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"Go away or I'll kill you myself. See... that's the way I feel about you."
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 an insalubrious 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.