Monday, July 12, 2010

Shadow of a Doubt

Hitchcock often said that this was his favorite movie out of his entire career, and while I can’t quite agree with him, it’s definitely in his top five. This one has it all -- murder, home invasions, family drama, dark humor, and even -- *sigh* -- an “adorable” child. Well, you can’t have it all.
The film stars Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten as Young Charlie and Uncle Charlie, two relatives that are about to be forced by circumstance back into each other’s lives. The circumstance in this case, of course, is that Cotton is a serial killer and he decides to run off to his relatives to hide out until the heat dies down back home. While Young Charlie and her family welcome him with open arms, she quickly realizes both that he has a secret and that the secret is something pretty scary. The second half of the film is effectively an extended game of cat and mouse between the two, as he tries to make sure she never talks about him and she alternates between trying to get him arrested and just trying not to be his next victim.

Perhaps it’s just my love of horror, but I always get a kick out of all of Hitch’s films where one of the main characters is a ruthless killer. Cotten, fresh off of his role in The Magnificent Ambersons, here manages to help propel his director’s career further rather than helping to ruin it (okay, that wasn’t Cotten’s fault, but he hardly helped matters) by being simultaneously charming and creepy in a lovingly Hitchcockian manner. Wright also does a fine job as the heroine, though I admit that my favorite scene of hers by far is when she randomly decides to run across the street while whipping her arms left and right like a total psychopath. Madness runs deep in this family, it seems.

The supporting cast is a bit of a mixed bag. Young Charlie’s dad is awesome, as he spends the whole movie debating the best methods of murder with his friend, and the pair effectively steal every scene they’re in. Somewhat less effective, to put it mildly, is the girl playing Charlie’s kid sister Ann (Edna May Wonacott). Much like the son in the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, she’s a stereotypical Hollywood incorrigible child that just makes you want to knock her teeth out every time she talks. She’s not quite as bad as the son in the other film, partially because she doesn’t talk as much, but she does have a tendency to just stand there reciting her lines and making you wonder what purpose she serves here. To be fair, she did go on to such higher profile acting gigs as Young Girl, Youngster, and her final performance as Studious Schoolgirl, so it’s clear that Hollywood saw something impressive in her that I just missed out on. Also, there’s a chance that I may have issues with wanting to assault children.

Rating: ****

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