Thursday, June 16, 2011

Day 57 - Shadow of a Doubt

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) directed by Alfred Hitchcock

I dunno. This one is universally acclaimed but I thought it was merely good rather than great. Part of the reason is that there really was no suspense to this film which is strange since I'm skimming through reviews saying how suspenseful it is. Perhaps part of me was looking for more twists and turns and hold your breath moments, but the film progresses exactly as how you'd expect it to. The film's title, Shadow of a Doubt, is kind of ironic since there really is no doubt at all. There aren't really any hidden clues or stealthy detective work going on as all the clues and details are presented rather matter of fact with little intrigue.

The film opens with Charlie (Joseph Cotten), a man hiding something and on the run. The birds eye view chase sequence between him and his two pursuers is well shot and exciting to watch even if it only lasts a minute or so, but it gives promise for the tone of the rest of the film. He sends a telegram back west to Santa Rosa, California where he has family, telling him he's coming to town to visit. The film then shifts over to said family. In typical Hitchcock fashion, the director paints a picture of normality in introducing the daily lives and routines of the family. I've noticed that many of his films typically start off slow and completely normal. They almost never open with action sequences or suspense, those elements are only introduced later after establishing characters and setting and so forth. It is what makes the scenes of violence or suspense even more jarring, as if to tell the viewer this could be happening to you right now in your very normal lives and setting.

Young Charlie (Teresa Wright), Uncle Charlie's niece of whom she is named after, is bored with her every day life and is excited that her uncle, whom she adores, is coming to visit for a while. Uncle Charlie is kind and charming, even giving every member of his extended family lavish presents. But he is also strangely mysterious and extremely guarded. He doesn't really go into details of what he's been up to back east and refuses to ever have his picture taken. From what we already know in the beginning scenes, we know he is hiding something, but exactly what? Is he a good guy that's hiding from bad guys? Is he a plain old bad guy? Or is it all simply a big misunderstanding? The intrigue for the viewer, and eventually Young Charlie who grows suspicious of her uncle's behavior, is to find out exactly what he's hiding. But therein lies the problem. You never get the impression that Charlie is anything but what he is being portrayed as. He is clearly a shady individual and when it's finally revealed what he's done, it isn't even that big of a shock.

So now Young Charlie knows the truth, but what is she going to do about it? Apparently not much. And Uncle Charlie will come to know that she knows, but what will he do about it? Apparently not much either. You never get the impression there is any danger at all going on until at least the end when it is not at all so subtle or mysterious.

I will say though that this film has plenty of great performances. Joseph Cotten is as handsome and charming as he is devious and sly as Uncle Charlie. Teresa Wright plays the part of the innocent girl turned investigator to a tee. You can sense just how uncomfortable she gets around her uncle through her nervousness and fleeting eyes that seem to always look away. Even the supporting cast is full of interesting characters. The youngest daughter Ann is adorable as a precocious young girl who is always reading something. "I've made a goal to read two books a week," she explains.

The film has some good comic relief in the interactions between the father of the house, Joe, and his friend Herb. Both are obsessed with murder stories and talk casually of how they would hypothetically kill each other. Joe opts to go for a blunt instrument to the head for simplicity sake. Herb objects, stating there is no sophistication at all and would make a terrible story. Joe retorts, "I don't care about stories, I'm just trying to kill you!" They have several other humorous conversations of the same matter throughout. How casually they talk about murder is funny, but also quite morbid especially when you realize there is such a shady character in the house in Charlie.

Shadow of a Doubt is well crafted and well acted, but the story itself lacks the thrills and chills I'd expect from Hitchcock. Still a solid movie though.

Grade: B-

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