Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) movie poster

director Alfred Hitchcock
viewed: 01/08/2017

My son and I had a mini-Hitchcock festival, hunkering down indoors while a big storm blew and pelted outside. We began chronologically with a film that I have long considered a personal favorite, though one I hadn’t seen in some years.

Shadow of a Doubt stars Joseph Cotten as “Uncle” Charlie, who we know from the opening scenes to be a criminal, how bad we will only find out. He sneaks back to Santa Rosa, California to his sister and his favorite niece, his namesake Charlie (Teresa Wright), who goes from elation to sheer horror as she comes aware of the real nature of her uncle.

And really this is was this war-time noir is all about, the idyllic small town America and the dark and twisted elements lurking therein. Shadow of a Doubt was co-written in part by Thornton Wilder (“Our Town”) and Sally Bensen (“Meet Me in St. Louis”), bringing knowledge of the cheerier sides of Smalltown USA. The darkness isn’t just entirely in Uncle Charlie’s worldview of widows leeching off the world, a true misanthropy, brought on perhaps by a childhood head injury.

We also see a glimpse of the seedy side of things in the ‘Til-Two Bar which Uncle Charlie forces the younger Charlie into. Niece Charlie has never set foot in such a place (though it’s right in the downtown.) The town’s dark ends are right there, if you look for them, and in the ‘Til-Two, there is listless barmaid, a former schoolmate of young Charlie, as young but beaten down by life, a glimpse of an alternate reality.

The film also features prime examples of Hitchcock’s black humor. Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn are hilarious as the murder-obsessed friends, planning endlessly the end of one another in a harmless game.

Cotten, Wright, the whole cast are terrific. While it doesn’t feature any one particular signature Hitchcockian moment or shot, it’s a very dark musing upon the reality behind the facade of Americana.

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