Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Starring Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, and Hume Cronyn
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
I watched Shadow of a Doubt several years ago and remember being moderately disappointed even though the flick had come to be very highly regarded by film historians and it was said to be Hitch's favorite film he directed. Fortunately, on a second viewing several years removed from my first, I've grown to greatly appreciate this little film. It's a modest picture...a simple one with very little in the way of trickery from either the direction or the script. But from that modesty blossoms a lovely focus on family -- something that is rarely a staple of Hitchcockian films.
The plot is fairly simple. The Newton family lives in Santa Rosa, California in a lovely house, living a rather picturesque life. Father works at a bank, Mother stays home, and teenager Charlotte (AKA "Charlie") is bored and angry at the world. However, when Charlotte (Teresa Wright) receives word that her namesake, Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten), is coming to visit, she becomes ecstatic. Uncle Charlie has long been a revered figure to her -- almost an idol that she looks up to and tries to imitate. Unfortunately for little Charlie, Uncle Charlie may not be the squeaky clean man she thinks he is. In fact, it's entirely possible that Uncle Charlie is the infamous Merry Widow serial killer who preys on unsuspecting widows, killing them and stealing their significant fortunes.
Co-written by "Our Town" playwright Thornton Wilder, there is certainly a sense of 1940s Americana at work here. Everyone knows everyone in Santa Rosa. Doors are kept unlocked and it's not surprising for a neighbor to wander into the Newton home. There's a sweet innocence on display in Shadow of a Doubt that stands in stark contrast to many of Hitch's other films. Where he would often choose a rather alluring leading lady, Teresa Wright (while certainly attractive) doesn't have any sex appeal. She's just your average American gal. It's this naïveté that allows for Uncle Charlie's menacing nature to be even more frightening.
The lovely script is helped by a brilliant cast of actors. Ms. Wright is perfectly cast as the innocent Charlie whose eyes are opened to the true cruelty of the world. And she is matched by a superb performance from Joseph Cotten as the charming yet disarming Uncle Charlie. His ability to believably change from ladies' man to lunatic on a dime is an admirable feat. Add into the mix some wonderful performances from Patricia Collinge as Charlie's mother, Henry Travers as Charlie's father, and Hume Cronyn as the nosy neighbor and there's not a bad performance in the bunch.
I'm quite happy that I gave this flick another shot because I truly feel like I've found a new "classic" for me in Shadow of a Doubt. It's a "different" kind of Hitchcock film, but the director still manages to keep me on the edge of my seat the entire time.
The RyMickey Rating: A-