|Hitchcock to the left : Holding all the Aces|
As a thriller, it has a simplicity of plot that is near-irresistible: A beloved uncle with a dark secret (Joseph Cotten) visits his family in a small northern California town. A figure of evil, his presence threatens to disrupt the conventional lives of the townsfolk and initiates a shattering coming-of-age for his adoring niece (Teresa Wright).
|Santa Rosa, California|
(Both Thornton Wilder of "Our Town" and Sally Benson of "Meet Me in St. Louis" worked on the script for "Shadow of a Doubt").
|Teresa Wright as Charlotte Newton|
|Joseph Cotten as Charlie Oakley|
|Macdonald Carey as Det. Jack Graham|
|Patricia Collinge as Emma Newton|
|Henry Travers as Joseph Newton|
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM:
I've always been impressed by Alfred Hitchcock's ability to balance humor and terror in his films. It always seemed like such a dangerous risk to take...potentially sacrificing mood or suspense for the sake of interjecting some bit of levity...but his films always carry it off. Almost always. The humor in "Frenzy" and "Family Plot" verges on the painful.
In "Shadow of a Doubt" the humor on display is of the gentle type derived exclusively from the characters. To great effect, Joseph Cotten's self-serious, misanthropic sociopath (how's that for a description? Reminds me of Wood Allen's line: "I'd call him a sadistic, sodomistic necrophile, but that would be beating a dead horse.") is contrasted with the practical and sweet Teresa Wright and her decidedly dotty family. Each is lovably offbeat in some very real way, and their harmless eccentricity lends them an endearing vulnerability in the face of Cotten's poisonous view of mankind.
|"Really Poppa, you'd think Momma had never SEEN a phone! She makes no allowance for science. She thinks she has to cover the distance by sheer lung power!"|
|The Newton Family: If cast today, the parents look too much like grandparents|
I've always liked how Joseph Cotten never seemed to be too taken with his own good looks. He played both villains and romantic leads with such a refreshing lack of ego that even his monsters were likable.
|Charlie- "The whole world's a joke to me."|
As good as the entire cast of "Shadow of a Doubt" is, it's the work of Teresa Wright that towers over the rest. A stage-trained actress Oscar nominated for her first three film roles, Wright gives one of those performances that makes the film unimaginable without her. She is a wonderfully natural presence in the film, very contemporary in her acting style and apparently incapable of having a false moment on the screen. I can't think of another actress from this era who exudes such a down-to-earth quality. While so many of her contemporaries spoke in that stagy, mid-Atlantic dialect that telegraphed "acting!" Wright seemed not to be playacting at all. Her performance under Hitchcock's direction is one of her strongest.
THE STUFF OF FANTASY:
Years before he would succumb to stylistic self-consciousness, "Shadow of a Doubt" shows Hitchcock in full control of his gifts as a master storyteller. The film is sharp and compact and zips by at an entertaining and very suspenseful 108 minutes. Indeed, in this era where a film like "Sex and the City 2" can eat up more than two hours with a virtually non-existent plot, or Quentin Tarantino can actually lose his way when confronted with a running time of less than 2 ½ hours ("Death Proof" is like the work of a gifted 10 year-old let loose with a camera), "Shadow of a Doubt" looks like nothing short of a miracle. There isn't a wasted frame, superfluous scene, or self-indulgent moment in this tightly-structured film that economically achieves its desired effect without skimping on character development or plot detail.
|Uncle Charlie- "We're old friends, Charlie. More than that. We're like twins."|
THE STUFF OF DREAMS:
The post-library dinner table scene is, from a psychological standpoint, one of the most emotionally true, discomfiting scenes of mounting family discord in modern cinema. It's in this scene that Teresa Wright really shines. Scarcely an actress today could handle the complexities of that scene (Ok, maybe Natalie Portman or Cate Blanchett...).
|Charlotte notices a mysterious inscription inside of a ring her uncle just gave her.|
Though the term is bandied about a lot these days, "Shadow of a Doubt" has a deserved reputation as a Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece. A solid entertainment and suspenseful drama, but what resonates for me is that at its core it is a cunningly perceptive treatise on nostalgia and the romanticism of the past.
Charlie: "I keep remembering those things. The old things. Everybody was sweet and pretty then, the whole world. A wonderful world. Not like the world today. Not like the world now. It was great to be young then."
These words, spoken by a character embittered by what he sees as the corruption of good around him, are no truer then than they are now. Every age thinks the age past is the ultimate age of innocence. If you look on YouTube you can even read comments by people lamenting the state of the world today and denoting the 70s, 80s, and even the 90s as a "kinder, gentler time." As a man past middle-age, I find myself caught in that inevitable "curmudgeon zone" where everything about the world today seems somehow inferior (as is evident from my comments about contemporary filmmakers) and my past seems endlessly cheerier and innocent. Now mind you, the innocent and cheerier time I look back at with such rose-colored glasses are the 70s. And we all KNOW that the 70s were anything but innocent.
But that's what I mean, the world of the past is always soothing to our minds and we go to great lengths to recreate it as we wish to remember it. No matter how far from the truth it may be.
|Hume Cronyn (right) making his film debut as a neighbor obsessed with the details of crime and murder.|
|On Uncle Charlie's twisted opinion of the world: "It's not quite as bad as all that, but sometimes it needs a lot of watching. It seems to go crazy every now and then." |
|Something Wicked This Way Comes:|
Uncle Charlie arrives.