Saturday, January 29, 2011

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)


Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
Starring Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten.
In a Nutshell: A girl suspects that her uncle may be a serial killer.

The commercial and critical success of Rebecca and Suspicion aside, Hitchcock may have produced his first quintessential "American" film with Shadow of a Doubt. Not merely due to strength in technical elements (though there is that) but for its attention to the angst of upper-middle class suburbia (which would become increasingly heightened after the war). Being a Hitchcock film, this sets the stage for murder. Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotton) is such a man disgusted with the decedent lives of the wealthy, specifically widows. He returns to his sister’s house to hide from the authorities, reestablishing his bond with his niece Charlie Newton (Teresa Wright). Their shared namesake had evolved into what Young Charlie describes as telepathy. But Uncle Charlie’s secret life gradually comes into focus, a terror only Young Charlie can grasp.


This is the sort of suspense film not set in darkened alleyways but sunny, welcoming neighborhoods. The Newton household is gloomy, seemingly lit with just dappled sun streaks, a contrast to the bitterness seeping through Cotten’s benign fa├žade. Though he would argue, it is dark world. Even odder peculiarities are burrowed under this all American-family, including Mr. Newton’s (Henry Travers) obsession with murder mysteries or the youngest Newton girl’s aggressively precocious (and ignored) social commentary. The progression from second act to third act keeps this worldview only as an intriguing layer to the suspense plot. But even then, a broken step or billowing car possesses an unnerving familiarity.


Young Charlie becomes the only Newton capable of exposing Uncle Charlie to the feds. Her decision is not so much a question of morals, but whether Young Charlie can bring herself to stir the calm. The ending seems dismissive of such status quo fury, but a closing shot of well-dressed ladies swaying around a ballroom (also the opening shot) demonstrates Hitchcock’s cheekiness. No matter what the script says, once you “rip the fronts off houses,” Hitchcock cannot let you unsee the swine within. It makes for a wicked coda and another fine example of this film’s dark charms.

2 comments:

  1. sounds interesting...I've never heard of it before...now I will keep an eye out for it

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  2. Aye. If it is any further endorsement, Hitch had said this was his personal favorite on a few occasions (at least according to never-wrong Wikipedia).

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