I have long wanted to see Alfred Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT, but it wasn't until today that I finally caught up with it. Needless to say, Hitchcock's favorite film did not disappoint!
Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) arrives in quiet little Santa Rosa, California, intending to enjoy an extended stay with his sister Emma (Patricia Collinge) and her family, including his namesake niece, Charlie (Teresa Wright). Everyone's thrilled to see Uncle Charlie, whose unexpected arrival shakes up the family's quiet existence; however, the viewing audience knows something the family doesn't: Charlie is on the run from the law (Macdonald Carey and Wallace Ford). As time goes on, young Charlie begins to suspect there is something very, very wrong with her uncle.
Cotten and Wright are exellent, as always. Wright and Collinge had previously appeared together in THE LITTLE FOXES (1941). I found Collinge's performance as Uncle Charlie's doting older sister particularly touching.
I also especially enjoyed handsome Macdonald Carey as Jack, one of the detectives on Charlie's trail. I hadn't realized there was a love story in the film and found the development of the relationship between Jack and young Charlie most enjoyable. According to a DVD documentary, Patricia Collinge rewrote Jack and Charlie's love scene to make it more believable.
The excellent cast also includes Henry Travers as Wright's father and Hume Cronyn (his film debut) as a neighbor who is obsessed with crime stories.
Edna May Wonacott and Charles Bates play Wright's younger siblings, Ann and Roger. Wonacott was discovered by Hitchcock when he was scouting locations in Santa Rosa, and her natural performance as bookworm Ann is part of what gives the film its realistic feel. A nice tribute to Wonacott was recently posted at TCM's Movie Blog. Be sure to scroll through the comments to see notes from Edna May and her son.
Charles Bates was the uncle of my next-door neighbor when I was young; I never met him but remember my friend telling me about her uncle who had been a child actor.
In some ways SHADOW OF A DOUBT has the same sort of magical small-town Americana feel as Deanna Durbin's NICE GIRL? (1941), recently reviewed here. In fact, Thornton Wilder and Sally Benson, who worked on the screenplay, each individually wrote two of the ultimate examples of Americana: Wilder wrote the play OUR TOWN and Benson authored the stories which inspired 1944's MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS.
The presence of someone who may have done something horrific in this nice, normal small town is one of the film's most interesting -- and powerful -- elements. Indeed, this theme is said to be one reason Hitchcock was particularly fond of the film.
Incidentally, the Santa Rosa home featured in the film still exists -- a photo can be seen here.
The movie was filmed in black and white and runs 108 minutes. At one point I had a feeling that something might have been edited out; when the detectives meet up with young Charlie, Ann, and Catherine (Estelle Jewell) outside church their familiarity was such that I had the feeling I'd skipped a step in the plot development. It would be interesting to know if something was cut that would explain my confusion at how well, for example, Jack's partner Fred knew Charlie's friend Catherine, when only Jack had met her onscreen previously.
SHADOW OF A DOUBT has been released on video.
It was released on DVD as part of the Masterpiece Collection; it can also be obtained as a single-title DVD release. Extras include an excellent 35-minute documentary about the making of the film, including interviews with Teresa Wright and Hume Cronyn.