Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Favorite

Hitch Part 3 0f 15

What was reportedly Hitch's favorite of his own films is also my favorite Hitchcock film, the tragically overlooked Shadow of a Doubt. While most people seem to favor Hitchs flims of the 50's and 60's (which are indisputably excellent) I've long had a soft spot for his 40's work, which was often less splashy, slower, and more subtle, Shadow of a Doubt easily meeting all of these criteria. Filmed largely on location in Santa Rosa the movies screenplay was co-authored by Our Town playwrite Thornton Wilder, a man whose small town sensibilities are evident throughout the work. Hitchcock wanted to do a story that introduced terror to a small American town and the plot that was arived at is one of the most plausible and therefore most disconcerting in the director's cannon. In addition to all of this talent behind the making of the fim the pictures pace and relatively lose demands of its plot leave plenty of screen time to soak up the local atmosphere and get to know a gallery of interesting characters. Perhaps this is one of the primary reasons I love this film so much, you feel as though you can take a leisurely stroll through through the movie as it is in no hurry to get where its going.

Teresa Wright (who died last year) was top billed in this film which was made during the middle of the actresses war-time Hollywood heyday. The smart brunette plays young Charlie Newton a roughly 19 year old girl living at home who has become board with her predictable small town life. Joseph Cotton is her Uncle Charlie (for whom she was named), her mothers charming and beloved younger brother who comes to visit the family from the east. His visit promises to bring some of the excitement young Charlie so wanted in her life and for the young women things seem to be going along wonderfully, this excitement of course proves to be not exactly what the eager young niece was expecting (the ironic twist for those of you in screenwriting class). From the moment he arrives Uncle Charlie is acting weird in a hard-to-place sort of way, and many subtle hints are dropped that things with him are not as they appear. You see Uncle Charlie was what they then used to call a 'bluebeard', a man who marries rich middle-aged widows for their money, and then in his case kills them. The cold, pragmatic form of murderous ideology this character with the pleasant demeanor displays could well have been a metaphor for the Fascist belief system America was then fighting.

The detectives who where on Charlies trail in Philadelphia manage to track him to Santa Rosa despite never getting a good look at his face and there being no existing photos of the man outside of childhood. The detectives Jack Graham (Macdonald Carey) and Fred Saunders (Wallace Ford) attempt to recruit young Charlie for their investigation when they come to believe her uncle is their murder. This Charlie will have none of it at first, but as she comes to believe the detectives are right agrees to help them. This is all complicated by the fact that another suspect for 'the black widow murders' is being tracked down in New England, and is ultimately killed in an accident involving a airplane propeller blade. With the other dead con now out of the way and most likely destined to be blamed for his crimes, Uncle Charlie feels he might now be home free. However by this point young Charlie has uncovered some damaging evidence to implicate her uncle in the murders, and with the detectives gone to San Diego for reassignment old Charlie determines he must kill his niece and make it look like an accident.

The supporting cast of this film is so excellent that they deserve a mention. Henry Travers plays a character (young Chariles father Joseph Newton)that must have been intended to be twenty years or more younger then he was, but by dying his hair he is able to make the trick almost work in black and white film. Patricia Collinge as Emma Newton is the heart of the film, young Chariles fear that reveling the truth about her uncle might kill her mothers is a primary motivating factor for her character in the latter half of the movie. Edna May Wonacott was a local girl who had never acted in a film before but is terrific as bookish younger sister Ann, who seems to be the first person to sense something is wrong with her uncle. Finally Hume Cronyn is delightful as Joseph Newtons best friend Herbie Hawkins, a man obsessed by pulp detective magazines and finding the perfect way to kill a person. A clever plot, interesting characters and loads of local atmosphere come together to make Shadow of a Doubt satisfying entertainment with the requisite Hitchcock brains.

Also recommended: The Coen Brothers The Man Who Wasn't There while presented as a kind Film Noir homage has more then just a little of Shadow of a Doubt in it, including a strange relationship between a young girl and an older man, a slow pace and quirky characters, as well as a 1940's Santa Rosa setting.


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