shadow of a doubt - Barrons

shadow of a doubt - Barrons

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) U.S. (Skirball, Universal) 108m BW Director: Alfred Hitchcock Producer: Jack H. Skirball Screenplay: Gordon McDonell, Thornt...

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Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

U.S. (Skirball, Universal) 108m BW Director: Alfred Hitchcock Producer: Jack H. Skirball Screenplay: Gordon McDonell, Thornton Wilder Photography: Joseph A. Valentine Music: Dimitri Tiomkin Cast: Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey, Henry Travers, Patricia Collinge, Hume Cronyn, Wallace Ford, Edna May Wonacott, Charles Bates, Irving Bacon, Clarence Muse, Janet Shaw, Estelle Jewell Oscar nomination: Gordon McDonell (screenplay)


When interviewed by admirer and famous acolyte François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock referred to Shadow of a Doubt as his favorite film. Tellingly, it’s also one of his least flashy works, a quiet character study set in the heart of suburbia. Although the heart of his suburbia is still rotten with murder and deceit, Hitchcock emphasizes traditional suspense beats over intricate set pieces, stocking the story with just as much uneasy humor as tension. Charlie (Teresa Wright) is elated when her uncle and namesake Charlie (played to smarmy perfection by Joseph Cotton) comes to visit her and her mother. She soon suspects her revered Uncle Charlie is actually a serial killer, “the Merry Widow Murderer,” on the run from his latest killing. Once on to her suspicions, her Uncle Charlie doesn’t seem interested in leaving behind any loose ends, but the younger Charlie doesn’t know how to reconcile her affection for her uncle with her fears. Hitchcock actually shot Shadow of a Doubt on location, in the small town of Santa Rosa, California, the better to tear apart the flimsy façade and expose the bland, safe suburbs for the hotbed of secrets it no doubt is. The script, written by Thornton Wilder with input from Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville, takes perverse glee in destroying preconceived notions of quiet, small-town life. The film is also peppered with numerous references to twins and the duality of good and evil, paralleling the trustful and innocent Charlie with her dangerous and deceitful uncle. Dimitri Tiomkin’s score keeps the suspense ratcheted up, particularly his use of Franz Lehar’s “Merry Widow” waltz—the signifier of Uncle Charlie’s guilt and the haunting motif that represents the horrific inclinations he can barely disguise or suppress. A pair of nosey neighbors also offer a running commentary, discussing the various means and methods by which a murder might be committed and then covered up. That a real murder lurks right next door provides dollops of ironic humor. The neighbors continue to ruminate on various homicidal scenarios as Charlie races to settle her conflicted feelings for her Uncle Charlie before he permanently does it for her. JKl

Italy (ICI) 142m BW Language: Italian Director: Luchino Visconti Producer: Libero Solaroli Screenplay: Luchino Visconti, Mario Alicata Photography: Domenico Scala, Aldo Tonti Music: Giuseppe Rosati Cast: Clara Calamai, Massimo Girotti, Dhia Cristiani, Elio Marcuzzo, Vittorio Duse, Michele Riccardini, Juan de Landa

Ossessione (1943) One of the great speculative games one can play with cinema history centers on Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione: what if this had been the picture that heralded the arrival of an exciting new film movement from Italy, and not Roberto Rossellini’s Open City in 1945? It would have indeed been interesting, but alas we’ll never know; because Visconti’s screenplay was clearly lifted from James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, Cain and his publishers kept it off American screens until 1976, when it had its much belated premiere at the New York Film Festival. Cain had just died, and probably never saw it—a pity, because he would have discovered the best cinematic adaptation of his work. Massimo Girotti is Gino Costa, a sweaty, T-shirt-clad drifter who lands a job in a roadside café run by portly opera buff Bragana (Juan de Landa). Bragana has a wife, Giovanna (the luminous Clara Calamai, Rossellini’s first choice for the Anna Magnani role in Open City), and it isn’t long before Gino and Giovanna are in each others arms, making plans to get away. Adhering closely to Cain’s storyline, Visconti is immensely aided by the sheer physical chemistry between Calamai and Girotti; all of Cain’s descriptions of burning flesh and animal lust are rendered in Ossessione with an almost frightening intensity. Consequently, the whole economic imperative for the eventual murder takes somewhat of a backseat here. Visconti also doesn’t avoid the obviously homoerotic overtones of Gino’s relationship with “lo Spagnolo” (Elio Marcuzzo), a Spanish street performer with whom he goes on the road for a while, rather remarkable when one considers the film was made under the Fascist regime. One scene that surely would have delighted Cain, himself the son of an opera singer, is the local opera competition in which Bragana performs. A gruff and somewhat unapproachable figure—a far cry from Cecil Kellaway’s bumbling fool in Tay Garnett’s 1946 Hollywood version of the novel—he suddenly comes alive as he bursts into an aria, with a final flourish that brings the assembled listeners to their feet. Ossessione could have been the great example of the union of American film noir and Italian Neorealism; instead it remains something like the ancestral missing link for both movements. RP