Sunday, April 10, 2016

Above Suspicion - From Book to Film

People by nature love comparisons. This brand is better than that brand. This tastes better than that.  Originals vs. sequels. Batman vs. Superman. You get the picture ;)

Which one do you like better, honey?

Comparisons especially abound when it comes to movies. Originals, remakes (which I hosted a blogathon on), sequels, trilogies... you name it, we compare it. One of the most controversial of comparisons when it comes to the film world is BOOK vs. MOVIE. In most cases, people will be strongly divided, usually depending on which version they encountered first. If you've read the book first and loved it, you will most likely be disappointed with the movie (though you may come to like it later, just not as much as the book). If you've seen the movie first, chances are the book will be so different it seems like a different story entirely, with only the basic plot and character names intact.

However, in rare cases, you will end up liking one or the other BETTER than the one you read/watched first. This was the case for me with ABOVE SUSPICION.

Book (with film dust jacket) vs. Movie

Above Suspicion is the first book of well-known writer Helen MacInnes. Previously I have read three of her books (Horizon, Message in Malaga, & The Salzburg Connection) and enjoyed them immensely. She is a fantastic writer. Her stories are interesting, full of action and plot twists, and she describes the places and time so well you can imagine that you are actually there. You hear what the character hears, smell what they smell, feel how they feel. You are completely transported to another time and place.

When I learned that her first book, Above Suspicion, had been made into a film starring Fred MacMurray and Joan Crawford, I immediately wanted to see it, but I wanted to read the book first. I recorded the movie to my dvr and checked the book out from my local library. Unfortunately, the book didn't get read and the movie was accidently deleted. So when TCM aired it again I made sure I watched it - I could read the book later.

While the movie was interesting, it didn't quite match my expectations as how a MacInnes novel turned movie should be. Joan Crawford was extremely unbelievable as a newlywed (maybe if the film had been made in the 1930s or if this had been my very first Crawford film). She's the typical "wife wanting to help her husband," though with Crawford you would think it would be the other way around with MacMurray helping her. It is only near the end of the film, when Crawford must disguise herself as an elderly woman in order to leave Nazi Germany that she is more in her element. There are others who agree with me and of course those who think otherwise...

What the critics said:
Variety: Both MacMurray and Miss Crawford completely handled their roles, despite drawbacks of script material.  
New York Times: Joan a very convincing heroine.
Critic Howard Barnes for The New York Herald Tribune: There are so many floral, musical and cryptographical passwords in the film's plot that the whole show becomes a sort of super treasure hunt... Unfortunately, neither Joan Crawford nor Fred MacMurray looks quite bright enough to unravel the tangled skeins of this screen melodrama.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Here is the story in a nutshell: Set in the tension filled year 1939, A married couple takes their annual trip abroad/honeymoon. Because they are "above suspicion" they are asked to do a job for the secret service - locate a missing scientist by following a chain of contacts to ensure he is still alive.

The red rose hat, to help the next contact recognize them. Conrad Veidt (standing in back) died a few weeks after filming wrapped.

The book, a best seller, was loosely based on the life experiences of MacInnes and her husband, who served with the British Intelligence Center. While on their trips around Europe, MacInnes would write down her observations as well as predictions on Nazi activities based on what she read in the newspapers. It was her husband who encouraged her to turn it into a book.

MacInnes went on to write 22 more novels, nearly all successes due to the painstaking research that went into each one, combined with her own personal experiences. Three more of them were made into films: Assignment in Brittany (1943) starring Jean-Pierre Aumont and Susan Peters, The Venetian Affair (1967) starring Robert Vaughn and Elke Sommer, and The Salzburg Connection (1972) starring Barry Newman and Anna Karina.


I did not get a chance to finish the book unfortunately - it's been incredible busy recently - but I think Hollywood stuck pretty close to the book, just condensed. With the book the suspense can be built up more slowly and in more detail, which is something I like, if it's written well and her books always are. I think the main problem with the film for me is simply the casting. MacMurray is fine but someone a little more... helpless, but not too helpless, would have been a better fit than Crawford.

Crawford knitting behind-the-scenes and a patriotic "V for Victory" publicity photo.

To read a more in-depth post on the film, check out this great post from Silver Scenes. Here's a great little post about the book.

This post is part of the Beyond the Cover: Books to Film Blogathon hosted by Now Voyaging and Speakeasy. Be sure to read all of the other posts!


  1. I so agree with you about Joan Crawford!! She does seem like she should be taking charge of everything. It's been too long since I've read any books by Helen MacInnes; you remind me I should really revisit some of her books. I didn't know she based Above Suspicion loosely on her own experiences.

    Thanks for a great review of both the book and movie!

    1. Thanks for reading!! I didn't know it was based on her experiences either till I signed up to do the blogathon. I also didn't know she only wrote 23 total! I need to try and read them all! I have two that I bought last year that I haven't got to yet :/

  2. The book sounds fascinating, especially since it's based on her own experiences. Another title to put on hold at the library!

    I've not seen the film, and I'm having a hard time imagining Joan Crawford in that role. However, I'll give it a go – whether Joan is believable or not, she's always worth the price of admission IMO.

    1. Even though I had trouble believing her in the role, it was still a good film to watch :)

  3. I really want to see this film if only for Joan Crawford! Thank you so much for joining us!

  4. If you believe books are always more exciting than films, I urge you to change your mind as there are various cinema masterpieces not worse than books at all. If you share another point of view, follow to read more and persuade me link

    1. I tend to like whatever form I come upon first. I like the Narnia books and Tolkien books much better than the movies. Portrait of Jennie was great as both. But for this movie and Please Don't Eat the Daisies I liked the book better even though I saw the films first.