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Underrated Hitchcock Classic,
This review is from: Shadow of a Doubt [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Somewhat reminiscent of Orson Welles' The Stranger (1946), Shadow of a Doubt is a superior film about evil in the most unexpected places and the bottomless human capacity for denial. This seems somehow fitting since Welles directed Joseph Cotten to such acclaim in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), also a box office disappointment, and both give such excellent performances in Carole Reed's masterful The Third Man (1949).
In Shadow of a Doubt, Cotten plays Charlie Oakley, a widow murderer hiding from the authorities in his sister's pleasant suburban home. (In The Stranger, Welles plays a Nazi hiding from the authorities in another pleasant American suburb.) Just about everyone--but especially Charlie's adoring namesake niece Charlie (Teresa Wright)--is seduced by his charm and good looks and thinks he's an upstanding citizen.
But looks can be deceiving. The dinner table speech Cotten gives towards the end of the film is the essence of pure evil. It rivals the speech Welles gives to Cotten on the merry-go-round in The Third Man (and James Mason's "God was wrong" speech in Larger Than Life) as one of the most chilling in cinematic history. It's more subtle, but just as insidious. And you'll never hear "The Merry Widow Waltz" the same way again!
The script was co-written by Aldred Hitchcock and Thornton Wilder (Our Town, The Skin of Our Teeth). Although it's long been long assumed that Shadow of a Doubt was Hitchcock's personal favorite, this is not correct. He disputes the claim in Francois Truffaut's "Hitchcock" (the definitive text for Hitchcock enthusiasts). He does say, however, that the impression may be "due to my very pleasant memories of working on it with Thornton Wilder...it was so gratifying for me to find out that one of America's most eminent playwrights was willing to work with me, and indeed, that he took the whole thing quite seriously."
Hume Cronyn and Henry Travers (Clarence in It's a Wonderful Life) provide excellent support. Cronyn would appear in Hitchcock's next film, Lifeboat, also released in 1943. Shadow of a Doubt was a stellar effort from all involved. If it failed to find its audience the first time around, time has elevated the film--much like Welles' Touch of Evil (1958)--to the deserved status of classic.