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 all was not well behind closed doors,Alfred Hitchcock gave us all of that in just one film. That film is Shadow Of A Doubt. It is a nightmare depiction of discovering someone you love is not who you thought them to be. This film 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 great 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, young 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 in the way 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.
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 being 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 that Hitch was quite ahead of his time looking at psychology and other issues causing someone to do something unpleasant. Charlie goes through life with two faces and personalities and switches between them as when it becomes necessary.
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. Uncle Charlie on the other hand represents the reality of adulthood – the way that our innocence and joy dies as our lives become awash with pressures and responsibilities. The two Charlie’s are almost like twins and 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.