on 23 February 2004
Shadow of a doubt lacks the big scenes and stars of other Hitch films, but that's the point. This was the first of his US films to look at small town life & relationships in America, and in the way it's done it steals a march on many family dramas, both of film noir & later styles, including Blue Velvet. The use of perspective in the film helps you get inside the head of young Charlie as she begins to understand the motives of her uncle Charlie(Joseph Cotten). Cotten, as ever was excellent in the natural way that Uncle Charlie at first seems, hiding out with the family. But as the movie progresses & he too begins to see his niece discover the dark past he really shines.Watch the scene with the car in the garage to see the depth in the piece.
This is not a horror film, but more shocking because the killer of the piece is for once someone's brother & uncle, not some deranged loner as in Thomas Harris. Yet the town & its inhabitants would not seem out of place in 'It's a Wonderful Life' with its apple pie concern for itself.
Hitchcock was duly proud of this work as it was looking into the Hardy family and cleverly twisting the values presented.
It seems difficult to imagine movies like Blue Velvet, or Badlands without this homage to small town America passed.
I watched this film in astonishment: not only does it have psychological depth that is in no other Hitchcock film, but the sense of dread in it builds slowly and inexorably to a frightening climax. The best part of this by far is Teresa Wright's performance, as the intelligent child who enters adulthood as she sees a terrible truth she cannot deny. I was utterly riveted by her introspective performance and natural beauty.
The story is that a serial killer, Cotton, decides to hide at his sister's house, far away from his hunting ground in the northeast. It is clear that he is the killer from the very beginning, so there is no suspense about that. Once in CA, he meets his sister and his niece, Charlie, both of whom adore him. However, it becomes clear that neither of them recognizes him for what he is: a sociopath and con man on his last desperate run.
The emotional center is Teresa Wright, who cannot ignore her suspicions at his strange yet simple behavior. Not only does she observe him, but he makes cryptic and frightening utterances to her that seem to reveal what he really is underneath.
The most amazing thing is that nothing much really happens. And yet a sense of menace and terror grows until it is undeniable. This makes it the best kind of psychological thriller: most of the development is internal, as revealed by the body language of Wright, in her perfect acting. Cotton too is great, a creepy presence who emerges from the shadows now and then, whose actions occur almost entirely offstage. Of course, young Charlie's parents and siblings form the perfect backdrop, normal people unaware of the drama going on inside of her, yet curiously reflecting the mind of the older Charlie, who is charming the entire town. Wright wants to protect all of them from the truth as it dawns on her, a grief that will mark her and her alone for the rest of her life.
Highest recommendation. No wonder this is Hitchcock's favorite of all his films.
on 29 May 2008
First things first, I need to justify giving Shadow of a Doubt 5 stars. Yes, it is in black and white, no it's not the best soundtrack from Hitchcock however it is a true cinematic spectacle and that is enough to give it this high rating.
The story is simple, about an apparently 'average family'. Hitch believed that he could make a film full of suspense out of any ordinary script, this could be considered to be true of SOAD. That is not to say that it is badly written or A dull or fantastic plot, the fact is, its likeability lies in the simplicity of the film's characters. The story is basically about a man on the run from the law who visits his sister and her family.
What I love about it is the change of our identification of the characters from the hero over to the heroine - from Charles to Charlie. Where the film differs from other films of the epoch is the director's skill. Unlike the two-dimensional techniques of some, by 1942 Hitch had begun to establish himself in Hollywood as a great director. His motif in SOAD is the shadows; using lighting and different camera angles to create a POV that not only shows what the characters see, but that also tell how the audience to feel.
A very well rounded film, and I genuinely mean this when i say - the film is perfectly cast. The male lead is a familiar face across the Hitchcockian canon, both lead females couldnt have been changed, and there is a subtle comedy that adds a delightful warmth to the movie with the Holmes and Watson-esque characters of the Father and his friend.
