Above Suspicion
1943, 90 min. b&w

I love the spy thrillers that Helen MacInnes wrote, and Above Suspicion ranks right up there with her best ones. I could hardly put the book down because I had to find out what would happen next. The film is every bit as suspenseful and nail-biting as the novel. A few of the characters and details in the film are different, but otherwise it is a faithful adaptation.

Fred MacMurray and Joan Crawford play Richard and Frances Myles, young newlyweds who plan to spend their honeymoon in Europe in the summer of 1939. Though England is not yet at war with Germany, Nazis and British spies abound. One of the spies for the British has vital information, and has disappeared, so one of Richard's friends, who works for the British Foreign Office, asks if Richard and Frances could find the missing agent. He explains that, as a honeymooning couple, they are above suspicion. Finding the agent proves to be complicated because they don't know his name, what he looks like, or where to find him. But there is a network of spies, and starting at one end will lead to the other end, where they hope to find the missing agent.

Starting in Paris, Richard and Frances treat their mission as an exciting adventure, a game almost. But it soon becomes dangerous. (Of course they are asking for trouble when Richard calls one of the Nazi officers "Dope.") The trail leads Richard and Frances to Salzburg, where they meet an Englishman named Thornley. The three of them attend a Liszt concert one evening. During the concert someone shoots a German officer and the Gestapo are questioning everyone present. Earlier, during the intermission, Richard and Frances had run into Sigurd von Aschenhausen (Rathbone) and his mother. Von Aschenhausen and Richard were fellow Rhodes scholars at Oxford. Since they were friends at one time, von Achenhausen uses his influence to allow Richard, Frances and Thornley to leave. Afterwards they all have dinner together and reminisce about Oxford. Von Aschenhausen is very cordial and does not let on that he is in fact a Nazi officer and not at all nice. As von Achenhausen talks about the murder committed during the concert, it becomes clear to Richard that Thornley is the murderer. Thornley later admits to Richard that he was avenging the death of his sister at the hands of that German officer.

The next piece of the puzzle leads Richard and Frances into the mountains to find a Dr. Mespelbrunn, the missing agent. At Mespelbrunn's house they find von Aschenhausen. They know something is wrong because he doesn't give the correct hand signal. Dr. Mespelbrunn, tied up upstairs, makes a noise and von Aschenhausen says it's the dog. He goes upstairs to check and Mespelbrunn manages to whisper a warning through the vent to the Myles. They leave the house moments before von Aschenhausen returns with the Gestapo.

The Myles meet Sig von Aschenhausen and his mother.

Von Aschenhausen and his mother.

The Gestapo all leave the house to try to find Richard and Frances in the woods. Richard and Frances manage to lose them and circle back to the house to rescue Dr. Mespelbrunn. He gives Richard the complete details of a Nazi secret weapon and parts company with them.

Now that Richard and Frances are no longer "above suspicion," their lives are in danger. They disguise themselves and obtain fake passports. While meeting an ally to get money to cross the border, Frances is arrested by the Gestapo. Fortunately, Thornley witnesses the incident and is able to tell Richard that she has been taken to Dreikirchen. Richard, Thornley and a German ally mount a rescue operation. They take out the guards at Dreikirchen and burst into the room in which von Aschenhausen is interrogating Frances. In the ensuing fight, Richard tries to strangle von Aschenhausen, and then shoots him. The other Nazis are also shot, but so is Thornley. Richard, Frances and their ally borrow some uniforms and a Gestapo car and flee across the border into Italy and safety. (Italy was not yet involved in World War II.)


This is another in the familiar current cycle of European spy dramas, developed along familiar lines and not too clearcut in its exposition. Picture will require all of the marquee voltage generated by starring team of Fred MacMurray and Joan Crawford to carry it through the regular runs as billtopper, and even then will need strong support for more than passable biz.

After establishing MacMurray and Miss Crawford as newlywed Americans in England, planning honeymoon in south of Germany just prior to outbreak of the war, yarn has British secret service drafting them for mission to secure vital confidential plans for the secret weapona magnetic mine. Pair pick up the trail in Paris and then hop to Salzburg, where it becomes a mysterious chase with various and sundry character peering out of shadows and suddenly turning up in the most approved spy fashion. When suspicion of the Gestapo is cast in their direction, they assume disguises in attempt to get over the border Girl is captured but rescued from outlying castle headquarters of the Gestapo in regulation heroics, and they make the final dash for safety.

Picture is filled with various incidents that crop up and then vanish with no reason for their inclusion except to confuse the audience and by-pass straight-line exposition of the tale. Deeper cutting could materially speed up tempo of the piece to make it more acceptable for audience consumption.

Both MacMurray and Miss Crawford competently handle their roles, despite drawbacks of script material. The late Conrad Veidt clicks solidly in major supporting spot, along with brief appearances of Basil Rathbone as a Gestapo leader. Others listed in support are mainly on for minor footage and in episodes off the main trend. Richard Thorpe's direction is standard, but he's obviously handicapped by story material provided.


