Shadow of a Doubt

Shadow of a Doubt ★★★★½

Usually, Hitchcock’s standout films involve the innocent man trying to absolve himself of accusations and crimes he truly did not commit, but this one here is in a different ballgame. Charlie (Joseph Cotten) is on the run and ends up visiting his sister’s family — the oldest of the kids, Charlotte aka Charlie (Teresa Wright), is named after him, and very proudly. Coincidentally, she wanted Uncle Charlie to visit and liven up what she saw as a bored unit of parents and kids. However, there is more than meets the eye about the man she looks up to.

Hitchcock tends to have this peculiarity in which characters display a charming nonchalance. And in moments of thrill and suspense, that sort of charm tends to outweigh the feeling audiences are supposed to have — very prevalent in North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much, etc. Of course that isn’t in all his films, this one in particular. Joseph Cotten’s charm is of a sinister breed and it makes one hope that his Charlie Oakley isn’t who he allegedly is — the “Merry Widow Murderer.” The disappointment does hit and, at least for me, stays with the hope that he is not a murderer but the innocent and nice younger brother of Emmy Newton and inspirational uncle to young Charlie. The thrills, the hope, the intrigue, and conclusion hits. And that charming nonchalance? It’s there, but it more so waits around for its moment to do some work.

In writing this, the film is continually rising through the ranking of Hitch’s movies. It just might be one of his best works. The use of blocking and lighting to accentuate the positions of power and weakness is quite something. Cotten really does well in making one want to believe he’s innocent and shutting down the idea that he’s an evil person — just as Teresa Wright’s young Charlie wants to perceive him as well. There’s the idea of evil coming to a sweet, idyllic, and accommodating town, and it will always fail to succeed in light of good. Uncle Charlie exudes a tricky evil charisma, while young Charlie is full of an angelic captivating innocence. And by the way, Teresa Wright just may be one of the cutest actresses of that era. Yes, there were plenty of beautiful women of classic 40s-50s Hollywood, but since seeing The Best Years of Our Lives, Teresa captures the eye in a unique way. Somewhat as if her presence onscreen gives you the impression that everything’s gonna be alright. Dammit, I’d say she makes great wife material!

But anyways, this is a great film. And no question even Hitchcock considers this as the best and most favorite of his works. Probably the smoothest of Hitch films. Oh, and please, y’all, just quit it with the whole incest idea between Charlie Oakley and Charlotte “Charlie” Newton. Jeez.

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