Blogathons

The Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon: Shadow Of A Doubt (1943)

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This is my third and final entry for my Hitchcock Blogathon. This time I’m writing about the film that Hitch called his personal favourite from amongst his own films.  It’s really not hard to see why he loved this one so much.

Long before David Lynch showed us that small towns hid secrets, and that all was not well behind closed doors; Hitch gave us all of that in just one film. That film is Shadow Of A Doubt, and it is a nightmare depiction of discovering someone you love is not who you thought them to be. This film also shows innocence being lost, and horror and disruption landing in a small American town.

There is also some terrific Hitchcock black humour to be found in this film. Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn play two best friends who meet regularly to discuss (in minute detail) ways in which they could kill one another and not get detected. These bizarre conversations appear throughout the film, at one point even carrying on at the dinner table!

The film is set (and filmed out on location)in Santa Rosa, California. We are shown the positive sides of small town life in this film. You (usually)get good and supportive neighbours, have a strong sense of community, and you feel that your town is the safest place you could be.

Hitch also shows us that living in a place like this shelters the inhabitants from the violence etc that you will be (unfortunately)almost certain to encounter in the big city. The trouble with being sheltered from it is that you never believe anything bad will ever happen to you, or to those living in your community.

This film sees the eyes of the small town community being opened to evil. This evil comes in the form of Charles Oakley (Joseph Cotten).  Known to all as Charlie, he is a smooth talking, charming and elegant man. He is also a serial killer, who targets wealthy widows and is dubbed by the Police and media as ‘The Merry Widow Killer’. Charlie’s identity is as yet unknown, but the Police have gathered many leads and are beginning to suspect him.

Charlie gets on a train and travels to Santa Rosa. He goes to stay with his beloved elder sister, Emma (Patricia Collinge), and her husband Joseph ( Henry Travers). Charlie is happy to see them, and they are happy to see him. Charlie is overjoyed to be reunited with his teenage nice (and namesake)Charlie (Teresa Wright). These two have a fascinating relationship. They have an almost telepathic bond with each other and can read each other like a book. Young Charlie looks up to her uncle and sees him as a breath of fresh air in her life.

When Detective Jack Graham (MacDonald Carey) speaks to young Charlie about her uncle, she soon begins to suspect that her Uncle may well be hiding a dark secret. As she begins to investigate him he become suspicious and soon their relationship becomes one of cat and mouse.

When I first saw this film I was in my mid teens, and I picked up then a strong hint of something that almost seems like sexual tension to me between the two Charlie’s. The more I’ve watched this as I’ve grown older, I can still detect this weird tension between them. The way young Charlie behaves around Uncle Charlie, it is almost like she has a strong crush on him. 

There are also several scenes where they seem to act out things like a couple who’ve had a spat would (such as her acting weird around him, or running off and him chasing her and taking her to the bar.) Am I alone in noticing this tension? I find it hard to believe that something like this would be in this by accident. Everything Hitch included (even the smallest things)were included intentionally.

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Joseph Cotten is excellent here as a man with a very dark secret indeed, who presents a likeable front to the world.  This role showed what a good dramatic actor Cotten could be, it’s a shame he never again got a role quite like this. His famous speech about pulling back the fronts of houses to find swine is unforgettable. That speech (although chilling)is correct because behind closed doors many unpleasant things go on all the time that we are never privy too. In most cases neighbours, friends, family etc wouldn’t believe or accept those things as true if they were told, as the people involved come across as nice when they are out and about in public.

The film also focuses on the dual nature of Charlie and on why he is the way he is. It is revealed later that after a childhood head injury his personality changed. That to me suggests that his actions as an adult are down to his personality change caused by this injury. In regards to this I think Hitch was quite ahead of his time looking at psychology and other issues causing someone to do something unpleasant. He goes through life with two faces and personalities and switches between them as when it becomes neccesary.

Duality as a theme continues in the film with the nature of Charlie and young Charlie. She represents the innocence and joy he had as a child. He represents the reality of adulthood, innocence dies, and with pressures and responsibilities there is less joy to be had when you are grown, than when you are younger. Their characters are also almost like twins, and although they are separate they have this connection and outlook that makes them almost like one person.

Teresa Wright is excellent as the young woman who loses her innocence and sheltered nature quicker than she should have done. She captures the horror and disbelief of discovering an unpleasant truth about someone you love. Teresa is a very expressive actress, and in many scenes in this she doesn’t need dialogue as everything we need to know can be seen in her face.

Patricia Collinge is very moving as the devoted elder sister to Uncle Charlie. Emma clearly adores him and worships the ground he walks on, almost to the point of self delusion. You almost don’t want him to get caught for her sake. You know she would break when told the horrific truth.

An excellent film that is one of Hitch’s best in my opinion. It is also a good one to watch if you are after strong performances.

My favourite scenes are the following. The finale on the train. Uncle Charlie chasing Charlie into town and taking her to the bar. Young Charlie trying to get in the Library at closing time.

What are your thoughts on this film? Please share your comments below.

 

Thriller

Maddy’s Pick For The Weekend 5: Niagara (1953)

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I have never been to Niagara Falls in Canada, but when I watch this film I am always left feeling as though I have visited. Filmed on location, the falls play a key role (and provide a spectacular backdrop to most scenes)in this superb thriller.

Niagara is directed by Henry Hathaway. Newlyweds, Ray and Polly Cutler(Casey Adams and Jean Peters)are enjoying their honeymoon at a hotel right next to those famous falls when they are caught up in murder, jealousy and betrayal.

Staying at the same hotel is troubled war veteran, George Loomis(Joseph Cotten)and his stunning young wife Rose(Marilyn Monroe). Rose is having an affair and has plotted to have her lover kill George. At first it seems as those Rose’s terrible plans have succeeded, but we soon see that George has a few surprises in store for his wife.

Marilyn was a highly gifted comic actress, but she was also very good in dramatic roles too. I find it a real shame that her dramatic acting isn’t discussed or appreciated very much today, she is still primarily known for those comic, dumb blonde characters. If you want more dramatic Monroe, check her out in these flicks – The Misfits, Clash By Night , River Of No Return and Bus Stop(this has comedy in it, but her performance is quite serious.)

Marilyn does a terrific job of portraying a memorable femme fatal, making Rose sexy, devious and giving her own natural beauty and sexuality a somewhat sleazy quality (similar to Rita Hayworth’s performance in The Lady From Shanghai). As is always the case in a Monroe film, she steals every scene she is in.

Jean Peters(an actress who I think should have gone on to become a much bigger star)is excellent as the young woman who befriends George, and through her pure, girl next door qualities makes him realise not all women are like Rose. I also like how Polly is independent and tries to take care of herself and offer help to George.

I find Rose and Polly to be very interesting characters depicting two different types of women, one good, kind and pure, the other shallow, deceitful, beguiling and seductive. It’s Polly’s qualities that last the longest in life and are the most meaningful, looks fade after a time, and a shallow, selfish person won’t find lasting happiness.

Joseph Cotten superbly portrays a man riddled with jealousy, personal demons and doubts. This is quite a different role to ones he usually took and he gets to show what a good dramatic actor he was.

My favourite scenes are the following. Polly and Ray taking a boat trip to the falls and going under and behind them(and Polly catches sight of Rose and her lover kissing),the falls being lit up at night, Rose singing with a group of teenagers playing records, the nail-biting finale on the runaway boat and Rose trying to escape at the bus station.

A thrilling story, with some twists, Marilyn at her best and some beautiful location work all help to make this a must see.

Any other fans? Never seen it? I hope you check it out sometime.