1940's, Alfred Hitchcock, Henry Travers, Hume Cronyn, Joseph Cotten, Patricia Collinge, Shadow of a Doubt, Teresa Wright, Thriller
The delightful Maddy asked me to take part in a Second Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon and I just couldn’t refuse. I had to review Shadow of a Doubt, which is one of my favourite Hitchcock movies.
- Teresa Wright as Charlie Newton
- Joseph Cotten as Uncle Charlie Oakley
- Henry Travers as Joseph Newton
- Patricia Collinge as Emma Newton
- Hume Cronyn as Herb
A cracking thriller pulling apart the image of picket fence America, Shadow of a Doubt has director Alfred Hitchcock on scintillating form. Working in a smaller scale, it’s a movie that features many interesting themes and wonderful performances.
Charlie Newton is a bored young girl living in the picturesque town of Santa Rosa, California. She feels she has nothing to do and that her life is dull. Her thoughts of this are quickly changed when news that her Uncle Charlie, who she was named after, is arriving in town. Her family is very happy about the incoming arrival of him as they adore him. What young Charlie doesn’t know is that her beloved Uncle is in fact the Merry Widow Murderer, who is fleeing Philadelphia. Everyone is in awe of Charlie and he lifts everyone’s spirits, particularly his niece. He is accepted right back into the bosom of the picture postcard town. But as much as young Charlie admires her uncle and fawns over him, various things start to worry her about her favourite relative. His behaviour occasionally becomes erratic and dark and two detectives, posing as journalists, also appear in town looking for the man they believe to be the killer. Soon Charlie becomes suspicious of the uncle she always adored and digs into his past. This of course puts her in danger as we aren’t sure whether Uncle Charlie will kill her because she knows too much.
Alfred Hitchcock displays his directing prowess in many ways and brings out the story with darkness and keen insight. Darkness pervades this movie and the eternal battle of good against evil is waged in circumstances that seemed comfortable but are disturbed by something sinister. Suspense builds as Young Charlie wrestles with what she feels about her Uncle Charlie and how he is far from the man she idolized. Doubt tears apart the picture perfect image of society with irony and dark humour. A cracking example is Charlie’s father and next door neighbour whose main interest is discussing mystery and murder. The delicious irony that a serial killer is under the father’s roof is excellent. Plus, I love all of the references to doubles and twins, particularly how the main characters share the same name but at are different ends of the morality spectrum. Shadow of a Doubt may not boast the big set pieces that some Hitchcock movies have, but it features a lot of his artistry and penchant for generating suspense. By being more small-scale, the story comes to the forefront and the characters are the centre. For me, it’s one of the directors finest movies as it explores deep darkness and has fine acting and writing. Hitchcock was always fascinated by the dark side of human nature and his direction and themes are aided by a screenplay that really compliments his vision. The best example is when Charlie and Uncle Charlie are in a bar and he begins to talk of the nastiness behind closed doors that so many people don’t see because of the veil of niceness. While bleak and extremely creepy, Uncle Charlie is definitely on to something that still rings true today. It’s a spine chilling scene that says so much about Uncle Charlie’s character and his view of life. Dimitri Tiomkin provides the score, that undercuts events with a beauty and idyll, while simultaneously revealing the shocking truth and evil within the character of Uncle Charlie.
Leading events is Teresa Wright, who has the right mixture of youthful enthusiasm and eventual maturity as she is faced with her worst nightmare. The sweetness Wright brings is just the amount needed so as not to become cloying, but watching her grow up fast is fascinating and melancholy at the same time. Wright is simply put marvellous as the young girl learning the hard way about the evils of life. Joseph Cotten is a revelation as Uncle Charlie; balancing charm and beguiling nature with a worryingly dark intensity. He does this sometimes in the blink of an eye, making the part one that is unpredictable. Cotten commits to the part, using his usual nice guy persona to deathly, smooth effect and colouring what’s there with something extremely sinister. It is Wright and Cotten who are the big stars here and deliver the goods splendidly. Henry Travers and Patricia Collinge are well suited to their roles as parents, doting on the family and raising their kids the best they can. Travers enjoys a fine rapport with a debuting Hume Cronyn, who steals his scenes as the murder obsessed neighbour.
A wonderfully unnerving and successful thriller from one of the best directors there has been, Shadow of a Doubt is a must see.