The Joseph Cotten Blogathon: My Three Favourite Joseph Cotten Film Performances

Joseph 3This is my entry for the Joseph Cotten blogathon being co-hosted by myself and Crystal in a few days time. I can’t wait to read all of your entries. 

Joseph Cotten is a great favourite of mine. I like how he could easily switch between playing very likeable and easy going characters, and characters who were more darker and difficult to understand. 

Joseph was one of the most reliable and popular American classic era actors.  He was very good friends with Orson Welles, and it is Orson who we have to thank for Joseph becoming a film actor in the first place.It was also Orson Welles who gave Joseph his start in films. 

Joseph started out working alongside Orson in the Mercury Theatre. The Mercury Theatre was Orson’s independent theatre, radio, and film company, which he had co-founded with John Houseman in 1937. 

Joseph first appeared on screen when he starred in Too Much Johnson(1938), this was a film directed by Orson Wells. This was a film that was considered to be lost for decades, until it was discovered in 2013. Joseph’s next performance was as the best friend in Orson’s classic Citizen Kane. Then he went on to appear in The Magnificent Ambersons and Journey Into Fear. He would go on to become a popular and reliable actor in both film and television.

I’d like to share my three favourite Joseph Cotten film performances with you.


Since You Went Away (1944)

This WW2 drama is my first choice for a favourite Joseph Cotten performance. I love the film a great deal for its story and characters, but Joseph’s performance and the character he plays is what brings me back to this film again and again.

Joseph as Tony. Screenshot by me.

Joseph plays the decent, fun loving, dependable, charming and loveable Tony Willet. He really steals every scene he is in. Joseph plays Tony in such a way that for me he becomes the life and soul of the film. 

Tony is the best friend of Anne Hilton(Claudette Colbert)and her husband, who is away fighting in the war.

Tony is in America waiting on his orders from the Navy, when he meets up with Anne and her family and makes it his mission to cheer them all up. 

It is clear to us that Tony is in love with Anne, and that she knows it but that neither will act on it. Their relationship could so easily have turned into an affair, but I think their relationship has much more meaning and poignancy precisely because it doesn’t develop into an affair.  

Joseph conveys Tony’s love and desire for Anne so well, but he also conveys his love for his friend(Anne’s husband)too and we know that he would never damage their marriage by starting an affair with Anne. We feel sorry for Tony because he can’t get the happy ending he desires in his heart, but we love him all the more for not breaking up his friends marriage. You know he would do anything for Anne and her family and he wouldn’t ask for anything in return. What a guy! What a performance from Joseph!


A Shadow Of A Doubt(1943)

This was the film that forever changed Joseph’s screen image. With this role he went from playing very likeable characters, to playing a cold, manipulative and very scary serial killer.

Joseph as Uncle Charlie. Screenshot by me.

Joseph plays Charlie, a smooth and charming man visiting his family in a small American town. Charlie’s exterior is a mask hiding his dark true self.

He is actually a serial killer, and he is a cruel, cold and very dangerous man. When his young niece (Teresa Wright) discovers his secret, he plots to kill her too to protect his secret. 

Joseph is excellent as the dark and charming Charlie. I like how he effortlessly switches between likeable charmer and deranged and scary monster. His performance is all in his eyes and expressions and he does a terrific job. In my opinion this is Joseph Cotten’s best screen performance. 


I’ll Be Seeing You(1944) 

Another film set during WW2. I’ll Be Seeing You isn’t just your average romance story, this love story has some stings in the tale. In this film Joseph plays Zachary Morgan, a shell shocked soldier, who has just been released from a military hospital.

Joseph as Zachary. Screenshot by me.

Zachary is having a tough time dealing with his symptoms and readjusting to life on the outside. All that changes when he meets the kind Mary (Ginger Rogers).

Zachary is unaware of Mary’s secret that she is a prisoner convicted of manslaughter. Mary has been allowed out of prison for a short time to spend time with her family. 

Joseph totally convinces as a traumatised soldier struggling with his symptoms and finding a small degree of peace with the woman he is falling for. Joseph’s performance in this film is both subtle and poignant.

