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