Charlie (Teresa Wright) gets suspicious that her uncle (Joseph Cotton) might be a murderer.
This review contains slight spoilers.
Next up in my journey through my Alfred Hitchcock collection is Shadow of a Doubt. Hitchcock has said that this is his favorite film, so that is some high praise coming from the director himself! Of course, I didn’t know that when I started the film. I have been going into these films with as little knowledge beforehand as possible. Good thing to because Shadow of a Doubt is way more suspenseful if you don’t know what is going to happen in the film.
I know I’m only two films into my journey but an early trend I am seeing is Hitchcock had a knack for casting a fantastic leading pair. In Saboteur it was Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane. Now in Shadow of a Doubt it’s Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotton. Cotton in particular was phenomenal. As the film progresses, we slowly see the dark side of his character, Charlie Oakley. Cotton’s descent into this darker persona is chilling and wonderfully executed. Teresa Wright, whose character is named after her Uncle Charlie, begins the film full of excitement and youthful energy when her uncle first arrives to visit. In the same way Cotton slowly descends into a darker character, Wright has a similar transformation, from naive child to realizing a hard truth about her uncle. And not only are these two great individually but they are also marvelous together.
Besides Cotton and Wright, there was an unexpectedly fun pairing of young Charlie’s father, Joseph, played by Henry Travers, and Joe’s best friend Herbie, played by Hume Cronyn. The friendly banter the two of them had throughout the film was funny and entertaining. It brought a sense of levity to an otherwise generally serious tone of the film.
In the beginning, you have no idea of who Uncle Charlie really is. The film does an excellent job of slowly unraveling the character while at the same time keeping an air of mystery around him. I f there is one flaw I would say Shadow of a Doubt has is that it made the revelation too early. If Hitchcock would have maintained the suspense of if Charlie was or wasn’t the murderer until the very end, I think that would have made the movie even more suspenseful. I know that sounds like blasphemy, criticizing the master of suspense but I said it and I’m sticking to it.
One of the things I liked about Saboteur, the previous film in my Hitchcock journey, was how large the adventure felt. Barry Kane started in California and worked his way across the United States, ending in New York City. Shadow of a Doubt is much smaller in scope, taking place solely in Californian small town. Despite this, Shadow of a Doubt is the more exciting film of the two. There’s something about the small town atmosphere that adds to the tension when a menacing figure shows up and begins causing havoc.
Something I didn’t expect from this film was the amount of humor it had! I regularly found myself chuckling, especially when it came to the scenes with Joe and Herbie as mentioned before. I wasn’t expecting such moments of levity from a Hitchcock film. I guess I’m learning more and more that I shouldn’t have any expectations of what to expect from a filmmaker of Hitchcock’s caliber.
I thought Shadow of a Doubt was GREAT 😀 This is what I expected out of a Hitchcock film and more. I hadn’t expected to find a favorite this early into my journey but this movie had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. Joseph Cotton was the absolutely stand out member of the cast, balancing the menace and friendliness of the character. Even if the reveal is too soon, the suspense flows throughout the film. Coming across a film of this quality so early in my Hitchcock journey has me excited to see where it goes from here.
Alfred Hitchcock has stated that this is his favorite film. Part of why he considered this to be his favorite film he made was because he liked the idea of bringing menace to a small town.
Cast & Crew
Alfred Hitchcock – Director
Thornton Wilder – Screenplay
Sally Benson – Screenplay
Alma Reville – Screenplay
Gordon McDonell – Story
Dimitri Tiomkin – Composer
Teresa Wright – Charlie Newton
Joseph Cotton – Charlie Oakley
Henry Travers – Joseph Newton
Patricia Collinge – Emma Newton
Edna May Wonacott – Ann Newton
Charles Bates – Roger Newton
Hume Cronyn – Herbie Hawkins
Macdonald Carey – Jack Graham
Wallace Ford – Fred Saunders
I have been doing a series of blogs called “Hitch Hiking”, in which I share a hiking adventure and then a Hitchcok film…this is such a classic movie I have to include it on my next one…
That sounds like such a fun series! You should totally do this film for that project. I can’t wait to read your thoughts on it once you do.
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Shadow of a Doubt is definitely one of my favourite Hitchcock films!
I see your point about not revealing Charlie as the murderer until the end, and agree in some ways, but I also think that us knowing he has murdered those women perhaps adds more suspense. Because we know what he’s capable of, I think it adds more tension to the scenes with the family etc, and it also keeps us watching to see whether he’ll get away with it/the lengths he would go to to avoid getting caught.
I can see that perspective. Personally, I like in movies, such as The Next Three Days, when the movie teases whether or not the character did or did not commit the crime and has clues that makes you think both ways. I find this more suspenseful when I am constantly questioning my conclusions. I agree that those scenes you mentioned are suspenseful because of what we know Charlie can do, but I think if we didn’t know what he could/would do, we would be suspicious of him and those scenes would still be tense nonetheless. I personally liked how this movie would have scenes every now and then about the other suspect being chased by the police to make you think there was a chance that the murderer wasn’t Charlie. I guess the tradeoff is do you prefer more suspense or a better reveal? Neither preference is wrong and both create different experiences for the film.
Thanks for commenting, Rhiannon. 🙂
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Yeah I agree, both approaches definitely have their merit! I do love a big reveal in films/tv series, but I do like it when we know something about a character (ie that Charlie is the murderer) that other characters don’t, and then see how things play out. With both approaches I think a lot of it depends on the director/the way the story is shown, as both ways could easily fall flat if they’re not handled well!
Exactly! As long as the situation is handled well, it is entertaining. Luckily for us, Hitchcock knows exactly how to handle it!
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I loved Shadow of a Doubt too! It’s diabolically funny (the niece was named after serial killer uncle!) Have you seen Stoker (2013), with Nicole Kidman? It’s a curious remake of Shadow.
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