A Movie A Day: SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943)
Go away, I'm warning you. Go away or I'll kill you myself.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we jump from 1950’s classic noir D.O.A. to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1943 thriller SHADOW OF A DOUBT via composer Dimitri Tiomkin.
Hitchcock has long said this was his favorite of the films he directed. It may be Hitch’s favorite, but it’s not mine.
Whoa, whoa! Hold on! It’s a great film with some incredibly memorable work by both Joseph Cotten as Uncle Charlie and the beautiful Teresa Wright as his niece, Young Charlie. The photography, the suspense, the structure are all wonderfully executed, so I’m not saying this is a let down of a flick, just saying of the Hitchcock I’ve seen it’s not my favorite. That’s still STRANGERS ON A TRAIN.
But there’s one thing about this film that I personally disagreed with, one decision that I think keeps it from being the best the movie can be.
You have a film about a mysterious man, money damn near falling out of his pockets. You know he’s being pursued, but you don’t know why.
On the other side we we have a young girl frustrated at how her mother is being worked to the bone. She feels her family needs a miracle to pull them out of a middle class hell. In short, she’s bored. She feels her miracle could be her Uncle Charlie, so she decides to send a telegram to him and ask him to come to shake the family out of their doldrums.
This is the first instance of an almost supernatural connection between Uncle and Niece. He’s already sent a telegram alerting the family that he is on his way and plans to stay a while.
Joseph Cotten plays Uncle Charlie with as much charm as you’d expect from ol’ Joe. He shows up and his problems follow him, so in a backwards way Young Charlie gets what she wants.
It’s this point where I was hoping that Hitch would keep the ambiguity of Cotten’s character going until the end. Wright begins to uncover pieces of a story involving a strangler of rich widows and her doe-eyed adoration of her Uncle changes to suspicion.
Hitch has often said the secret to his suspense is the theory that you show the audience the bomb under the table, so I’m not surprised he confirms Cotten’s evil early in the story, but a part of me really wanted to see the ambiguity… did he or didn’t he?... live until the final moments.
I say this because he does pepper in reason for doubt. There are two men being pursued by the authorities, so they don’t even know for sure who it is. At the same time you can still have Cotten hit out with creepy speeches with possible double meanings. He has a great speech at a dinner table here that really does turn your blood cold (especially the end of the speech… the camera has been slowly pushing in to Cotten’s profile to a close-up as the speech is told and at the very end, he looks to his neice, but that essentially has him looking directly at the camera, at us).
But that’s not what interests Hitch and I understand that. He didn’t want the audience deciding whether or not Cotten is a bad man, he wanted the audience squirming knowing a bad and evil man is in this innocent community. I get that and that’s why I don’t hold anything against the flick. There’s no doubt this is quite clearly the movie Hitch wanted to make.
In fact he brought famous American playwrite Thornton Wilder in to give the first pass on the script in order to paint as realistic a picture of small town Americana as he can, so he could introduce this darkness into the setting.
Hitch’s supporting cast is incredible, especially Henry Travers as Joseph Newton, head of the family, and his best friend, Herbie Hawkins, played by the great Hume Cronyn. What I loved about these guys is they are big murder mystery fanatics and are constantly pow-wowing about how to kill each other and get away with it. It’s funny, but there’s also a degree of creepiness in their adoration of the perfect murder while in the presence of someone who has gotten away with it. Cronyn especially (in his first screen role) is great as the soft-spoken, but obviously sweet best friend.
The whole family is great. Teresa Wright as Young Charlie gets top billing and deserves it. She is absolutely gorgeous in the movie and plays the change from idol-worshipping her Uncle to suspicion to figuring out just who he is with great ease. She’s a lead you want to follow, in other words. The young kids, including brainy bookworm Ann (Edna May Wonacott) and Roger (Charles Bates), are good for a laugh, too. Ann especially being more adult than any other character in the story at the age of 9 or 10.
Patricia Coolinge especially deserves some praise as the matriarch of the household, sister to Charlie and the one thing that keeps Young Charlie from turning her Uncle over. Sometimes we get BS excuses like “it’d kill your mother to see me turned in. I’d get the chair…” and just have to either accept them fully or let them derail the story for us. Except here you buy it fully because Coolinge is so vulnerable and so blessedly blind to what her brother is, you do get the feeling that if her illusion of who her brother is is shattered, then she really will shatter with it. That’s a helluva thing to pull off and she does it.
Hitch Cameo Alert: He’s got a handful of spades playing cards on the train at the beginning of the flick.
Final thoughts: Cotten gives a classic performance and Hitch’s goal for ultimate suspense is realized. The film is filled with enough likable characters to fill 10 movies and everybody is at the top of their game, including Hitchcock. I would have loved to have seen the story told in a slightly different way, but ultimately that’s not the goal of the creators of the picture, so I have no right to let that distract me from what they intended to put up on the screen.
