For my second evening of birthday favorite films I chose:
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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