Sunday, November 26, 2023

Hitchcock's favorite

With very few exceptions, I really enjoy films directed by Alfred Hitchcock. One of my favorites is "Shadow of a Doubt." From "Hitchcock’s Tale of Small-Town Evil":
...Hitchcock always claimed to hold in special regard his 1943 drama of small-town life threatened by the presence of a killer, “Shadow of a Doubt.” Joseph Cotten starred as Uncle Charlie, a murderer whose preferred victims are affluent widows but who, like so many Hitchcock villains, manages to charmingly conceal his villainy—especially to his worshipful family. ....

Hitchcock efficiently establishes the character of Uncle Charlie, whose natural habitat is presented in the film’s opening: Under a false name, he occupies a run-down rented room in an ugly, uninviting urban environment. Charlie is first seen lying in bed, a cigar in his hand and cash by his side, while brooding over his next move. After learning that two men are on his tail, he makes a hasty exit and seeks refuge in the bosom of his adoring relations in Santa Rosa, Calif. We do not yet know the specifics of Charlie’s criminality, but we know he is up to no good.

In a masterstroke, Hitchcock presents Charlie not in the company of criminals but, to better draw a contrast, among his wholesome, innocent extended family: his excitable sister, Emma Newton (Patricia Collinge); her doddering husband, Joseph (Henry Travers); and their three well-adjusted children, especially their eldest daughter—nicknamed for her uncle by his sister—Charlie (Teresa Wright). In a delicious touch, Young Charlie—as she is credited in the film—is also introduced in a supine position: She, too, is seen brooding in bed. This Charlie is discontent with what she takes to be a dull, complacent existence. “We just sort of go along and nothing happens,” she tells her father...

This psychological drama is set against the richest sociological portrait Hitchcock ever attempted. Hitchcock uses the splendid setting of Santa Rosa—its tranquil neighborhoods, gracious front porches, patient policeman monitoring a street crossing—not just as atmosphere but to render Uncle Charlie a stranger in a strange land. He not only hails from a place geographically distant from Santa Rosa, but proves to be far slicker and more sardonic than his homespun kith and kin. Intuitively, Young Charlie says at one point that her uncle conceals an enigmatic inner self, but she is still startled when she first registers the reality that he is likely the sought-after “Merry Widow Murderer”—a jolt underlined by the rising in volume on the soundtrack of Franz Lehár’s “Merry Widow Waltz.” .... (more, but perhaps not available to non-subscribers)

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