Sunday, September 07, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

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.


Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I love this movie, one of those films where it seems as if everybody is on the top of their game. I believe Hitchcock's joking comment at the time was that he wanted to bring murder back into the home where it belongs. So creepy, and yet so funny at the same time.

So many interesting psychological showdowns between characters. Collinge very moving, as you say.

4:46 AM  
Blogger The Siren said...

This is my favorite Hitchcock movie. I always thought it seemed quite deeply felt, as opposed to many of his other brilliant movies which aim more for the intellect than the heart. The idea of an innocent young girl discovering the existence of evil has great emotional resonance, and probably had even more in the world of 1943. I also give great credit to Teresa Wright, who makes Charlie so fresh and believable.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

What an interesting point about the young girl discovering evil at home, while in the background (subtly hinted at by things like newspaper headlines and war bond signs in the bank) good vs. evil was being played out on a massive scale.

Thanks to you both for sharing your thoughts!

Best wishes,

9:33 AM  
Blogger Ms.Daisy said...

Hi Laura,
Hitchcock films have always been my favorites and your review (again!) has gotten my attention!
I did watch "The Cowboy and the Lady" and enjoyed it very much. I will put "Shadow of a Doubt on my Netflix list also. Thanks!
Please check out the movies I have reviewed on my post of 9/7.



9:58 AM  
Blogger Carrie said...

You'd enjoy the Hitchcock book "Footsteps in the Fog" - many photos of buildings and landmarks as seen in the film and as seen today

4:44 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Carrie, I'm going to check that title out on Amazon right away. Sounds terrific.

Best wishes,

5:13 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

Is Teresa Wright the same young woman who played daughter-in-law to Greer Garson's Mrs. Minniver?

Love jacqueline's 'so creepy, and yet so funny at the same time' comment. I found it very creepy as in that ever present sense of impending doom...

6:38 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's the actress, Dana!

Teresa Wright had a remarkable string of films in the '40s. She was nominated for the Oscar for her first three films, including simultaneous nominations as Best Supporting Actress for MRS. MINIVER (which she won) and Best Actress for PRIDE OF THE YANKEES. (The other nomination, the prior year, was for Best Supporting for THE LITTLE FOXES.)

SHADOW OF A DOUBT was Film #4 for Wright. After that she did a Gary Cooper comedy, CASANOVA BROWN, and then did the multi-Oscar winning THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES and the "Western noir" classic PURSUED. Quite an amazing run of film successes!

Best wishes,

6:46 PM  
Blogger Irene said...

Just got the VHS of this today from the library (DVD not available). I really enjoyed this especially after reading your review and the comments here. Had me on the edge of my seat. I loved the way Hitchcock set his camera angles. At one point after the incident in the garage when young Charlie comes in the house after everyone had left for the lecture, I thought for sure Uncle Charlie would be waiting for her at the top of the stairs just because of the way it was filmed. That's one reason I enjoy black and white movies is because of the angles and shadows.

I also got Born to be Bad with Loretta Young. Wow. Such a different Young.

10:54 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Carrie, I had an Amazon certificate and ordered FOOTSTEPS IN THE FOG today (9/15). Thanks for the tip!

Best wishes,

10:56 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Irene, I'm so glad you enjoyed SHADOW OF A DOUBT too. This is obviously a very popular title! :) I have enjoyed thinking back on the film since seeing it a few days ago -- loved things like the shots of her racing to the library at night. Really captured the feel of a small town.

Glad you also got to check out BORN TO BE BAD. Not necessarily the world's greatest movie, but really fun for fans to see Grant and Young early in their careers.

Best wishes,

10:59 PM  

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