Hitchcock on Family Life: “Shadow of a Doubt” (1943) starring Teresa Wright & Joseph Cotten

[1] Joseph Cotten is the perfect charming monster.

[2] As for Teresa Wright, she finds some good notes as well in playing off of Cotten… …those kids are just the right icing to the cake the film cooks up.

[3] One of my favorite elements in the movie is the ongoing dialogue between Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn, avid mystery readers who are constantly discussing the best ways to murder each other. Apart from being a bit of comic relief… it also demonstrates how lightly people think of murder and murderers… until they encounter them face-to-face.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Young Charlie: We eat and sleep and that’s about all. We don’t even have any real conversations. We just talk.

Charlotte “Charlie” Newton (Teresa Wright) is bored w/ her uneventful life, living in Santa Rosa, CA, w/ her family. She knows exactly what they need- a visit from her well-traveled/sophisticated Uncle Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten), her mother’s younger brother. Out of the blue, they receive a telegram from Uncle Charlie announcing that he is coming to visit. Uncle Charlie creates a stir as the new man in the small town, dressing stylish and charming locals. Young Charlie begins to notice some odd behavior on his part. Two strangers, Graham (Macdonald Carey) and Saunders (Wallace Ford), come to interview the Newton family, saying they were chosen for a national survey. It turns out that they are (undercover) detectives!

Uncle Charlie: The whole world’s a joke to me.

Uncle Charlie: I guess heaven takes care of fools and scoundrels.

One reason Sir Alfred Hitchcock considered this to be his favorite movie was that he loved the idea of bringing menace to a small town. Hitchcock believed that the expensive and sturdy, but weathered and worn, look to the house would give the suggestion that the Newton family could be anyone, an average American family in any American town. Edna May Wonacott (book-loving/chatty Ann) and Estelle Jewell (Young Charlie’s friend Catherine) were locals of Santa Rosa, where the movie was filmed. Many of the extras were also locals of the town. The story is lightened up by the patriarch, Joseph (Henry Travers), and his eccentric neighbor, Herbie (Hume Cronyn- in his first movie).

Young Charlie: We’re not just an uncle and a niece. It’s something else. I know you. I know you don’t tell people a lot of things. I don’t either. I have a feeling that inside you there’s something nobody knows about… something secret and wonderful. I’ll find it out.

In his interview with François Truffaut in 1967, Sir Alfred Hitchcock said the dense, black smoke coming from the train that brings Charles to town was a deliberate symbol of imminent evil. Some viewers may have missed his cameo; he is playing cards on the train w/ his back to the audience. The waltz tune is Franz Lehár’s “the Merry Widow;” the nickname of the killer is the Merry Widow killer. Charlie’s sister, Emma (Patricia Collinge), mentions that he’d had an accident on a bike as a boy; his personality changed after the accident (getting into mischief). I learned that Collinge wrote the romantic scene in the garage between Young Charlie and Graham.

You can watch the movie (for free) on YouTube!

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