Sunday, October 31, 2010

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)


Shadow of a Doubt

Written by Thronton Wilder & Sally Benson
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Joe Newton...Henry Travers
Charlie Newton...Teresa Wright
Uncle Charles...Joseph Cotten
Herb...Hume Cronyn

The Newton Family--true crime buff Joe, harried housewife Emma, introspective teenage daughter Charlie, intellectual youngster Anne and precocious tot Roger--all receive a pleasant surprise when wealthy, wise and worldly Uncle Charles (Charlie's namesake) drops in for an unexpected visit.  Everybody's spirits are significantly lifted by his arrival, but none so much as Charlie, who harbors a near-crush on her stylish uncle and thinks he is the end-all, be-all.  The Bees Knees.  That is to say, the Cat's Pajamas.

But Uncle Charles, smoothe as he may be, seems to be hiding a thing or two from his loved ones.  He vehemently refuses to be photographed, he unceremoniously tears certain news stories from the family's paper, and he's obviously paranoid about a pair of men who come poking around and asking questions in the guise of surveyors.  So what's this dastardly bastard hiding, and what, pray tell, is he guilty of?  Many synopses elsewhere will tell you, but as that revelation doesn't come until an hour or so on, I won't reveal it here.

This old-school thriller is directed by Hitchcock, so you know it's got a few things going for it.  However, in this unholy year of 2010, it's so old-school that it seems almost unquantifiably dated.  How dated is it?  So dated that when Joe receives a timepiece as a gift from Charles, he whistles in astonishment and says "Boy, I've never had a wristwatch before.  The boys at the bank are going to think I'm sport!"  A certain level of datedness can come across as quaint, but too much of it can be a distratction.  You feel too far removed as a viewer to feel like a participant in the proceedings.

The actors were all talented and did well in that classic, slightly-stiff style that you don't see much of these days, but the highlight for me was Hume Cronyn, who played Joe's friend Herb to a gawky and twitchy perfection.  The two of them sitting around talking about murder was priceless.  In modern terms, imagine Walter Mautahu and Andy Dick discussing the merits of poisoning versus a good old fashioned bludgeoning.

Talk about an odd couple.

True, this isn't one of Hitchcock's most riveting efforts, and it doesn't hold up nearly as well as some of his others.  But these days, when we're overexposed to hype, violence, bloodshed, gore, explosions and all manner of pointless CGI, it's nice to step back and appreciate the smaller things.

And all the sexist remarks that come with them.

Rated PG
108 Minutes
Black & White
United States



  1. Hitch's favorite of all his films. Cronyn's twitchiness is indeed a treat. Big inspiration for Lynch's Blue Velvet.

    1. I caught the same Blue Velvet vibe. Strange.

  2. Good review. While some of Hitch's other films still feel fresh like Psycho and The Birds, this one suffers from time. Critics are way too kind to this one in my opinion.

  3. Really good review. I agree that time is not this film's friend. The critics are way too kind to Shadow of a Doubt. I prefer a number of Hitch's other films over this one any day. They remain as suspenseful now and they did then such as Psycho, Vertigo, etc.

  4. Zombiefan: Agreed. Time is NOT on this film's side, especially when viewed in light of the timelessness of much of Hitch's other work.

    iZombie, Will, SJH: This is much belated, but...THANKS FOR STOPPING BY!



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