Description: Young Charlie Newton not only shares a name with her favorite uncle, but a special bond. At times she feels the charming man is the only one who understands her need to be extordinary and that she is better than the tiny town she lives in. So, when life is too dull she calls on him to visit. However, upon the arrival of two detecitves, one of whom becomes very close to young Charlie, and a series of unusal clues concerning the mysterious 'Merry Widow Murderer', her Uncle Charlie's behavor begins to change. Young Charlie starts to suspect that the man she once idiolized is not what he seems and as her world shatters, she realizes that her life may be in danger.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writers: Thornton Wilder (screenplay), Sally Benson (screenplay)
Stars: Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten and Macdonald Carey
Tags: top movie, mystery, Shadow of a Doubt
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The Movie Background:
"Shadow of a Doubt" is one of Alfred Hitchcock's most brilliant and most carefully-constructed films, and is further notable as one of the very finest performances of Joseph Cotten, in his role as "Uncle Charlie". Both the movie and the central character are thought-provoking and rich in detail.
The film has an intriguing form that Hitchcock used a number of times (for example, in "Strangers on a Train" and "Frenzy"), that of setting up carefully constructed contrasts between two main characters, contrasts that in turn reflect a further complex of themes in the movie's broader setting and story. Here, the central contrast comes from the relationship between Uncle Charlie and his niece "young Charlie" (Teresa Wright). Their unusually close relationship creates tension and intrigue that go beyond the basic concern of the main story-line (which is, namely, whether Uncle Charlie is the elusive serial killer sought by the police). The uncle-niece relationship also mirrors a great many other topics explored by the film: most obviously the contrast between the small-town atmosphere of Santa Rosa, where Uncle Charlie has come to hide out with his sister's family, but also the complicated nature of the other relationships that we see. A fine supporting cast led by Henry Travers, Patricia Collinge, and Hume Cronyn help us focus in on hidden aspects of small-town family and neighborhood life.
"Shadow of a Doubt" is less known and celebrated than Hitchcock's 50's and early 60's work, and even than some of his 30's British films, most probably because it does not contain any of the director's famous set pieces, which were already a part of his pictures well before "Shadow of a Doubt" was made. After all, it is a movie about a suspected serial killer, and not only do we never see him kill anyone, he never even tries anything violent until much later in the film. But what "Shadow of a Doubt" lacks in the spectacular it makes up in tension and characterization, especially in Cotten's brilliant performance. He is by turns charming, calculating, suspicious, and menacing, a balance very difficult to maintain with credibility for an entire film. Cotten's skill and Hitchcock's direction make Uncle Charlie one of Hitchcock's most memorable characters.
Though more slow-paced than most of the famous director's works, this is still one of his greatest, and should be very satisfying to any fan of Hitchcock, of Cotten, or of noirish/crime thrillers.
It is well known that this film is Alfred Hitchcock's favourite of his own oeuvre, and it's a big favourite of mine also. It is also well documented that for this film, Hitchcock stated that he "wants to bring violence back into the home, where it belongs" and he has certainly succeeded at doing that. Hitchcock spends much of the early screen time building up the family at the centre of the tale, and then allowing the violence to come to them, which shows Hitchcock's mastery of the medium as showing the story develop in this way makes the tale much more frightening than if we hadn't got to know the family at the centre of the story first. Joseph Cotten stars as uncle Charlie; a man fleeing Philadelphia to escape the law after marrying and then murdering several rich widows. He goes to stay with his sister and her family, which includes a husband, two young children and the eldest daughter; his niece and namesake; also called 'Charlie'.
Hitchcock puts the focus of the story on young Charlie and her relationship with her uncle. This gives the story a frightening angle as it follows the classic tale of the strange uncle. It's also well done as young Charlie is shown to be the sweetest of characters, and when the dark uncle Charlie enters the fray, her sweet world is infected by nightmares, which also gives way to elements of the classic 'coming of age' tale to enter the proceedings. As if that wasn't enough, Shadow of a Doubt also exposes the trust we put in our loved ones, and how any person is likely to try and shift the blame, or ignore it completely, if their loved one has done wrong. This is shown by the way that young Charlie still attempts to cover for her beloved uncle even when all the evidence is pointing to him being guilty. Hitchcock has turned this thriller, which could easily have been routine, into a complex study of a family that retains it's interest throughout due to the multiple themes on display.
