramount to play the role intended for Mayo.[12] Constance Bennett and Donald Crisp were signed for two support roles.[13] Audrey Totter was borrowed from MGM to take the role intended for Cathy O'Donnell.[14]


Critical response

When the film was released, film critic Bosley Crowther of The New York Times gave the film a mixed review, writing, "There is reasonable ground for suspicion that the people who made The Unsuspected thought that they were fashioning another Laura, popular mystery of a few years back ...But, beyond a brisk flurry of excitement and wickedness at the start, it bears little showmanly resemblance to that previous top-drawer effort in his line. Rather it is much more suggestive, the further along it goes, of a second-rate mystery melodrama upon which too much money and too big a cast has been spent...Once launched, however, it starts leaking, pulling apart at the seams, and generally foundering in a welter of obvious contrivances and clichés...However, the rest of the performers — Joan Caulfield, Audrey Totter, Hurd Hatfield, Constance Bennett and a half dozen others —are as patly artificial as the plot."[15]

Noir analysis

Film historians Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward write that the film is impressive because of its emphasis on style: "Jack Lambert as the blackmailed killer lies in bed smoking. The radio is on and Alexander Grandison is detailing the story of his particular crime. The only source of the illumination in this dingy hotel room comes from a partially obscured flashing neon sign. The letters that are visible through the window seem to echo the thoughts of the uncomfortable murderer as it keeps blinking "KILL...KILL...KILL."[16]


  1. "Top Grossers of 1947", Variety, 7 January 1948 p 63
  2. The Unsuspected on IMDb.
  3. CURTIZ WILL DIRECT 'THE UNSUSPECTED': Named by Warner Brothers to Do Armstrong Novel--Jean Hersholt May Play Villain New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 20 May 1946: 19
  4. Michael Curtiz Launching His Own Production Unit: Hollywood Letter By Frank Daugherty Special to The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor (1908-Current file) [Boston, Mass] 21 Mar 1947: 5.
  5. WARNERS ARRANGE DEAL WITH CURTIZ: Studio to Film 14 Pictures Made by Producer on Own --First 3 Are Ready Of Local Origin New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 10 Oct 1946: 31
  6. NEWS OF THE SCREEN: Anne Baxter, Fox Star, Gets Lead in 'Blaze of Noon,' Paramount Film--Holden, Tufts in Cast Of Local Origin New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 23 Oct 1946: 48.
  7. PRODUCERS' CRADLE: The New Ones in Hollywood Are Coming Up From the Writers' Ranks New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 28 Sep 1947: X4.
  8. PARAMOUNT PLANS 'CATALINA' MUSICAL: Hayden, De Wolfe, Cass Daley and Olga San Juan to Head Cast of Color Picture New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 15 Nov 1946: 27
  9. COLUMBIA STUDIO SIGNS TWO STARS: Blondell to Appear in 'Corpse Came C.O.D.'--Signe Hasso in 'Assigned to Treasury' Universal Signs Hardwicke New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 05 Dec 1946: 51.
  10. DAN DURYEA SIGNS 7-YEAR CONTRACT: He Will Do 3 Films Per Annum for Universal-International-- Goldwyn-Curtiz Deal Off Package Deal for Film Off Metro to Do Marshall Story By THOMAS F. BRADY. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 27 Dec 1946: 15.
  11. Michael North Signs for Lead in 'The Unsuspected'-- Replaces Dana Andrews in Curtiz Film By THOMAS F. BRADY. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 10 Jan 1947: 16
  12. KANIN TO PRODUCE 'ART OF MURDER': First Independent Films Will Be Released by U-l -- Curtiz Borrows Joan Caulfield By THOMAS F. BRADY New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 04 Jan 1947: 11.
  13. LIBERTY FILMS BUYS STORY BY SAM ROSS: Studio Pays $75,000 for 'He Ran All the Way' -- Mother Cabrini Screening Finished By THOMAS F. BRADY New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 16 Jan 1947: 30.
  14. DRAMA AND FILM: Lead in 'Race Street' Awaits Anne Jeffreys Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 29 Jan 1947: A3.
  15. Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, "The Unsuspected, New Warner Mystery, With Joan Coalfield and Michael North, at Strand -- Blonde Savage at Rialto", October 4, 1947; accessed: July 13, 2013.
  16. Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward (1992). Film Noir An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style. The Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-479-5.
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