Shadow of a Doubt (1943) – Alfred Hitchock

It’s time for a little more Hitchcock as I dive into another old favourite, Shadow of a Doubt starring Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten. A coming-of-age tale with a twist of murder, this film remains completely captivating thanks to the direction, the leading and the wonderful supporting cast which are all recognisable to anyone who has spent time in a small town.

Recent high school graduate, Charlie (Wright) lives in Santa Rosa with her family, her doting mother, Emma (Patricia Collinge), her younger sister, the vociferous reader Ann (Edna May Wonnacott), her little brother, Roger (Charles Bates) and her father, Joe (Henry Travers) who spends his free time exchanging plans on murder with his fellow armchair sleuth, and neighbour, Herbie (Hume Cronyn).

Charlie has always felt that she’s had a connection with Emma’s brother, her uncle, Charles (Cotten) and is delighted when they receive a telegram about his imminent arrival. At first overjoyed to have her beloved uncle around, Charlie slowly becomes suspicious that her visiting uncle may be more than he seems, and may in fact be a hunted man… a murderer.

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With sparkling dialogue by Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson, Alma Reville and Gordon McDonell the story captivates and sees Charlie stepping into a larger world than the one she has always known. The dark underbelly of humanity, and the danger of secrets unveiled.

There’s a troubling underlying tension between Charlie and Charles even before she begins to suspect something, and while it’s not necessarily sexual in nature, there is almost a romantic overtone to it which then comes into conflict with the arrival of an investigating detective, Jack Graham (Macdonald Carey) who does begin a romantic prologue with Charlie.

Hitchcock takes his time with both story and characters, and the little asides with the family and Herbie give the film some truly shining moments, and bits of nostalgia as I recall big family dinners with neighbours showing up halfway through for evening conversation.

Tension builds slowly and effectively as Charlie does her best to protect her family from her uncle, while guarding her suspicions, but when the two confront one another, the gloves came off, and it may be a struggle to the death.

Perfectly balanced the film was nominated for Best Original Story and remains as captivating today as when it was first released. The performances are perfectly on point, and Cotten and Wright are simply wonderful as the leads.

I think this just means I’m going to have to revisit some more Hitchcock in the very near future. So many classic films that I haven’t watched for the blog…

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