Hitchcock Blogathon: Shadow of a Doubt

This year’s Film Preservation Blogathon has a Hitchcock connection, click here to read all about it, thus I decided to write about Shadow of a Doubt. Partly because it is my favorite Hitchcock film and partly because today is Joseph Cheshire Cotten’s birthday. It’s a win-win. Look for the banner at the end of this post to donate to the cause.

I would be lying if I said that this post wasn’t going to be mostly hot pictures of Jo Cotten because, let’s face it, Jo Cotten was a hot man and Hitch photographed him so well. I will say, I do love this film for more reasons than just Jo’s pretty face, and I will touch on that a bit.

I’ve seen twenty-six of Cotten’s film and I would say his three best performances are as Leland in Citizen Kane, Holly Martins in The Third Man and Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt. If I were to recommend films to get yourself hooked on his curly locks and deliciously gruff voice, those would be the ones I’d say. Of course, then I would recommend another dozen or so because I don’t believe in moderation. When we first see him in this film, he is lying in bed and clearly just committed a murder. The look on his face says more than any dialogue ever could.

Just look at that face. Those eyes. Who needs words?

The relationship between Uncle Charlie and Teresa Wright’s young Charlie is one of the most fascinating relationships I think Hitchcock ever had in his films. It’s just as twisted and complicated as one would expect. In the film young Charlie says she understand him and, after all, she was named for him. But there’s this twisted sexual tension throughout the film as well. How Hitch managed to get that past the censors is beyond me. Cotten and Wright would go on to star as husband and wife ten years later in The Steel Trap.

Let’s just stare at his face for a bit, shall we?

Henry Travers plays young Charlie’s father and Hume Cronyn his friend and neighbor. Throughout the film the two of them play this bizarre game where they work out ways in which they would kill each other in a “perfect murder” type scenario. Gotta love the banality of the suburbs, eh?

This is a dream scenario right here. It’s also an important scene in understanding Uncle Charlie. I had this scene as a Movie Quote of the Day a few months back: “What’s the use of looking backward? What’s the use of looking ahead? Today’s the thing – that’s my philosophy. Today.

Teresa Wright is one of my favorite actresses. She was nominated for Academy Awards for her first three films: 1941’s The Little Foxes (Best Supporting Actress), 1942’s Mrs. Miniver (Best Supporting Actress, won) and 1942’s The Pride of the Yankees (Best Actress). This was her first film after those successes, and while she never managed to reach the same kind of success again, she worked steadily through the 1990s in both film and television. She also got to co-star with some of my favorite actors, including Lew Ayres.

LOOK. AT. THAT. FACE. This is a brilliant shot because Cotten’s Uncle Charlie delivers a terrifying line about how rich women are basically animals that deserve to be slaughtered and as he speaks Hitch moves the camera in closer and closer and it’s hard to figure out if you should be disgusted or completely turned on. That’s the genius of Hitchcock in action.

The bar confrontation scene is another favorite of mine in the film. Partly for the waitress who is so jaded that she doesn’t notice how uncomfortable young Charlie is, even though she thinks it’s odd that she’s there. Uncle Charlie delights in her discomfort and is equally charming as he is terrifying. I also love Hitch’s choice to use mostly a two-shot for this scene because you get to see Uncle Charlie’s terror and young Charlie’s reaction at the same time, heightening their connection. Whereas, if you mostly did shot followed by re-action shot (which he uses a little), the connection wouldn’t be as intense.

After the rift between Uncle Charlie and young Charlie, we get a similar shot to when they first met at the train, but this time they are walking away from each other, separated not only in distance, but in hight. It’s a chilling series of shots.

Gratuitous back of Jo Cotten’s head screencap.

Look at those curly locks. Uncle Charlie’s nonchalance after young Charlie survives his attempted murder is so perfectly done. Bravo, Mr. Cotten, bravo!

Lastly, I wanted to talk about the composition of shots in the final struggle between Uncle Charlie and young Charlie. Hitch starts out with a two-shot, focuses on their feet for a bit, then pulls into this extremely tight shot wherein their bodies continually come in and out of the frame. If you’re watching this and you’re not gripping the side of your chair, there is something wrong with you. I’m not going to write about the actual ending of the film because it is kind of a studio cop-out and I pretend it doesn’t exist.

Happy Birthday Jo Cotten! You were magnificent. Go watch his films. Go read his delightful autobiography, Vanity Will Get You Somewhere, and follow the link below to donate some money to help preserve a film:

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on May 15, 2012, in Classic Film and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I wonder why Hitchcock didn’t continue to work with Cotton after ‘Under Capricorn’; his performance in ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ really helps anchor that film. What if Cotton had been cast, for example, in one of Jimmy Stewart’s roles in ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ or ‘Rear Window’?

    I have to admit, one of my favorite Cotton appearances in in Orson Welles’ ‘Touch of Evil,’ as the mustached fellow laconically commenting on what’s left of a man caught in an explosion. You almost don’t recognize him at first — and then that Voice grabs you…

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