Birthday Blogathon: Film #2 Shadow of a Doubt

For my second evening of birthday favorite films I chose:

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

From LIFE: Stroboscopic multiple exposure of Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten talking and struggling as characters from Alfred Hitchcock's film "Shadow of a Doubt."

Brief plot: Charlotte “Charlie” Newton is bored with her small town life and feels her family isn’t living to their full potential. She wants a miracle to come along-it does in the form of her namesake- Uncle Charlie Oakley. However, her beloved uncle has a dark secret. The film stars Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotton, Henry Travers, Hume Cronyn,  Patricia Collinge, MacDonald Carey and Edna Mae Wonacott.

 Why I love it:

I’ve seen 40 of Alfred Hitchcock’s 57 films that he directed. I like almost all of them, particularly those from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s but “Shadow of a Doubt” is by far my favorite.

It’s much different than most of his more famous films like “North by Northwest”, “Psycho” or “The Birds.” I feel like the danger of the characters in those films is a little far-fetched. Not many of us steal money from our boss and flee, are chased by an airplane or live in a town inhabited by crazed birds.  The terror of “Shadow of a Doubt” is more realistic and obtainable to the average person.

Most of the cast, receiving gifts from Uncle Charlie.

The Characters: Though Charlie considers her family “average” they are actually pretty quirky. Dad (Travers) and his buddy (Cronyn) get together each night and harmlessly discuss ways to murder people without getting caught. Young Ann (Wonacott) is nosy, intelligent and is reading “Ivanhoe” while her father is reading dime store mysteries. The mother (Collinge) isn’t the grounded, serious type of mother you’d expect from a small town-she’s no Emily Hardy. She’s flighty, clueless and never shuts up. They are not what I would consider your typical small town, 1940s family.  All of the actors in this film are prefect as well. Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotton are two of my all time favorite actors-not to mention Cotton is a huge heartthrob of mine.  Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn are adorable and Edna Mae Wonacott is hilarious.  Edna Mae hadn’t had any acting experience prior to this film, Hitchcock discovered her in her hometown of Santa Monica where the film was shot. You can read more in an excellent post The Lady Eve wrote about Edna Mae.

Location: It’s fun to see small town America in 1930s and 1940s films. I don’t know what Santa Monica looks like now, but I think it looks so beautiful in this movie. It’s also different than the locations we see in lots of other Hitchcock films.  “Rear Window” is in the city, “To Catch a Thief” is on the Rivera, “Foreign Correspondent” is in London,  “Lifeboat” is in the middle of the ocean.  Several of these film settings aren’t where your average American is going to be, but small town Santa Monica looks like the sort of place most Americans were familiar with during the 1940s.

Teresa Wright at the bottom of the stairs while Joseph Cotton looks down.

Camera Shots: This movie has some shots that are competitors with one of my all-time favorite shots-the strangling scene in “Strangers on a Train.”  Scene I love in “Shadow of a Doubt” include Joseph Cotton pacing back and forth and Hitchcock shoots up from the floor.  During another scene, Cotton is giving a rather powerful speech at the dinner table and we are looking at Cotton’s profile. Throughout the speech the camera gets closer and closer to his face until he looks straight into the camera and says the last word. So haunting and perfect. Another shot  interesting  is so simple but excellent. Joseph Cotton is walking up the stairs and turns around half way. We look down the stairs at Teresa Wright who is standing on the front porch with the door open looking back up at him. The angle along with the light coming in from outside and her shadow hitting the entry way floor is perfect.

Here is the scene with the speech I discussed-also my favorite part of the movie: 

Script: For a thriller, there are several funny, clever little lines in the film. One part that always makes me giggle is when Ann Newton (Edna Mae) is saying her prayers, “God bless mama, papa, Captain Midnight, Veronica Lake and the President of the United States.”

Another Ann Newton/Edna Mae line to Teresa Wright who is humming the Merry Widow Waltz: “Sing at the table and you’ll marry a crazy husband.” Younger brother Roger Newton says, “Supersticions have been proven 100% wrong.”

I also giggle when the father/Travers finds out they got a telegram: “I knew there’d be trouble if your Aunt Sarah got her license.”

But aside from the goofy little lines, there are some very powerful lines as well, such as the speech Cotton gives at the table about fat old widows and their money and later when he tells Wright that she is a silly, ordinary, small town girl.

Simple yet appropriate gown for Wright's character.

Fashion: This might seem silly, but I’ve always loved the clothes in this movie. The scene where Charlie is walking quickly, almost running away from her Uncle Charlie in downtown Santa Monica always sticks out for one main reason-Teresa Wright’s spectator pumps. While re-watching this, I thought about Wright’s clothes in this film and other movies she’s in like Mrs. Miniver. They dress her in very similar outfits: tailored suits and wide shoulders with white accents on the jacket or dress.  Even the evening gown she wears at the end is great. It’s not very glamorous, but it suits Wright’s personality and is appropriate for a small town high school girl. Joseph Cotton also looks severely handsome in every suit he wears. The only thing that bothers me in MacDonald Carey’s hair. What’s with that?

To Review: This has always been my number one favorite Hitchcock film-“Sabatuer”, “Foreign Correspondent” and “Strangers on a Train” following close behind. It pleased me very much that this was also Hitchcock’s personal favorite film. I think I like it so much because it’s simple and not very flashy. It gets overlooked by Hitchcock fans for this very reason but it has more meaning than most of his films-not to mention some of the best performances from all of these actors.

Here is the second speech I discussed about “ordinary girl in a small town”: 

 This concludes Night 2 of Birthday Blogathon Week. Please stop by again tomorrow for another favorite film of mine!

 Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page .

About these ads

6 thoughts on “Birthday Blogathon: Film #2 Shadow of a Doubt

  1. Interesting post! Shadow of a Doubt is my favorite Hitchcock film, too, for many of the same reasons you listed. I think Uncle Charlie may be the most insidious villain to ever populate a Hitch movie, in part because he is such a realistic monster, and Joseph Cotten plays him beautifully.

    • Its so great isn’t it? Its funny, because from what I’ve heard Jo Cotton was a really nice guy and in most of his other movies he’s a good guy too-but he plays that villain so so so so so well.
      And I think you are right, Uncle Charlie might be one of the most sinister of Hitchcock characters. He is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He’s so handsome and charming and sucks you in but he’s just using all of them to hide from his secret!

  2. I haven’t seen Shadow of a Doubt in forever, but in definitely watching it again soon after reading your post. I also loved Teresa Wright’s wardrobe.

    • Her wardrobe is so simple but kinda glamorous in an odd way. You definitely should re-watch it :) I just looked on TCM and its not showing in the next few months and I know its not on Netflix, but Im sure they’ll show it soon!

  3. I agree with everything you said regarding camera shots, I love Hitchcock for his mastery of lighting and intelligent use of angles, lens selection, and camera movements/dolly pulls. Nice to see you picking up on those aspects of his films

    • I always knew he was creative, but I didn’t know how great the shots and lighting were until I took TV Production and Winthrop Close-Up at school.
      Nortz is right, haha those classes ruin everything you watch!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s