The schedule for the next 7 days is:
Friday, July 11th: THE MATCHMAKER (1958)
Saturday, July 12th: THE BLACK HOLE (1979)
Sunday, July 13th: VENGEANCE IS MINE (1974)
Monday, July 14th: STRANGE INVADERS (1983)
Tuesday, July 15th: SLEUTH (1972)
Wednesday, July 16th: FRENZY (1972)
Thursday, July 17th: KINGDOM OF HEAVEN: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT (2005)
I know that next Thursday’s movie seems like a departure… but it is connected to Frenzy and it will be the only big studio movie on the list from the last 15 years… I bought Ridley Scott’s director’s cut on DVD the day it came out and it’s been what? Two years? Two years sitting on my shelf, waiting to be watched. I’ve heard it takes an okay movie into a great movie, so I found a way to squeeze it onto this list. Don’t worry, there won’t be any others like this… at least that I know of.
Tomorrow we jump to THE MATCHMAKER, following Thornton Wilder over to a less dark and suspenseful movie universe.
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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July 10, 2008, 7:14 p.m. CST
July 10, 2008, 7:16 p.m. CST
Makes you a stupid cunt. You should ask kevinwillis.net what that means, he's an expert. By the way, that black & white screen-grab looks like The Munsters, if they were just a regular family.
July 10, 2008, 7:26 p.m. CST
Kiss me in the shadow of a doubt.
July 10, 2008, 7:43 p.m. CST
July 10, 2008, 7:43 p.m. CST
..it's good to see how you're keeping up with it, unlike some other cool lists in other sites, that are just left alone after a couple of items.. cough cough chud cough
July 10, 2008, 7:47 p.m. CST
by Carey N.
"Shadow of a Doubt" isn't necessarily my favorite Hitchcock, but it's one of my favorites. I love it as sort of the inverse of what we think of as the traditional Hitchcock picture. Instead of a falsely accused man going on the run to exotic locations, we have a killer coming home to Anytown, USA. Plus, Joseph Cotten is one of my favorite unheralded actors.
July 10, 2008, 7:48 p.m. CST
by Ricky Retardo
Charles: Women keep busy in towns like this. In the cities it's different. The cities are full of women, middle-aged widows, husbands dead, husbands who've spent their lives making fortunes, working and working. And then they die and leave their money to their wives, their silly wives. And what do the wives do, these useless women? You see them in the hotels, the best hotels, every day by the thousands, drinking the money, eating the money, losing the money at bridge, playing all day and all night, smelling of money, proud of their jewelry but of nothing else, horrible, faded, fat, greedy women. Charlie: They're alive! They're human beings! Charles: Are they? Are they, Charlie? Are they human or are they fat, wheezing animals, hmm? And what happens to animals when they get too fat and too old?
July 10, 2008, 7:50 p.m. CST
I can haz Gremlins 2 review?
July 10, 2008, 7:58 p.m. CST
by Nathaniel W
He made Suspicion two years earlier and it sounds pretty much like the movie you wish Shadow of a Doubt was. But yeah, I love Shadow of a Doubt. The gallows humor between Hume Cronyn and Henry Travers is wonderful and Joseph Cotten is terrific.
July 10, 2008, 8:09 p.m. CST
You're dead right Nathaniel W. Cary Grant's character in Suspicion was successfully ambiguous until the very end. Of course, the last 2-3 minutes suck hard enough to leave a bad taste in your mouth. Not bad enough to negate the awesomeness of the rest of the picture, but almost.
July 10, 2008, 8:30 p.m. CST
The almost incestous relationship between Cotton and Wright is disturbing. She's more than enamored by her uncle. She's clearly attracted to him. This is, of course, one of many ways Hitchcock presented taboo subjects but doing it just subtly enough get around the Hollwyood codes. Gender bending in Psycho as being the most famous example.
July 10, 2008, 8:32 p.m. CST
Or here. Hmm? Would it be "here" or "there?" Spooky.
July 10, 2008, 8:56 p.m. CST
I've seen theatrical releases and director's cuts of various movies, along with your special editions, unedited versions, etc. and I cannot recall more than a handful of films that are actually significantly different/better in the alternate version than they are in the theatrical release. Honestly, I usually don't even notice. Usually there's an extra scene here or there, but unless you've seen the movie multiple times you probably won't even realize that that one shot went 30 seconds longer on this version, etc.<p> The only really significant one I can think of off the top of my head is "Brazil" and that's only because it had two totally different endings. <p> Anyway...I think the whole thing is overrated. I'm not saying editing isn't important, but I just don't see much difference of any significance in these alternate versions. So if anyone can list a few movies they think are significantly different/improved, please list a few off. Thanks.
