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Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

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Article 1

'Shadow of a Doubt,' a Thriller With Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, at Rivoli

by Bosley Crowther

The New York Times, January 13, 1943 page 18

You've got to hand it to Alfred Hitchcock; when he sows the fearful seeds of mistrust in one of his motion pictures he can raise more goose pimples to the square inch of a customer's flesh than any other director of thrillers in Hollywood. He did it quite nicely in "Rebecca" and again in "Suspicion" about a year ago. And now he is bringing in another bumper crop of blue-ribbon shivers and chills in Jack Skirball's diverse production of "Shadow of a Doubt," which came to the Rivoli last night.

Yes, the way Mr. Hitchcock folds suggestions very casually into the furrows of his film, the way he can make a torn newspaper or the sharpened inflection of a person's voice send ticklish roots down to the subsoil of a customer's anxiety, is a wondrous, invariable accomplishment. And the mental anguish he can thereby create, apparently in the minds of his characters but actually in the psyche of you, is of championship proportions and -- being hokum anyhow -- a sheer delight.

But when Mr. Hitchcock and/or his writers start weaving allegories in his films or, worse still, neglect to spring surprises after the ground has apparently been prepared, the consequence is something less than cheering. And that is the principal fault -- or rather, the sole disappointment -- in "Shadow of a Doubt." For this one suggests tremendous promise when a sinister character -- a gentleman called Uncle Charlie -- goes to visit with relatives, a typical American family, in a quiet California town. The atmosphere is charged with electricity when the daughter of the family, Uncle Charlie's namesake, begins to grow strangely suspicious of this moody, cryptic guest in the house. And the story seems loaded for fireworks and a beautiful explosion of surprise when the scared girl discovers that Uncle Charlie is really a murderer of rich, fat widows, wanted back East.

But from that point on the story takes a decidedly anticlimactic dip and becomes just a competent exercise in keeping a tightrope taut. It also becomes a bit too specious in making a moralistic show of the warmth of an American community toward an unsuspected rascal in its midst. We won't violate tradition and tell you how the story ends, but we will say that the moral is either anti-social or, at best, obscure. When Uncle Charlie's niece concludes quite cynically that the world is a horrible place and the young detective with whom she has romanced answers, "Some times it needs a lot of watching; seems to go crazy every now and then like your Uncle Charlie," the bathos is enough to knock you down.

However, there is sufficient sheer excitement and refreshing atmosphere in the film to compensate in large measure for its few disappointing faults. Thorton Wilder, Sally Benson and Alma Reville have drawn a graphic and affectionate outline of a small town American family which an excellent cast has brought to life and Mr. Hitchcock has manifest completely in his naturalistic style. Teresa Wright is aglow with maiden spirit and subsequent emotional distress as the namesake of Uncle Charlie, and Patricia Collinge gives amazing flexibility and depth to the role of the patient, hard-working, sentimental mother of the house. Henry Travers is amusing as the father, Edna May Wonacott is fearfully precocious as "the brat" and Hume Cronyn makes a modest comic masterpiece out of the character of a literal-minded friend.

As the progressively less charming Uncle Charlie, Joseph Cotten plays with smooth, insinuating ease while injecting a harsh and bitter quality which nicely becomes villainy. He has obviously kept an eye on Orson Welles. And MacDonald Carey and Wallace Ford make an adequate pair of modern sleuths.

The flavor and "feel" of a small town has been beautifully impressed in this film by the simple expedient of shooting most of it in Santa Rosa, Calif., which leads to the obvious observation that the story should be as reliable as the sets.

© 1943 The New York Times

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