Rediscovering Romantic Suspense

Rediscovering Romantic Suspense

Last update on Sept. 26, 2013.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Apostle Paul gave us a suspenseful passage following a description of marriage: “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32)

Perhaps, in the most trustworthy sense, God made us for suspense, since His own relationship with us thrives on mystery. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit itself (Galatians 5:22), and seasons and appointed times were established by the Creator at the beginning of the world. King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Satan’s lie to Eve included not only blasphemous desires, but the offer of instant gratification rather than waiting to see what God planned to reveal. A routine ploy of the enemy is to cast God as a greedy oppressor who deprives us of what we deserve. He even tempted Jesus Christ with a lure of instantaneous worldly authority and pleasure! As is evidenced by His Scripture-quoting rebuttals, Jesus resisted because He had a generational mindset and a covenant to uphold.

Without a generational mindset, the sanctity of marriage is meaningless, and without the sanctity of marriage, genuine romantic suspense is spoiled. Shamelessness about debt and promiscuity represents a society that lives for nothing more than the vanity of here and now. Solomon, the wisest of men, participated in such folly himself, and warned us about it.

The fact that our own film culture went from being afraid to title a movie “The Gay Divorcee” to having raunchiness and dysfunctional family relationships become standard fare for both the big and small screens illustrates what a sharp desecration of marriage took place in about two generations. Storytelling suffers because of it, and life in turn imitates the art in a vicious cycle. “If sex is too blatant or obvious, there’s no suspense,” said film director Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980), who is known as “The Master of Suspense.” When the intimate becomes public and the sacred becomes secular, special things become mundane. Life loses purpose.

Here are a few films that are classic because their plots neither whitewash fallen human nature nor desecrate what makes life purposeful. Imagine, for a moment, how these stories could be ruined if they were removed from a generational context that values marriage (I just realized this short list is heavily slanted in favor of Jimmy Stewart. Completely incidental!).

The shop around the cornerThe Shop Around The Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940). James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan. Matuschek and Company’s top salesman Alfred Kralik has been corresponding anonymously with a lovely and intelligent woman, much unlike the testy new employee Klara Novak. Similarly, Klara has been anonymously corresponding with a brilliant and understanding man “far superior” to Alfred. Then Mr. Matuschek becomes heartbroken over suspicions that Alfred is having an affair with his wife and he fires him, leaving Alfred to meet the mystery woman of his dreams as an unemployed man. Alfred soon discovers that the woman is Klara, but doesn’t let her know. Mr. Matuschek learns that the real adulterous employee is pretentious Ferencz Vadas, and with an apology promotes Alfred to manager. Alfred sets things right by firing Ferencz in quite a spectacle, and in a later conversation with Klara he cleverly reveals that he is her mystery correspondent. The unlikely couple are a perfect match after all.It's a Wonderful Life

It’s A Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946). James Stewart, Donna Reed. George Bailey wants to expand his horizons beyond Bedford Falls, pursue higher education and travel the world. But he repeatedly has to deny himself and maintain the modest position of running his father’s building and loan company. George is frustrated with not becoming the success his heart desires, but Mary Hatch adores him and doesn’t miss her college life at all. Years later, when they are married with several children, George hits rock bottom after his uncle misplaces bank funds and majority shareholder and banker Henry Potter invokes a warrant for his arrest. Mary gets family and friends to join in prayer for her husband, and an angel named Clarence arrives to prevent George from committing suicide. George wishes he had never been born, and Clarence gives him a vision of just what would have happened if he hadn’t - Bedford Falls would have Rear Windowbecome Pottersville, his Medal of Honor-wearing brother would have drowned as a child, and his own children never would have lived, among other things. George realizes his life is not a mistake, and is rescued when grateful citizens donate money to save him and Bailey Building and Loan from bankruptcy.

Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954). James Stewart, Grace Kelly. Wheelchair-bound L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries is a grumpy professional photographer with a broken leg who passes time watching neighbors’ dynamic stories unfold outside his rear window. His beautiful girlfriend Lisa loves him enough to marry him, but Jeff underestimates her as a potential wife because of his adventurous lifestyle and her high society background. When Jeff figures out that a man has murdered his invalid wife in an apartment across the street, Lisa proves to be a formidable helpmeet in solving the mystery and bringing him to justice.

The man in the grey flannel suitThe Man In The Gray Flannel Suit (Nunnally Johnson, 1956). Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones. World War II veteran Tom Rath is dealing with ethical decisions in the workplace as he struggles to provide for his family, and his wife Betsey feels their marriage hasn’t been right since he returned. In fact, Tom is haunted by the adultery he committed (and child he fathered) with an Italian woman during deployment. His confession to his wife makes for a heartbreaking scene, but it is followed by restoration when Tom repents and assumes the manly responsibility of providing for all of his children. Among the poignant subplots is that of Tom’s boss coping with divorce and a rebellious child, pondering the balance of family and business. This lengthy movie doesn’t gloss over the trauma that war and paternal absence can do to a family, but rather than make a distasteful exposition of brokenness and sin, the issues are mostly tackled in that lost art of deep dialogue.

Ben HurBen-Hur (Willy Wyler, 1959). Charlton Heston, Haya Harareet. Before first century A.D. Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur is betrayed and falsely accused of an assassination attempt on Judea’s Roman governor, we see him give maidservant Esther her freedom as a wedding gift upon her betrothal to an esteemed merchant in Antioch. Judah kisses her goodbye - which he knows he shouldn’t do - but now Esther fully realizes their love for each other. When Roman Tribune Messala condemns Judah to the galleys and cripples Esther’s father by torture, Esther decides to remain home to care for her father and waits five years in anticipation of Judah’s miraculous return. Esther then helps lead Judah to Jesus, whom he discovers is the Messiah who healed his imprisoned mother and sister, and the Man who personally saved his life.

Amanda Read

Trained as a historian, skilled as a writer, and aspiring to be a filmmaker, Amanda Read investigates the ideas behind contemporary culture and politics in her column at the Communities at The Washington Times. Read more at You can follow her on twitter @SincerelyAmanda.


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