Starring 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
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Expectations: Super high. I love Hitchcock.
Shadow of a Doubt opens very mysteriously as Charlie Oakley lies on a bed in a boarding house. Money is strewn about the floor, but Charlie doesn’t seem to mind. He does mind when two men come calling after him, so he quickly gives them the slip and sends a telegram to his older sister. He’s coming to stay with her family, and it’ll be a grand ol’ time! As the audience we aren’t exactly sure what’s going on and why people are looking for Charlie, and it is this constant questioning and evaluation of the situation at hand that makes Shadow of a Doubt an absolute thrill to watch.
Many thrillers place an emphasis on a ticking clock or some other overt tension, but such devices are not necessary in the hands of a master like Alfred Hitchcock. Instead, the film is set in the small town of Santa Rosa, CA (population roughly 12,600 according to the 1940 US census). Every character in the film wears a smile and goes about their business with a polite attitude. There are no villains in sight, but there are suspicions and rumblings of things being not what they seem. In lesser hands this kind of taut, yet subtle tension could have come across as boring or misguided, but Shadow of a Doubt actually ranks as one of Hitchcock’s most suspenseful films. The tension is so thick you could cut it with anything you have handy, sharp or otherwise.
I often think of Alfred Hitchcock as the quintessential entry-level classic film director. His films are always entertaining, and they are well-liked by enough of the population that if you admit to liking them you can usually find someone in a crowd that will agree with you. As you would expect of someone with this reputation, the film is expertly shot. It’s not nearly as flashy as Hitchcock’s later films, but the shots all feel skillfully planned and with specific purpose. I should note that “flashy” probably isn’t the best word to describe his later films, but in relative terms something like Vertigo would most definitely be flashy in comparison to Shadow of a Doubt. Anyway, while the whole film is well-shot, the close-ups are especially impactful. There’s only a few truly tight close-ups (these kinds of shots were rather rare at this time in film history), but each one here is designed specifically to twist the screws of your mind, to get you as quick as possible to that “Aha!” moment that good thrillers thrive on. Hitchcock was always good as such things, and his work here is flawless.
If you enjoy classic films, Shadow of a Doubt is a no-brainer. I wouldn’t call it an entry-level classic film, but it’s a definite candidate for those looking to expand their viewing outside the top favorites of yesteryear. Hitchcock was a master, and Shadow of a Doubt is yet another piece of evidence of that.
Shadow of a Doubt was a part of the 2013 Blind Spot Series where I see one movie a month that I feel I should’ve seen a long time ago. It’s all the brainchild of Ryan McNeil over at The Matinee, one of the web’s premiere film blogs. Head over there tomorrow where he’ll have a post of his own for the series, as well as links to all the other people taking part in the series.