July 10, 2008, 9:09 p.m. CST
Kingdom of Heaven, Alien 3, Blade Runner, to name a few.
July 10, 2008, 9:10 p.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
They restored the movie, and the theater is an old theater, not a multiplex. It was great. I saw the restored version of Yellow Submarine in the same theater. I love CGI as much as the next guy, but movies like this are proof you don't NEED computer imagery to make a classic.
July 10, 2008, 10:01 p.m. CST
I want to watch it with my niece one day.<br><br>Black Hole, huh? I'll have to make sure I read your take on that one.
July 10, 2008, 10:16 p.m. CST
I can't remember why, but the 2nd half of it was just stupid. I'm not sure if I've seen this one or not. Hitchcock was great overall though.
July 10, 2008, 10:21 p.m. CST
by Midnight Thud
July 10, 2008, 10:22 p.m. CST
by Nasty In The Pasty
...my first viewing left me cold. I don't really know why. The performances are fine, but that classic Hitch tension and black humor are both in short supply. Decent film, but not a favorite.
July 10, 2008, 10:28 p.m. CST
.... is as common a sentence in the english language as: 'Take your mouth off my dick or else!'
July 10, 2008, 10:30 p.m. CST
There's no 'p' in Tiomkin. <br><br> Otherwise, fine write-up.
July 10, 2008, 10:49 p.m. CST
but I'm a little fuzzy on it right now. I do remember thinking it was one of the best Hitchcock movies. Joseph Cotten was superawesome in it. My favorite Hitchcock is on your list there, Frenzy. I don't know if other people love it or hate it, but it's definitely different.
July 10, 2008, 11:02 p.m. CST
That relationship between Charlie and the agent was truly wretched, among the more shoe-horned I've seen in film. Damn near torpedoes the last act.
July 11, 2008, 12:11 a.m. CST
by Wed Vid Guy
I envy you that you get to experience the director's cut for the first time. There is a tremedous difference in quality. Just you wait.
July 11, 2008, 1:18 a.m. CST
by blonde redhead
but for a film dork i am absolutely amazed at the sheer number of films you HAVEN'T seen. i ate slept and breathed all this shit since i was about five, and i'm not saying that to be an asshat. you're a great reviewer, and i trust you--i guess you have a natural instinct for film. :)
July 11, 2008, 1:22 a.m. CST
Don't get me wrong, Quint. I love that you're doing this series, but you just spent an entire review incorrectly spelling the name of the leading actor, a fairly well-known one at that. Furthermore, your review contains three posters that spell the name correctly. Please correct this. It's driving me nuts.
July 11, 2008, 2:06 a.m. CST
Quint, if you don't love it, send it my way. It's my favorite Hitchcock film...well, after Rebecca.
July 11, 2008, 2:38 a.m. CST
Not a movie but a really interesting case of how editing changes everything. Almost nothing has been added or cut, just reordered and that weird music from the broadcast replaced (I remember at the time thinking it was an odd choice. They replaced it with the original theme music and the whole tone of the finale shifts - it feels more like the tone of the entire show. The broadcast version ended rather ominously, with Billy Campbell looking like a zealot, but the director's cut has that feeling of wonder and hope, with Billy Campbell leading the way, a good guy. The 4400 once again are a symbol of hope for the world, which is more fitting as that is how the show began. The new cut just fit the tone of the show better. And it is all editing and music.
July 11, 2008, 3:46 a.m. CST
Kudos Quint for that.<p> This really makes me relive movies I saw long ago and makes me want to watch them again. And on top of that I get reviews of movies I haven't seen, but always knew I should. It makes me seek them up and give them a watch.<p> Also, I agree that the concept of DC's is a bit overrated, but there are true exceptions like Blade Runner and Kingdom of Heaven. The latter being a film I truly despised when I saw it in the cinemas, but also a film that completely changed my mind when I saw the DC. Now I think of it as the best modern epic, a trend started by Gladiator and ironically ended by KOH, both whom are works of the great Ridley Scott.
July 11, 2008, 7:41 a.m. CST
by Sailor Rip
And yes, Uncle Charlie monologue at the dinner table is chilling.
July 11, 2008, 7:53 a.m. CST
I love this movie - but what I am really digging now is Quint's take on established (or not) and already-reviewed titles. I really appreciate the fact that I can read reviews of movies I may have seen many times and still enjoy the point of view of a movie lover examining them for the first time.</p> Small point though - can't you guys at AICN get a better spellcheker or something? It seems to be getting worse by the day - between this piece and the Hellboy reviews, I've been exasperated afew too many times. When one is reading, an error like "Tereas" or "Cotton" breaks the flow and takes you right out of it. It's a shame because it's sort of like constantly pausing and rewinding a dvd when watching a good movie for the first time. Unless you're into that kind of thing, I suppose... </P> Still, good work, great column and I look forward to many many more days like this.