I especially love how Joseph conveys to us Zachary’s anxiety and awkwardness being around people and loud noises. Joseph also really makes you believe that his character is suffering and trying so very hard to get some control over his condition. 


What are your views on Joseph’s performances in these three films? What are your favourite Joseph Cotten performances? 




47 thoughts on “The Joseph Cotten Blogathon: My Three Favourite Joseph Cotten Film Performances”

  1. Joseph is one of those guys who is great in everything. If I had to choose 3 of my favourites from his filmography the would be:
    – Gaslight
    – Portrait of Jennifer
    – Shadow of a Doubt

    Looking forward to the blogathon! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He sure is. Portrait Of Jennie is such a lovely and haunting film, he and Jennifer Jones are terrific in that. I’m sorry to say that I’ve never been a fan of the American version of Gaslight, I much prefer the earlier British version starring Anton Walbrook.

      I can’t wait either! It’s going to be such fun.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You know, I’ve never sat down to watch the 1940 version and it is included on my DVD. I should definitely amend that. Afterwards, I’ll be able to reflect on your personal views of the two films.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “The world’s a hell. What does it matter what happens in it? “ You can guess which film it’s from. A great write up as always. I’d have to find space for a certain Vienna set film mind.


      1. I have always been rather torn over his Sabrina casting. While he lacks the charm of say Gregory Peck or Cary Grant, he convinces as a man who has never allowed himself to enjoy life and love as his brother and Sabrina have. For a long while I liked his performance, then I went through a stage where I didn’t, and now I’m somewhere in between over it.


  3. I haven’t seen any of your selections, in fact I haven’t seen much of Joseph Cotten’s filmography. Of the performances I have seen my favourites would be Citizen Kane, The Third Man and Journey into Fear.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Cotten was and is an extremely underrated actor simply because he was always subtle and restrained on screen. He didn’t go in for scenery-chewing. He did have a lot of charisma but it was never flashy. When in a movie together with his friend Welles, he could get overshadowed occasionally.

    I do like him in Shadow of a Doubt because he played against type and did it well.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent article. Your choices and your reasoning are excellent. I haven’t seen I’ll be Seeing You in many years, but the memory is strong.

    When I was growing up and Joseph Cotten guest starred on one of my favourite television shows, it was a big deal! I loved his courtly manner. He seemed sophisticated yet approachable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Margaret. The Third Man isn’t included because this isn’t a list of top three performances, this is a list of the three performances of his which are my favourites. The Third Man is an excellent film, but it isn’t a favourite of mine. Joseph’s performance in it isn’t a favourite of mine either.


  6. I *think* I’ve seen I’ll Be Seeing You (and have seen Shadow of a Doubt more than a few times) but I definitely need to see Since You Went Away (and I’ll Be Seeing You Again). It’s so nice to see Cotten get some recognition. I remember in film class he was basically just dismissed as Welles’s sidekick (this was a while ago) and I’m glad to see people are finding the stuff he did without Orson.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Excellent article Maddy! We feel your admiration for Jo! His performance in Shadow of A Doubt is definitely one of his bests! I just watched Since You Went Away and I’ll Be Seeing You earlier this week so it’s pretty fresh in my memory. I loved what you said about his character in Since You Went Away.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Since You Went Away is a film that I would really like to see, but I also know it’ll turn me into a sobbing mess. I admire your ability to list just three performances! Cotten was so incredibly prolific that it would be hard to narrow down my favorites. Perhaps Love Letters, Gaslight, and The Third Man.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a lovely film and I hope you get to see it sometime. It wasn’t that hard, because those three are films and performances that I love so much. I still need to see Love Letters, but I hear nothing but good things about it. Looking forward to seeing it.


  9. I can’t believe I STILL haven’t seen “Since You Went Away”, despite all the great things I’ve read about it. However, I complete agree with your other choices – I love Cotten in both those films. In fact, I think he’s someone who always gives you your money’s worth.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Those are three excellent performances, but I don’t think he put a foot wrong too often in his prime anyway. I like him on screen and think his reserved personality lent itself to both reluctant heroes and calculating villains equally well, which is no mean feat.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. It’s amazing that you chose three performances very different, but all amazing. Cotten could play sweet, soft, creepy and disturbed, making all these characters believeable.


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