This 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?