Joseph Cotten was the absolute perfect choice to play uncle Charlie. His portrayal is picture perfect; he carries with him an atmosphere of dread and morbidity throughout, even when he's not doing anything wrong. A role of this sort is difficult to get right, as it's all to easy to underplay it so it isn't effective, or to overstate it so it becomes ridiculous; but Cotten gets the performance spot on. Teresa Wright, who stars alongside Cotten in the role of the other Charlie also does well and delivers a mature and assured performance that fits her character brilliantly. Some of the supporting roles look a little suspect at times, but on the whole the acting from the support is good enough.
The ending of the film comes somewhat against the run of play and is maybe a little bit too over the top after the rest of the film, which is largely down to earth. However, it does work and a big ending isn't something I am in the habit of complaining about. This is up there with Hitchcock's best work and therefore is highly recommended.
One thing that strikes many who come upon Shadow of a Doubt is the knowledge that it was Hitchcock's favorite among his own films- and many watch it with very high expectations, getting shot down as well, making it one of his more under-rated efforts. True, it doesn't go for the immense macabre that lay in Psycho, The Birds, and Torn Curtain, but it is very effective in telling its stories, and giving us character to either love, or love to hate.
The whole concept to the story is very appealing- a (painfully) normal suburban family gets a calling from a relative- Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten)- who wants to come by for a little while. The oldest daughter, also named Charlie (Teresa Wright), almost feels like a kindred spirit to her uncle, happy as can be that he's come to visit. Things start to unravel, however, when two detectives on his trail come into town, bringing to young Charlie to light what could be going down, or what might not be, or what is as clear as psychopathic day.
It's actually of interest to compare this film to Psycho, I think, in how it's a start contrast to how Hitchcock tells the story of the ordinary people of the world getting involved with a certifiable gentlemen. And, perhaps, one could argue (I might, up to a point) that Cotten's performance rivals that of a Norman Bates leading male in the subtleties of the suspense in the film. And it solidifies in my book that Cotten had a wonderful range in his work, when he could go from playing a Jed Leland in Citizen Kane, to this film, and then on to The Third Man's Holly Martins. Here, he digs into the character and you'll either find it un-convincing in the 40's sense, or a knock-out. As for Teresa Wright, she finds some good notes as well in playing off of Cotten, even in the earlier scenes. And those kids are just the right icing to the cake the film cooks up.
It may take a couple of viewings to really warm up to this film, or you may like it right away. But Shadow of a Doubt contains not only fine acting, but also some trademark Hitchcock camera stylizing. My favorites included a particular shot closing in from medium close-up to extreme close-up on Uncle Charlie when he's in a memorable monologue at the dinner table. Another is the use of the dark value on the characters when they talk outside. And, of course, a climax that is genuine in theatricality.
* Director Cameo: [Alfred Hitchcock] on the train to Santa Rosa playing cards. He has the entire suit of spades in his hand, including the symbolic ace.
* Alfred Hitchcock often said that this was his favorite film.
* Director Trademark: [Alfred Hitchcock] [bathroom] "BM" is engraved on a ring.
* Patricia Collinge, who plays Emma Newton in the film, wrote the garage scene between Charlie ('Teresa Wright' ) and Jack (Macdonald Carey).
* Edna May Wonacott, who plays young Ann Newton, and Estelle Jewell, who plays Charlie's friend, Catherine, were both locals of Santa Rosa, where the film was shot on location. Many of the film's extras were also locals of the town, which was too far away from Hollywood to be affected by Actors Guild guidelines demanding the use of professional actors.
* "Shadow of a Doubt" was the script title but was listed as only a "temporary title" until a better title could be found.
* The name of the waltz that is referred to throughout the film is "The Merry Widow Waltz".
* The portrait that hangs on the wall of Charley's room to the right of her door is one drawn by Willy Pogany of actress Mary Philbin, who was a leading lady at Universal just 20 years before.
* The name "Charlie" is spoken approximately 170 times.
* Hume Cronyn's first acting role.
* Alfred Hitchcock had wanted Joan Fontaine for the role of Young Charlie, but she was unavailable.
* In 1959 interview, Teresa Wright said that this was her favorite film.