Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Genre: Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.

Release Date: January 15th, 1943 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Alfred Hitchcock Actors: Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey, Henry Travers, Patricia Collinge, Hume Cronyn, Wallace Ford

 


 

M

r. Charles Spencer Oakley (Joseph Cotten) reclines, fully dressed, on a bed in a small apartment, with wads of cash spilling from a nightstand onto the floor. Just outside waits a couple of persistent men who are clearly interested in catching up with Spencer – for some sinister purpose. But he slips past the men and sends a telegram to the Newton household in Santa Rosa, California – containing the only relatives he has in the world, and a great residence in which to hole up.

In Santa Rosa, young Charlie (Teresa Wright) is in a rut and severely depressed, worried about money issues for the family, her bank clerk father Joseph (Henry Travers), her overworked mother Emma (Patricia Collinge), and the general lack of excitement in their lives. Her solution is to telegram her wealthy, adventurous Uncle Charlie, who is coincidentally already on his way to their home – but not to enliven their tedium. Instead, he’s hiding away from his pursuers. And it’s possible that he’s the one who’s up to no good.

Danger and duplicitousness surround Uncle Charlie, evident not only in the ominous music that edges into the scenes in which he appears, but also with his unexplainable shifts in behavior – from concealing the chance that he might be recognized, to an odd gift, to a sudden distraction at the dinner table. His actions and mood swings grow more and more suspicious as he attempts to veil some terrible, dark secret. And in a twist of irony, the energetic, inquisitive young Charlie is fixed on uncovering all of his secrets, as if a playful game to get to know him better. Plus, Joseph and his pal Herb (Hume Cronyn) are infatuated with reading Unsolved Crime Stories, which inspire them to discuss the different ways in which they would hypothetically murder one another.

These details serve as foreshadowing, a bit of comic relief, and a vexatious doggedness by Wright’s Charlie, who tries – perhaps too indefatigably – to ignore all the warning signs. Viewers will find it more difficult to maintain such naïveté. Her innocence and talkativeness might go too far, though she’s quick to stand up for her uncle’s privacy from two pushy interviewers, and she swiftly falls for detective Jack Graham (Macdonald Carey) despite his dishonesty and his interest in possibly arresting her uncle (a love story subplot that could have been cut to speed things up). Since director Alfred Hitchcock keeps the audience in the dark about Spencer’s business and motives (for more than halfway into the picture), the younger Charlie works as a surrogate sleuth, detecting clues to sway attitudes toward Cotten’s shifty persona (and the possibility that he’s the “Merry-Widow” murderer of three rich ladies).

When Uncle Charlie goes on a dinnertime tirade about the worthlessness of extravagant widows spending their husband’s fortunes, the inklings grow too strong. And young Charlie’s disposition becomes overly exaggerated as well, making her assumptions painfully obvious. For a story helmed by Hitchcock, one would expect the twists to be less straightforward. Fortunately, there is one final uncertainty – the very unexpected concept of justice not being served against a villain – made unexpected because he was predominantly a protagonist during the first half of the film (or, at least, the benefit of the doubt would denote him as a protagonist). It may not be Hitchcock’s most powerful work, but Cotten is an exceptional character and the finale is quite a memorable ordeal.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10