Monday, May 13, 2013

#1,001. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey

Tag line: "A Blast of DRAMATIC Dynamite exploded right before your eyes!"

Trivia: As per its script, the title Shadow of a Doubt was supposed to be temporary, until a better one could be found

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1943 film, Shadow of a Doubt, was one of the director’s personal favorites, and it’s easy to see why. A smartly conceived, well-acted tale about a niece who suspects her uncle of murder, Shadow of a Doubt is a masterpiece of suspense.

Charlie (Joseph Cotten) has come to Santa Rosa to visit his sister, Emma (Patricia Collinge) and her family, which includes her husband, Joseph [Henry Travers], and their teenage daughter, who also happens to go by the name of Charlie (Teresa Wright). The family welcomes Uncle Charlie with open arms, especially young Charlie, who positively adores him. But before long, Young Charlie begins to suspect that her uncle may, in fact, be the infamous “Merry Widow Killer”, a murderer who marries rich widows then quickly finishes them off. Detective Jack Graham [MacDonald Carey] also considers Uncle Charlie a key suspect, yet the closer he and young Charlie get to uncovering the truth, the more nervous Uncle Charlie becomes.

Shadow of a Doubt builds tension by slowly unveiling the evidence against Uncle Charlie, all of which seems to support the notion that he’s a killer; aside from the various clues Hitchcock lays out for us (like how nervous Uncle Charlie gets when he hears the "Merry Widow Waltz"), there’s the nasty little speech he delivers about how husbands work their lives away, only to die and leave their money to their “silly” and “useless” wives. Yet, despite this, Joseph Cotten plays Uncle Charlie as such a likable guy that we kinda hope he's innocent. Even when Young Charlie is convinced her Uncle is trying to kill her [she falls down the stairs when one gives way below her feet, and in another scene, she’s locked in the garage as toxic fumes from a running automobile fill it up], we’re holding out hope he didn’t actually commit these heinous crimes.

Joseph Cotten is magnificent as the usually-lovable Uncle who may or may not be hiding a deep, dark secret, and Teresa Wright is every bit his equal as the suspicious niece. Wright, who also appeared in such classics as The Best Years of Our Lives and The Men, was one of the few actresses to be nominated for three Oscars in two years, for The Little Foxes (in 1942), and nominations a year later for both Best Actress (in Pride of the Yankees) and Supporting Actress (Mrs. Miniver, for which she won the Award). What makes this so impressive is the fact these were the first three movies Teresa Wright ever appeared in (The Little Foxes marked her big-screen debut)! Shadow of a Doubt was movie #4, and her work here proved (this time beyond a shadow of a doubt) that she was an incredible talent. Her's and Cotten’s performances, combined with its director’s keen eye for suspense, transformed Shadow of a Doubt into one of the finest films of the 1940’s, as well as one of the best movies Alfred Hitchcock ever made.

No comments: