Charlie (Teresa Wright) is in a state of despair. She believes her family are far too boring and ordinary, and prays for a miracle to save them from this rut. This miracle manifests in the form of her mother’s brother, the man she was named after, Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten), who is coming to stay for reasons undisclosed. The family and entire town are quick to embrace Uncle Charlie, with his lavish gifts and big city thinking, but young Charlie begins to suspect that all may not be as it seems, as her uncle seems to be hiding something.
I had high hopes for Shadow of a Doubt. It had recently been recommended to me my two separate people (Jess at French Toast Sunday and T Sorenson from, um, T Sorensen 1001 Movie Blog) and it was one of the sources of inspiration for one of my favourite films from last year, Stoker. Also, it was apparently Hitchcock’s favourite of his own films. Plus, it’s one of the 19 Hitchcock films on the 1001 Movies List (but then again, so was Marnie). Alas, I didn’t like it.Shadow of a Doubt feels like a handful of good scenes, nice ideas and great performances, all tied together in a manner that didn’t sit right and was wholely unsatisfying To begin with, the entire family was far too ecstatic for their Uncle Charlie to be coming to stay. I couldn’t quite get past how anybody could actually look forward to a relative visiting for an extended period of time, but perhaps that says more about me than the film. I can understand Young Charlie being so excited, but everyone else seemed relatively happy to begin with, so what’s with all the face-breaking grins?Regardless of how good Joseph Cotten was in the role of Uncle Charlie, I never really bought into the character. He makes a big thing about not liking to be photographed, and for a career he simply says he’s “In business.” From what we later learn (and initially guessed from the outset) about Uncle Charlie, you’d expect him to have a bit more of a cover story to him, and he’d probably be more likely to shy away from large gatherings than is the case here. This is especially evident when, during a dinner conversation, he suddenly goes into a speech about fat greedy city women being left large sums of money by their now dead husbands. This felt completely unnatural within that scene. I understand for the purposes of the plot it provides Young Charlie with further evidence to fuel her suspicions, but it didn’t sit right with me in terms of actually making sense, especially during that scene, making it seem clumsy and crow-barred in.Other areas that didn’t make a great deal of sense included the leap made from Young Charlie going on a date with a man supposedly interviewing the family for a newspaper, to her accusing him of being a detective on the hunt for her uncle. I don’t recall any evidence pointing her in this direction, and the cut is made from the two of them laughing together to her accusing him of deception. Later, Young Charlie feels the need to go to the library to look into a newspaper that may contain information about what her uncle is keeping secret. She has no real sense of how serious this information may be, yet she must immediately go there at that very second, despite the fact that they close in 5 minutes time, so she has to run the whole way and endanger her life in the process. There’s no sense as to why she couldn’t wait until the next day, it was just a desperate attempt to add some tension and edge-of-the-seat moments into the film, which the overzealous score attempts to do on numerous occasions as well, often to laughable effect.It wasn’t all bad, though. I really liked the opening scene, with Uncle Charlie laid out on a bed, a stash of money strewn out beside him whilst he smokes his cigar. His landlady is quite a character, and I was sad not to see her again in the film, and there’s an ensuing chase sequence as Charlie attempts to lose the two detectives on his trail. Also, the character of Young Charlie’s younger sister Ann (Edna May Wonacott) is the epitome of precocious children. Her telephone conversation may be my highlight of the film (she’s trying to keep her mind free of things that don’t matter because she has so much on her mind. Innumerable things. Also, she’s maybe 10 years old.). I also loved the conversations between Young Charlie’s father Joe (Henry Travers) and his neighbour Herb (Hume Cronyn, unrecognisable from his turn as the Comms guy in Lifeboat). Both men are big fans of murder mystery novels, so every spare moment they have is spent concocting hypothetical ways in which they could bump off the other person. Herb himself was a great character, whose presence I could have used more of.Unfortunately, these few good moments and characters were not enough to save the film. I’m not sure why everyone raves about Shadow of a Doubt, but I was very disappointed.
Choose Life 6/10