I refuse to talk about the films famous ending as even noting the smallest details would unravel the entire film. Perhaps the film is famous for being Hitch's favourite, for as it's final lines suggest the world 'needs a lot of watching' - a definition of cinema, just as this film is the definitive Hitchcock. A real pleasure to watch, that truly has stood the test of time.
on 27 November 2012
Shadow of a Doubt is a very dark, moving film which masquerades as melodrama. Hitchcock was of course a master of chilling suspense, but he rarely did it as subtly. The film looks like one of those thrillers beloved by the 40s and 50s; there's a campily named killer (the Merry Widow Murderer), orchestral music and lots of humorous supporting characters, including Hume Cronyn in a role which predates Woody Allen's nervous geeks. Yet the story troubles deeper waters. When Theresa Wright leans against the porch, her eyes filled with tears, my heart goes out to her. You could argue that the film's true theme is her loss of innocence; she's a bored girl who's forced to face the reality of human evil, not just from a stranger but her uncle and namesake, with whom she shares a secret bond.
Charlie (Theresa Wright) lives in a small town with her housewife mother (Patricia Collinge), bank clerk father (Henry Travers) and younger siblings. She's delighted when her uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) announces a surprise visit. They share an almost telepathic bond, and Charlie fancies herself his confidant, who knows things about him which others don't. What slowly dawns on her though, as Uncle Charlie's behaviour grows increasingly suspicious, shakes her to the core. He's a killer of women, old widows who will him their money because he's charming and handsome.
Uncle Charlie's full of hatred, happily dismissing his victims as animals. He gives a speech at his family's table which drips with acid and drives young Charlie to despair. Her loss of innocence is perhaps symbolised when he drags her to a salubrious bar where sailors hook up with girls. Charlie's ordeal in this film is terrifying; it must be said that she rises to the challenge like few heroines today. She has a detective boyfriend, yet he's little help; Theresa Wright's the deserved star, and faces her uncle with steely resolve.
All the other characters basically serve as comic relief. Travers and Cronyn give great performances as a couple of crime story addicts who debate the perfect murder; Cronyn likes poison, while Travers is more "hands on". Though their discussions are dark the characters are nothing but lovable, as is Charlie's mother, the kind of sweet woman with sadness behind her smile. She's the mother we all want to have, while Charlie's the uncle we hope we don't.
on 24 October 2011
This was one of Hitchcock's favourite creations, and with good reason. This superbly crafted film focuses on the relationship between an uncle leading a double life, and his beloved neice who, we soon realise, is not as naive as she initially appears. She is soon filled with a dawning horror as to what he has done, and how it will affect her family, particularly her mother. The rest of the family is brought to life in typical Hitchcockian fashion, with a hefty dollop of very black humour to offset the sinister proceedings (the irony of young Charlie's father and best friend Herb, crafting the "perfect murder"). Cotten steals the show with his quite hideous set pieces about how humans are basically greedy and not really fit to be called humans at all... but don't let me spoil it for you. Forget about what we now consider frightening in a film, and let the master do his stuff. First class movie that deserves more kudos. PS. if you like this, give "The trouble with Harry" a bash - VERY black humour!!!
on 27 July 2013
It's a very compelling mystery, featuring a lovely young girl (Teresa Wright) who adores her charming and handsome Uncle Charlie. Indeed, she is named after him. But when he comes to visit her idyllic Midwestern home and family this time, she has reason to suspect him of the most heinous crimes. Amidst the tranquil domesticity of a peaceful household, the chilling truth about Uncle Charlie is especially poignant. Although lesser known than many Hitchcock films, it is reputedly his personal favorite and in many ways, mine, too.
It may not be his "best" film, but Shadow Of A Doubt remains my favourite Hitchcock film. Some state, such as his daughter Patricia, that it was his favourite too, although in typical Hitch fashion he stated that that wasn't the case during his interviews with Francois Truffaut.