Variety, April 28, 1943


Sigurd von Aschenhausen is a typical "villain" role for Rathbone, which he performs very well and convincingly. He doesn't overdo it, either. He's a perfect gentleman in one scene, and utterly ruthless and cruel in the next. In this film Rathbone speaks some German; to me, he sounds like a natural German speaker. I wonder if he was actually fluent in German, or if he learned his lines with the help of a German voice coach.

I found this film immensely enjoyable and highly recommend it. The cast is first-rate. 

Shooting began in November 1942. The film was completed February 27, 1943, and released to theaters in May 1943. (The trade showing date was April 27.)

Richard and Sig reminisce about old times at Oxford.

Von Aschenhausen listens to Frances play the piano.

Early in the film's planning stages, William Powell and Myrna Loy were announced as the stars. After Myrna Loy left MGM (October 1942), the studio decided to cast Fred MacMurray and Joan Crawford instead. (See www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/1525/Above-Suspicion/notes.html)

Crawford and MacMurray are co-starred for the first time in this film. Also, Above Suspicion is the only film in which Basil Rathbone acted with Joan Crawford, Fred MacMurray and Conrad Veidt. Veidt had a history of playing villains. Here he played a "good guy" for a change.

Character actor Reginald Owen (Dr. Mespelbrunn) had appeared with Rathbone in A Tale of Two Cities (1935),  Anna Karenina (1935), and A Woman Commands (1932).

 Above Suspicion was Joan Crawford's final film for MGM after 18 years under contract. Above Suspicion was also Conrad Veidt's final film.  He suffered a heart attack and died on April 3, 1943. Veidt was 50 years old.


Spy Stuff in Germany

World events, with their habit of moving so rapidly these days, stamp this minor M-G-M attraction with a mark it never succeeds in escaping.

The melodramatic premise here is the ambition of the British Foreign Office to get the secret of the magnetic mine invented by the Germans as one means of luring Allied shipping to its destruction. It's an ambition which contemporary history has established the British fulfilled quite some time ago, thereby kicking out the main prop on which the story rested. The truth is, the story, chiefly of Germany in the year before the war, is outdated to a degree which makes it highly questionable if rand-and-file audiences will display much interest in what it undertakes to unfold.

Additionally, the development is theatrically routine and distinguished by little resemblance to plausibility along with its handicaps of prewar Naziland and tourist wandering at will and aimlessly, through old towns and up mountain sides.

The yarn concerns itself with the honeymoon of Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray converted into a fumbling and hazy search for a British agent who, without explanation, has captured the magnetic mine formula. Clues include a hat with a bright red rose, a map with dots that trace into a musical clef and the bars of a Liszt song, a concerto by the same composer and a hodgepodge of incident designed to unravel the narrative thread into a semblance of reasonable deduction and conclusion. It unravels, thanks to plenty of dramatic license and the script writers' detail conveniently arranged to avoid making suckers out of the leads and the British intelligence service. For atmosphere, and presumably for fun, there is an airiness introduced into characterizations and situations which make strange bed fellows alongside the international importance attached to the original premise of the story. Therefore, "Above Suspicion" won't be above that as a drawing card, in this opinion.

The leads are satisfactory in unhappy circumstances. That goes for the support, which includes the late Conrad Veidt who, this time, is not the heavy, which Basil Rathbone is, Reginald Owen and Bruce Lester.

Victor Saville produced with Leon Gordon as associate. Richard Thorpe directed.

Previewed at the Fairfax theatre, Hollywood, where the audience occasionally applauded in places not intended by the producer. Reviewer's Rating: Fair Red Kann

Motion Picture Herald, May 1, 1943

In addition to the review, Motion Picture Herald also published comments on the film from theater owners:

"If MGM would just forget Joan Crawford, I think the public would be glad to." F.H. Crist, Crist Theatre, Loveland, OH (11/27/1943)

"Fair picture that did less than average mid-week business. No adverse comments and no raves. They seemed to like it 'fairly well.'" S.L. George, Mountain Home Theatre, Mountain Home, Idaho. (12/25/1943)

"Joan Crawford's swan song for Metro proves a good money maker. Lots of action for the men, clothes for the women and atmosphere for the would-be cultured. Seems to have been a surprise hit and built considerably by word of mouth." N.W. Mason, Roseland Theatre, New Glasgow, N.S., Canada.

The Myles are surprised to see von Aschenhausen in Mespelbrunn's house.


"This picture did grand business and the few who saw it said it was good." Cleo Manry, Buena Vista Theatre, Buena Vista, GA

"Spy story enjoyed by all my patrons who turned out to see it." A.L. Dove, Bengough Theatre, Bengough Sask, Canada

"This picture was well made and the acting of Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray is splendid. The story is very interesting, but the theme has been word almost threadbare." A.C. Edwards, Winema Theatre, Scotia, CA

"Good spy yarn that pleased our audience." K. John, Legion Theater, Bienfait, Sask, Canada (Sep. 2, 1944)


The screen version of the Helen MacInnes novel represent a first-class production and boasting a cast that should assure the film's boxoffice success. the transfer from book to celluloid has been achieved with meticulous and painstaking care. There is only one important fault to militate against complete enjoyment of the picture. that has to do with the development of the story which has not been accomplished with total clarity. The plot line is somewhat confused but fortunately the film's assets are strong enough to overshadow this liability.

Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray have  been excellently teamed. they play a bridal couple that steps out of the halls of Oxford to do a bit of spying for the British foreign office in the early days of the war. The British authorities are interested in getting the secret of a magnetic mine that threatens to play havoc with British shipping. to get the information sought MacMurray and Miss Crawford have to reach a mysterious individual working for the allied cause in Germany. How they attain their objective makes for a gripping guessing game and plenty of excitement. The plot has all the fascination of a puzzle, each piece bringing into sight another tense and absorbing adventure. It is to be expected that Miss Crawford and MacMurray run afoul of the Nazis, escaping by the proverbial hair after a terrifying set-to with the villains.

Miss Crawford and MacMurray perform with competence. Basil Rathbone is his usual dependable self as the chief Nazi villain. Satisfactorily arrayed on the side of Miss Crawford and MacMurray are the late Conrad Veidt, Reginald Owen, Richard Ainley, Felix Bressart, Bruce Lester.

Produced under the supervision of Victor Saville, the screenplay of Keith Winter, Melville Baker and Patricia Coleman is loaded with dramatic incidents. Richard Thorpe's direction does wonders in maintaining the interest at all times. The photography of Robert Planck, the special effects of Warren Newcombe, the art direction of Cedric Gibbons and the musical score of Bronislau Kaper are some of the film's finer assets.


The Film Daily, April 28, 1943

The New Yorker gave a tepid review:

"Somehow, even Basil Rathbone and Conrad Veidt, who play mysterious characters, aren't very baffling. The plot's not too unreasonable and there's a certain amount of bloodshed, but your spine, which should be thoroughly chilled, remains at room temperature." David Lardner, The New Yorker, August 7, 1943

The New York Times review was more positive:

"[It is] a rattling good melodrama ... a lovely compound of cryptic clues and unknown dangers, of dubious faces and sudden violence—a good chase film. ... It is all carried off very deftly, thanks to the cagey direction of Richard Thorpe and to a neatly constructed script. From the very beginning, the director has managed to create and to sustain the suspense of an innocent young couple entering a world where no one is to be trusted and where friend and foe are apt to act alike. ...

Fred MacMurray carries off his role with the quiet ease of a long-experienced actor, and Joan Crawford, after a couple of pretentious roles, is a very convincing heroine. The late Conrad Veidt must have enjoyed this sabbatical from his portraits of thin-lipped villainy; here he plays a sort of underground Robin Hood who bobs up in various guises just when the professor needs him most. Basil Rathbone, Reginald Owen, Johanna Hofer and others do admirably in lesser roles. Among them, they have made a sound and completely entertaining thriller." Theodore Strauss, The New York Times, August 6, 1943


Go to Page Two for more reviews and pictures from Above Suspicion.  See Page Three for pictures of posters, lobby cards and promo photos.


Basil Rathbone ... Sig von Aschenhausen
Joan Crawford ... Frances Myles
Fred MacMurray ... Richard Myles
Conrad Veidt ... Hassert Seidel
Reginald Owen ... Dr. Mespelbrunn
Richard Ainley ... Peter Galt
Cecil Cunningham ... Countess
Ann Shoemaker ... Aunt Ellen
Sara Haden ... Aunt Hattie
Felix Bressart ... Mr. A. Werner
Bruce Lester ... Thornley
Johanna Hofer ... Frau Kleist
Lotte Palfi ... Ottilie
Alex Papana ... man in Paris
Rex Williams ... Gestapo Leader
Hans von Morhart ... Schmidt
William Yetter ... Hauptman
Steven Geray ... Anton
Wee Willie Davis ... Hans
Lisa Golm ... Frau Schultz
Ludwig Stossel ... Herr Schultz
Ivan Simpson ... Porter
Arthur Shields ... Porter
Henry Glynn ... Chauffeur
Eily Malyon ... Manageress
Marcelle Corday ... Maid
Frank Lackteen ... Arab vendor
Charles de Ravenne ... Chasseur
Andre Charlot ... Cafe Manager
Matthew Boulton ... Constable
Production Company ... MGM
Producers ... Victor Saville, Leon Gordon
Director ... Richard Thorpe
Writers ... Keith Winter, Melville Baker, Patricia Coleman (based on the novel by Helen MacInnes)
Cinematographer ... Robert Planck
Film Editing ... George Hively
Art Director ... Cedric Gibbons
Assoc. Art Director ... Randall Duell
Set Decorator ... Edwin B. Willis
Assoc. Set Decorator ... Hugh Hunt
Music Composer ... Bronislau Kaper
Recording Director ... Douglas Shearer
Special Effects ... Warren Newcombe
Make up ... Jack Dawn, Mel Berns
Costumes ... Irene, Gile Steele
Technical advisor ... Felix Bernstein

Images on this page and pages two and three are from the film "Above Suspicion," copyright MGM.


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All original content is © Marcia Jessen, 2018