Well, it's the end of April (well, not quite but almost) and the due date for this month's Blind Spot entry was bumped up a week, which works out great for me since I'm always early with this anyways. This month I even held off on watching the film and took it in over the weekend (and in one sitting this time, which rarely happens for me thanks to all the kids). I have to say, this month's blind spot was, without a shadow of a doubt, the most rewarding so far and it has me so anxious to dig into next month (La Belle et la Bete is actually recording this week off TCM, so YAY for life!), but I'll do my best to hold off a few weeks.
This is my fourth blind spot this year. If you haven't yet, you can read my thoughts on Sergeant York, Penny Serenade and The Shop Around the Corner as well.
I’ve been watching a lot of early Hitchcock as of late. In fact, this year alone I’ve gotten my hands on quite a few of his 40’s films, including ‘Foreign Correspondent’, ‘Lifeboat’, ‘Spellbound’ and ‘Suspicion’. While I have always been a real fan of Hitchcock, from what little I knew of his work (for the longest time it was just me and his considered classics), digging into his lesser known, or lesser congratulated films, has deepened my appreciation for the talent he possessed. He had so much more range than many who are not familiar with his entire body of work would give him credit for.
But like most, I prefer my Hitch when he delves into the darker side of man.
Yes, Hitchcock has long been considered as the Master of Suspense, and that is what I prefer to see out of his films. When I find one that I had yet to be spellbound by, and one that doesn’t seem to have been altered drastically by those awful censors (which happened far too often), I kind of jump for joy a little.
I was jumping Saturday night.
About ten minutes into ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ I was reminded of a recent film, from last year even, that carried with it obvious inspiration from this film, right down to the Uncle’s name. Yes, I’m talking about ‘Stoker’, and honestly I think these two films would make a really impressive double feature. Both films center on an impressionable young woman who has a unique connection to her Uncle and who uncovers a dark secret that causes her to question his morality. It also forces her to make a decision that will affect her life forever.
‘Shadow of a Doubt’ (which ironically was only a temporary title and was never intended for actual use) tells the story of two Charlies. One is a young woman living in a home she feels is fractured. She isn’t happy and can’t understand why the rest of her family doesn’t do something about it. The second is her uncle, a man we are introduced to in the first scene as someone with something to hide. What it is, we are not quite sure…yet. Young Charlie feels the need to contact her uncle and persuade him to come visit. She feels that his presence would help the dissention in the family. Uncle Charlie, attempting to escape whatever harm may be coming his way, had the idea to go and visit his family, so obviously both sets of ears were burning.
Telepathy, or at least a sense of subconscious communication, is a strong theme in this film, and it really helps establish a strong sense of character development between the film’s two leads.
When Uncle Charlie arrives at the Newton household, things start to alter rather quickly. Young Charlie can sense something hidden beneath her uncle’s expressionless face and she starts to wonder why he’s constantly on edge. When she does a little digging she uncovers something horrific that she could never imagine her uncle would actually be involved in, but the evidence is quite convincing, and when two detectives show up asking questions and prodding young Charlie for help, it becomes obvious to her that her uncle is NOT the man she thought he was.
For me, ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ is pretty much the perfect culmination of all of Hitchcock’s talents, bringing to fruition one of the most intoxicating thrillers that I’ve seen in a very long time. The fact that it was made in 1943 and still stands up today is quite an impressive feat. The score looms over every scene (bravo Mr. Tiomkin) and the cinematography is a stunning use of shadows and lighting (and smoke) to create an ominous feeling without ever feeling manipulative. But, when all is said and done, this film is anchored by the brilliant performances of the two leads; Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright.
A lot can be said for what Cotten has done here. His tortured exterior plays to something lurking beneath the surface that he initially is truly concerned will ruin himself and those around him, and the glimmers of actual human feeling help establish him as a character we are in fear of, but don’t want to hate. But, as the film progresses and his motives become clearer and clearer, he is shockingly good at stripping away all doubt as to his moral disintegration and basically becoming a living, breathing human monster.
But for me, as great as Cotten was, this film belongs to Teresa Wright.
For me, this was a star turn if I ever saw one. Playing a young teenager, Wright infuses such honest human dilemma into her performance, capturing the lingering aspect of doubt that permeates her entire life, but she never fails to illuminate the innocence (slowly being stripped away) that brims at the surface. She plays young Charlie’s happy moments with such warmth, and she layers her concern with something richer; such confliction. The way that she toys, internally, with her uncle’s actions and debates her next move is utterly convincing, and she composes a complete character who remains the sole focal point of the film, even in the midst of a very devious presence. Yes, despite sharing the screen with a very impressionable villain, the audience never wavers from their interest on Wright. She is compelling from start to finish.
For me, ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ is top tier Hitchcock, and I mean the very top tier. The evil that swells in Uncle Charlie never feels tampered with, and the suspense that Hitch creates is never derailed by obvious mishandling by censors (as was seen in films like ‘Suspicion’, which carried some similar themes but failed to follow through with them). It also marks a perfect marriage of script, actors and director, where each element falls into place beautifully to create a unified and impenetrable film.
71 years later, and ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ is still a stunning contribution to the thriller genre.