JAMES RONALD. This Way Out. Lippincott, US, hardcover, 1939. Popular Library #389, US, paperback, 1951. First published in the UK by Rich & Cowan, hardcover, July 1938. Film: Universal, 1944, as The Suspect.

THE SUSPECT. Universal, 1944. Charles Laughton, Ella Raines, Henry Daniell, Rosalind Ivan, Stanley Ridges. Screenplay by Bertram Millhauser, based on the novel This Way Out, by James Ronald. Directed by Robert Siodmak.

   Yet another tale of murder for love and freedom, memorably done as book and movie.

   The novel opens with Philip Marshall, middle-aged and unhappily mired in a marriage that has degenerated into constant nagging. Leaving work one evening, he meets a troubled young woman, shows her a bit of kindness, and they begin a relationship that slowly turns into love.

   When Philip asks his wife for a divorce, she sees it as just another chance to hurt him, but before she can turn the screws… well I’m not giving anything away to say that she ends up quite dead, opening Philip’s way for marriage and happiness, marred only by a persistent Scotland Yard detective who finds the death just a bit too convenient, and a nasty acquaintance who sees a chance for blackmail.

   This is ground well-trod by other writers, but author James Ronald is writing about something else. This Way Out is spiced with some poignant and pleasing observations about love, loneliness and responsibility. In fact, responsibility becomes a recurring motif in the tale, as Marshall weighs his obligations to his wife, his lover, his son, and ultimately to humanity as a whole, and the result is a book of surprising emotional resonance.

   Universal did well by this, assigning the screenplay to Bertram Millhauser of the Sherlock Holmes series, probably to give it that authentic Hollywood London feel, and putting at the helm Robert Siodmak, who two years later would define film noir with The Killers.

   Nor did they scrimp with the actors, starting with Charles Laughton playing the meek and decent Marshall with his customary self-effacing brilliance. Ella Raines projects a spirited innocence, and Rosalind Ivans offers yet another of her bitchy wife portrayals, this time with a nastier edge than usual, even for her.

   Stanley Ridges never really convinced me as the man from Scotland Yard; he doesn’t quite capture the polite cunning of John Williams in Dial M for Murder, and he makes no attempt at an English accent. But Henry Daniell casts off his usual puritanical demeanor and plays the blackmailing drunkard with surprising relish.

   Daniell was usually cast as the bad guy in films like Jane Eyre, Camille and The Great Dictator, and he specialized in the puritanical type; even in neutral parts, he was generally a party-pooper, like the judge in Les Girls, and the doctor who gives the bad news to Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises.

   Here though, he’s the self-indulgent rotter who sees a steady meal ticket in his neighbor Charles Laughton, and he plays the part with obvious glee, as if glad for a chance to kick up his heels for a change.

   One important difference between film and book intrigues me: In the book we see Philip kill his wife. In the film, however, we simply learn that she’s dead—allegedly after striking her head in a fall down the stairs — and the heavy cane Philip usually carries around is missing. Scotland Yard suspects foul play and so do we, but in a visual medium like the movies, the omission is telling.

   I will only add that both book and movie leave us with a very satisfying twist ending, and I recommend them highly.