Monday, January 25, 2016

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock


Filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock would be known for many of the finest motion picture thrillers of all time and in many instances he stated his 1943 motion picture to be his personal favorite of all the films he had directed. Showcasing Hitchcock’s fascination for crime and criminals this feature delves into the innocent idea of evil entering a small town in an unlikely form.

Shadow of a Doubt is a psychological thriller about a teenage girl who begins to believe her uncle is a serial killer. Charlotte “Charlie” Newton and her beloved Uncle Charlie Oakley have a very special, loving relationship which the young niece holds very dear. At first she is overjoyed by his most recent visit to what she may consider a unexciting Northern California town of Santa Rosa, but her uncle behaves suspiciously on edge leading her down a road of curiosity. Through clues and a visit from federal agents, one (MacDonald Carey) who even takes to courting Young Charlie, she comes to believe Uncle Charlie is a serial murder of wealthy elderly widows the authorities are seeking. Further complicated the matter is how Young Charlie struggles with the idea of sharing the news which would break the heart of her mother (Patricia Collinge), who thinks of the world of Uncle Charlie.

Understanding of young Charlie’s new discovery, Uncle Charlie attempts of series of staged accidents to hurt or even kill his once favorite niece to keep her from sharing her new found knowledge. After being incorrectly exonerated Uncle Charlie decides to leave town at the demand of Young Charlie, but no without a final attempt on her life. In a deadly act Uncle Charlie attempts to throw his niece from a running train that is taking him out of town, but in the struggle falls to his death. In passing without Young Charlie sharing of knowledge Uncle Charlie dark secrets he is honored. However Young Charlie must live on with the pains of what only she knows.

Near universally acclaimed at the time of its release Shadow of a Doubt was a thriller that captured the imaginations of movie goers. Teresa Wright shines with a youthful exuberance of an excited teenager, yet quickly portrays the emotions of a troubled woman torn with the unexpected revelation of who her beloved uncle really is. Joseph Cotten is both charming and menacing as the role of Uncle Charlie, the energetic favorite relative whose attitude turns sinister on a dime when he senses individuals are close to discovering his truth.

The plot of the picture was based off a story presented to Hitchcock, itself inspired by a real criminal who murdered windows to collect money. Along with the filmmaker’s fascination with the idea of a major criminal innocently coming to a small town Hitchcock found an interesting mix for his next motion picture. Within the picture the audience follows Young Charlie and must piece together the clues that reveal who her uncle truly is, then must juggle with the whether or not she too must believe it. As the tale moves forward she ultimately fears for her own life as her uncle attempts to keep her from sharing what she knows.

Filmed on location in the actual Santa Rosa, then only a quiet, sleepy town, this marks a first in a long history Alfred Hitchcock would have with locations in Northern California. The then quaint town contained all the all-American ideals Hitchcock was looking for in the unsuspecting community within his movie.

In Santa Rosa he found the location of what he deemed the perfect house for Young Charlie’s family. It was sizable to fit her family’s needs, but just slightly worn down to manifest it was a well lived in, as well as being a warm home of a loving family. After the house was confirmed as a location in the picture it’s residents were so overjoyed that they proudly painted the house, much to the dismay of Hitchcock. The director loved how it look, with its slightly worn look and had the exterior aged once again by his set decorators to the point he wanted in the picture. Of course he had house repainted after production concluded.

The picture focuses primarily on the dramatic relationship of the two Charlies, but fleshed out the picture with supporting characters that you as an audiences come to care for, but are completely oblivious to the struggles between the two. Young Charlie’s parents portrayed by two of the most lovable actors in Patricia Collinge and Henry Travers give the home a warm welcoming feel any all-American home would wish for. Collinge portrays the innocently loving sister to Uncle Charlie that Young Charlie would never wish to hurt by unveiling the news of her brother’s criminal ways. Travers, who has had a history of playing lovable supporting character, as Young Charlie’s father shares a fascination and ongoing discussion with his friend Herbie, played by Hume Cronyn. Much like Alfred Hitchcock, these two share ideas openly with how criminals would secretly murder people, much to the annoyance of his daughter.

The picture is filled with suspense as Young Charlie juggles with the idea that her Uncle as this dangerous man, yet the light of the world to her mother. Through the picture she struggles over how to get her Uncle to leave without putting herself in danger or breaking her dear mother’s heart. It is this struggle that ultimately leads the conclusion that only serves to resolve that fact that she is safe, but must hold in this ugly truth for the sake of her family as an overwhelmingly climactic close.

Shadow of a Doubt played well to both audiences and critics. The reviews upon its release praised Hitchcock’s inventiveness of how to hold audiences in suspense to points of great tension. Film historians came to anoint the feature as one of, if not the, very best of Alfred Hitchcock’s career. Certainly at its time, it was the most “American” of Hitchcock’s movies as he had transition from his English roots to his new place where he practiced his trade within Hollywood over the last couple of years. Despite Shadow of a Doubt not being nominated for an honor as Rebecca did a few years earlier, this was undoubtedly Hitchcock’s finest work to date in Hollywood.

In the years following Hitchcock would produce various other timeless classic suspense pictures, including Rear Window, North by Northwest, and Psycho, who in many cases overshadow the praise and success of Shadow of a Doubt. However Shadow of a Doubt held a special place in the heart of the filmmaker. In many instances when asked which of his features he felt was his finest work, or was his favorite his answer would be Shadow of a Doubt. In very few cases his answer would change or he would deny this claim, but in researching the filmmaker it is clear Shadow of a Doubt was a point of great pride for the famed director.

The only major prize the feature would be nominated for during its initial release would be an Academy Award nomination for Best Story as Hitchcock’s works never appeared to be much praise for the Academy. In 1991 the picture would be elected for the National Film Registry, making it an early entrant into the Library of Congress motion picture preservation wing within only its third year of existence. Decades later Shadow of a Doubt would be somewhat buried behind the various other Hitchcock classics. Perhaps it was because these other films were fresher in viewer’s minds, or in many cases they were in color. Shadow of a Doubt does not get as easily recognized as these other features, but it serves a s one of the director’s finest works in cinema and stands up incredible well to this day.

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