Murder is one of the key ingredients in almost all Hitchcock films and Shadow Of a Doubt handles it in a taut, complex manner that ingeniously mixes Capraesque domestic comedy with the harsh realities of horror. Starring Joseph Cotton as "Uncle Charlie" and Teresa Wright as his niece, "Young Charlie," the film begins in Philadelphia where Cotton is suspected of a string of murders dubbed the "Merry Widow Murders." He shows his craftiness by outsmarting two detectives (who have staked out his flat) and escapes to the tranquil town of Santa Rosa, California.
In Santa Rosa, lives his niece and her family. Santa Rosa is a utopian town of suburbia tranquillity with clean streets and smiling policemen who direct traffic in orderly fashion. It is also a place where Wright feels that her family is in a rut; nothing exciting ever happens here. She comes to the conclusion that life needs a miracle and decides to call upon her uncle for a visit. Unknown to her, her uncle is already in route, and is overjoyed that both she and her "twin" had the same idea.
When Cotton arrives, life is bliss for a short time but when two detectives arrive (posing as newspaper men doing a piece on the "typical American family") he realizes that his problems back East have followed him. When Wright begins to put pieces together regarding her uncle’s strange behavior around these men, she discovers that the man she worships may indeed be a deadlier killer.
What happens next? Well, that’s for you to find out.
Shadow Of a Doubt is said to be Hitchcock’s favorite and was regarded as his first true "Hollywood" film. Enlisting playwright Thornton Wilder, Hitch was able to put "small town U.S.A." under glass while injecting the sleazy underbelly of American life that one might find in the larger "Gothams." Some of the dialogue (example: "Horrible, faded, fat, greedy women.") was actually penned by the Master of Suspense, making many believe that this film reflected some of Hitch’s own nature.
The film’s script is not the only element that makes this tale intriguing. There’s a long list of supporting characters from Wright’s spinsterish mother Emma Newton (Patricia Collinge) to her bookwormish sister Ann (Edna May Wonacott) that add depth and subtle humor. One of the nuances of the film is the doubling effect where the dualities of good and evil are exemplified by numerous pairs or doubles: (e.g., the two Charlies, the two detectives, the two murder suspects, etc.).
There’s also the suggestive element of an incestuous relationship between the two Charlies which is supported by such dialogue: "Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know if you rip the fronts off houses you'd find swine? The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it?"
Based on the real life mass murderer of the ‘20’s (Earle Leonard Nelson) who strangled wealthy women and had the dubious nickname of "Merry Widow," Hitchcock took an idealist America and showed it how wickedness infests all parts of life.
RATING: 9.5 (of 10). Hitch’s personal favorite, as is mine.
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