July 11, 2008, 7:59 a.m. CST
"SpellcheCker"</P> It's an irony mine!
July 11, 2008, 8:02 a.m. CST
I would have liked to have seen more ambiguity until the end, ala Suspicion. The fact that Charlie knows her uncle is a killer and IS TRYING TO KILL HER makes me me inclined to believe she would really try to get him arrested or at least kicked out from the house. I understand she didn't want to upset her mother, but damn. She'll get over it. It also would have been nice to see the subtle hints of incest have some sort of payoff. Not in a sex scene obviously, but something. All in all though, I really enjoyed the movie, the Joe cotton monologue, and the witty murder banter
July 11, 2008, 8:07 a.m. CST
That was a very mature and balanced review, Quint. Keep it coming. <p> I'll admit, I'm also a bit tired of the Director's Cut trend. The entire concept is being exploited simply to sell more DVD's. I can appreciate a good Director's Cut when it's obvious that a director has been treated like shit (Brazil and Blade Runner are good examples), but it's sad that such a thing as a Director's Cut has to exist in the first place. When someone asks me if I've read The Old Man And The Sea, I don't have to ask "which version are you referring to?". Granted, filmmaking is a collaborative medium, but someone should be in charge of the final creative decisions and that person should be the director.
July 11, 2008, 10:36 a.m. CST
Anyway, my all time favorite Hitchcock movie is REAR WINDOW but this is a pretty good one too. Joseph Cotten is terrific as Uncle Charlie. And I love anything with Theresa Wright in it, Best Years of Our Lives, Pride of the Yankees, and this movie.
July 11, 2008, 10:40 a.m. CST
that rather than humming and hahinh ourselves wondering if Uncle Charlie is the murderer we get to watch it through Charlie's eyes and I think our fears for her - because we KNOW - are heightened so there is no impact on the suspense in the film. This has been my favourite Hitchcock since before I knew it was his - North by Northwest is his most perfect but when he plumped for this one - small town America and the worm within - he knew what he was talking about.
July 11, 2008, 11:17 a.m. CST
Blue Velvet? Except that evil came as a force from the outside instead of the inside. And upon Uncle Charlie's death, life could return to "normal".<p>BTW, I would say my all-time favorite Hitchcock is North By Northwest. Cary Grant is at his charming best, Eva Marie Saint is at her lovliest, James Mason made the perfect "gentleman villian". And it is one of my favorite Herrmann scores. My second favorite is perhaps Frenzy, which showed the master still had it, late in his career. But there are so many too choose from it's like a kid in a candy store.
July 11, 2008, 11:28 a.m. CST
Niece. Niece. Niece. Niece. N-I-E-C-E.
July 11, 2008, 11:34 a.m. CST
Can someone tell me if it is worth buying? They dont have it to rent unfortunately. WHAT EXACTLY about it makes it so much better than the original (which I liked but ultimately found just this side of really good)??? Also, I heard that the Troy Director's Cut also changes the movie for the better quite a bit. Is that true?? If so, Why?
July 11, 2008, 1:04 p.m. CST
The suspense came from knowing he's a bad man. We knew he was capable of anything we just didn't know what exactly he was going to do.<p>Suspicion lost me at the end. I mostly enjoyed the "is he, isn't he" aspect of the film but when the climax comes it is quite the let down. It's akin to "oops, my bad, how silly of me". Where's the payoff of thinking your husband is trying to kill you, regardless of whether or not he is? Do you just keep allowing yourself to be put in situations that could be the end of you hoping he doesn't off you?
July 11, 2008, 3:57 p.m. CST
with elab and Jim. The story isn't really about Uncle Charlie at all, but about little Charlie growing up and gaining some traumatic exposure to the big bad real world. Playing "is he or isn't he" with Uncle Charlie's character would significantly weaken the whole point of her story arc; and she's the main character.
July 11, 2008, 4:43 p.m. CST
I've heard it argued, and after hearing it, I couldn't say 'nay.' But you could argue that point with 6-8 other films he's made. You could break it down into 'periods,' and what not, etc.. Great film, anyway way you look it at.
July 12, 2008, 5:46 a.m. CST
the director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven is ifinitely better than the theatrical version. Althoughe,one has to really be a fan o historical epics to really appreciate how different and better the new version is. IT's a different film. If you like great epics, watch the directors cut, it's a complteley different experience. I don't want to give anything away, but Edward Norton's character plays a pivotal role.
July 12, 2008, 5:54 a.m. CST
I am a student of ancient Greece and Rome. The story of Helen of Troy has always been one of my favorites. The Directors Cut, is bloodier and more true to the legend. But, let's face it, the movie is a pretty weak interpertation of that war. It actually lasted decades, and Petrocules was not the cousin of Achilles, but his lover. The sacking of Troy in the director's cut is more accurate.
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