Joseph Cotton excels as Uncle Charlie, who's visit to a small suburban American town is intially welcomed with open arms by his neice Young Charlie (another superb performance by Teresa Wright) but soon takes a much darker turn as she comes to the realisation that he could be the merry widow murderer.
There are a number of suspense set-pieces to thrill, although casual viewers of the Hitchcock experience coming to this film for the first time might be surprised at the relatively sedate pace it has compared to his more well-known films. Some will also be surprised that there is little real doubt throughout the film that Uncle Charlie is guilty, but that doesn't drop the suspense, more adds numerous different layers to it.
It's perfectly written, perfectly acted and perfectly directed. It's a five star classic all the way.
on 9 November 2010
I first saw this movie a number of years ago and it was a grate story when I looked on the internet and saw it for sale I coulden't wait to see it again hitchcock at his best.
on 24 April 2016
Young Charlie's dull life is turned upside down by the arrival of her favourite uncle who comes to lodge with her family. Charlie quickly notices though that something is not quite right and her that her uncle may well be running as his past catches up with him.
The film deserves strong praise, especially for its casting and score. Cotton plays his role with that great combination of charm and menace which a sociopaths often display. The score, direction, cinematography and framing are also very memorable and well thought through.
The Blu Ray I bought has been nicely restored with a very clear picture and excellent sound. The picture is framed in 4:3 ratio rather than wide screen.
As well as tension and suspense the film also employs a little comic relief - with the father and his brother in law regualry debating the best way in which they'd murder eachother. Little do they know their guest is much more than he seems.
Charlie is our protagonist, a lively, very intelligent but high strung girl who's little world is turned on it's head, not only by the arrival her favourite uncle but also by a rather handsome young man in town who says he's working on a "census" and selects her family due to their "averageness."
The film's location was also one of it's strong points and should be an example to young film makers that you don't need exotic sets and locations to create an amazing story. Just like Rear Window quite of a lot of this film takes place in an ordinary home with a rather extraordinary secret. Psycho also had a simple setting of a motel yet turned out to be one the best horror films in cinema.
Charlie is portrayed as a dark haired, wide eyed, caring and idealistic young lady, a real departure from Hitchock's typical blond young female character who's usually cynical, emotionally resilient and very Blasé. I really loved Charlie's charaterisation, she felt like a throwback to a simpler, dreamier, less demanding time. Her mother too is a very gentle, sweet and affectionate, a woman who adores her family above all else. Set firmly in the 1940s the men of the town go about their business while the women stay at home, the father is a banker, the love interest is a "government employee" and the uncle is said to be involved in some form of business, in the words of his sister something "far too complex for her to understand." Charlie has finished high school but there's no suggestion that she might be looking for a job, instead it seems a marriage proposal is the much more likely thing on the cards for her.
The town itself also has a nice, warm, safe, old fashioned feel to too, the church, the library, the local bar where soldiers on leave can drink and be merry, everywhere feels bright and happy. There's even a local policeman who knows everybody's name. The town feels like the last place in the world where a murderer might be lurking.
I did have a couple of gripes with the film though. Charlie's curiosity and intelligence felt to me slightly undermined at the end where after two attempts at having her murdered she still allows herself to be alone with her uncle yet again. I thought in the final scene maybe she'd made arrangements with the police and they would obviously appear from cover and arrest him on the train showing that she'd set him up, but no. I can only really put her behaviour down to her naivety and fear of upsetting her mother, no person of normal intelligence would surely go anywhere another person who'd over the last couple of days twice tried to kill them. Also I was unclear why the uncle decided the best thing was to kill Charlie, surely her death would only cast further suspicion on himself?
All in all though this was a terrific film, I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good thriller.
on 7 December 2011
I have seen almost all of Hitchcock's Hollywood era films, and I thought this was one of the best ones. Hitchcock does a good job of creating a "Psychological plot", in this film. The way that he captures the sociopathic mentality of the villain, in contrast to the innocence of the young girl, is quite remarkable. I think the "Master of suspense", did a good job with this film. It is also said that this was his favourite of all his own films.