Monday, May 27, 2013

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock                              Writer: Thornton Wilder & Sally Benson
Film Score: Dimitri Tiomkin                            Cinematography: Joseph A. Valentine
Starring: Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotton, Macdonald Carey and Henry Travers

This was one of Hitchcock’s favorite films to make. He not only enjoyed the location, a rarity for Hitch, but the story as well. Having a murderer in the family, a typical American family at that, seemed the ultimate in suspense and someone least likely to be suspected. The original story was written by Thornton Wilder, which really gave it that all-American touch, but it was also worked on by screenwriter Sally Benson and of course Alma Reville, Hitchcock’s wife and collaborator. For me, Shadow of a Doubt is a very unique film in Hitch’s oeuvre because of the innocuous nature of the setting. There are always those aspects of Hitchcock films, one thinks of Saboteur or Suspicion, but the presence of a teenager as the innocent who figures out what’s going on and the family focus of the film changes the entire emphasis.

The picture opens on Joseph Cotton, sitting back on bed surrounded my money. He knows two men are tailing him, but they have no proof of his recent scheme: killing a widows for their money. He decides to visit his sister in California and lay low until the police forget about him. Initially the family welcomes him with open arms, especially Teresa Wright, his favorite niece. But quickly she begins to wonder about him, first when he gives her a ring that was obviously engraved for someone else. There is also a newspaper article about the murder that he rips from the paper and won’t tell Wright about, and then he becomes overly paranoid when two newspaper men want to interview the family. Once Cotton realizes she suspects him of something, he begins putting the pressure on Wright to keep quiet and, failing that, figuring out how to kill her.

As always, Hitchcock had assembled a great cast. This was Joseph Cotton’s first film outside of the Orson Welles stock company and he makes a perfect villain, though he never usually played heavies. Teresa Wright is the real star, however. She had first appeared in The Little Foxes with Bette Davis in 1941 and would have a long and popular career. Her change in character from complete adoration of Cotton to hatred is wonderful to watch. Henry Travers, before he became typecast as Clarence the angel in It’s a Wonderful Life, plays the father, and Patricia Collinge is his strangely neurotic wife. Hume Cronyn, in his first film role, is the mystery reader friend of Travers, and Macdonald Carey and Wallace Ford play the two newspaper reporters who are really police detectives.

The film is not one of my personal favorites of Hitchcock’s, though it is very good. This is probably due to my dislike of Cotton, whom I find a very one-dimensional actor. In addition you have Dimitri Tiomkin with a rather unmemorable score as well. But in the end it is Hitchcock, and it is ultimately a satisfying film. Shadow of a Doubt was part of a very fruitful period for Hitch that went all the way from Rebecca to the lull after the War that began with The Paradine Case and didn’t end until Strangers on a Train. As such, it’s vintage suspense from the master.

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