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  Shadow of a Doubt The Girl Who Knew Too Much
Year: 1943
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey, Henry Travers, Patricia Collinge, Hume Cronyn, Wallace Ford, Edna May Wonacott, Charles Bates, Irving Bacon, Clarence Muse, Janet Shaw, Estelle Jewell
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  9 (from 1 vote)
Review: Uncle Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten) lies in his boarding house bed in Philadelphia contemplating his next move. His landlady enters and informs him there were two men asking for him, and he tells her next time they arrive to send them up - but he has no intention of seeing them, and shortly after he walks straight out of the building, through the rundown neighbourhood and away, losing the two men in the process. He has sent a telegram to his sister Emma (Patricia Collinge) in the small town of Santa Rosa, telling her to expect him...

Where just at that moment his niece, also called Charlie (Teresa Wright), is lying on her bed, suffering an existential crisis of sorts as she ponders there must be more to life than quiet, small town America. Of course, there was, but it was not as benevolent as she might have liked to think, or how she might have anticipated from her experience so far, and so it was in the early nineteen-forties for many Americans, many people all over the world in fact, as the Second World War was spreading and consuming countless lives along the way. This meant director Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt was very much a film of its time, yet as the years go by its themes of loss of innocence seem more relevant than ever.

Hitch often said this was his favourite of his films, and if it didn't always come out top of lists of his greatest movies, then that might have been down to the way it was one of his least flashy or showy works as the thrills creep up on the audience much as they do Wright's Charlie, to the point that suddenly it is out of control and she has gained the knowledge that the safety she felt and took for granted, dismissed even, was under threat after all. When Uncle Charlie arrives in Santa Rosa on a menacing steam locomotive it heralds the gentle complacency the place has been basking in all these years is about to be challenged, and in this manner Shadow of a Doubt was a surprisingly modern film in tone.

Young Charlie likes to observe that she and her uncle are very much alike, her mother having given her the beloved brother's name, but the further the story progresses the more she learns to resist this previously cherished belief as she finds out more about him. Uncle Charlie, you see, is wanted for the so-called Merry Widow murders, and is hiding out there in the hope that the other man who has been identified as a suspect is caught first - but we know that this charming relative is actually a cold-blooded psychopath, and young Charlie begins to realise that as well. There was a lot of script input here from Thornton Wilder, the author of the classic American small town play Our Town, and Hitchcock evidently took great delight in putting the cat amongst that work's pigeons.

Yet for all the dark humour in this tale - bank clerk father Joe (Henry Travers) likes nothing better than to plan murders he will never carry out with neighbour Hume Cronyn - there was a strong note of melancholy sounded here as the disillusionment ran deep. In its odd way this was one of Hitchcock's most curiously moving films, for though he was never one to aim for the audience's tearducts that fact that the heroine is put through such heartache as she grows up sharply to come to terms with a world she would rather not have known about strikes an emotional chord, especially as the decades go by and we see innocence lost with increasing regularity. Tragedies like Uncle Charlie or the enormity of the war shouldn't have happened to such sweet people, but they have and with Cotten's superb performance of the outwardly smooth yet inwardly wretched villain as much eliciting that as Wright's equally excellent bruised purity, Shadow of a Doubt could justly be seen as one of Hitchcock's most layered and substantial works. Music by Dimitri Tiomkin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Alfred Hitchcock  (1899 - 1980)

Hugely influential British director, renowned as "The Master of Suspense" for his way with thrillers. His first recognisably Hitchcockian film was The Lodger, but it was only until Blackmail (the first British sound film) that he found his calling. His other 1930s films included a few classics: Number Seventeen, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Secret Agent, Sabotage, The Lady Vanishes, Young and Innocent and Jamaica Inn.

Producer David O. Selznick gave Hitchcock his break in Hollywood directing Rebecca, and he never looked back. In the forties were Suspicion, thinly veiled propaganda Foreign Correspondent, the single set Lifeboat, Saboteur, Notorious, Spellbound (with the Salvador Dali dream sequence), Shadow of a Doubt (his personal favourite) and technician's nightmare Rope.

In the fifties were darkly amusing Strangers on a Train, I Confess, Dial M for Murder (in 3-D), rare comedy The Trouble with Harry, Rear Window, a remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, To Catch a Thief, the uncharacteristic in style The Wrong Man, the sickly Vertigo, and his quintessential chase movie, North By Northwest. He also had a successful television series around this time, which he introduced, making his distinctive face and voice as recognisable as his name.

The sixties started strongly with groundbreaking horror Psycho, and The Birds was just as successful, but then Hitchcock went into decline with uninspired thrillers like Marnie, Torn Curtain and Topaz. The seventies saw a return to form with Frenzy, but his last film Family Plot was disappointing. Still, a great career, and his mixture of romance, black comedy, thrills and elaborate set pieces will always entertain. Watch out for his cameo appearances in most of his films.

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