A young girl looks forward to a visit from her uncle, but when he arrives she uncovers a mystery that proves he isn’t all he seems to be.
Alfred Hitchcock, 1943
Teenage girl Charlie Newton (Theresa Wright) lives in a small town with her family, and she’s starting to feel a sense of ennui. Meanwhile, her Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) is being pursued and needs a getaway, so he heads off for a family reunion. At first Charlie and her family are excited to see the erstwhile uncle, embracing him with open arms. It’s not long before she notices him acting strangely – tearing up newspapers, grabbing her arm, and insisting on a roll of film containing a picture of him be taken out of the camera belonging to two men who come to do an article about the family. It doesn’t take Charlie long to realise that the so-called reporters are actually detectives looking into Uncle Charlie, so she looks at the newspaper he tore up and discovers that it was about the Merry Widow Murderer. She puts the pieces together, and then she has to figure out how to protect herself and her family.
I looked into this movie because it was one of the inspirations for this year’s brilliant Stoker (and because I love Hitchcock), and it holds up really well. There’s an undercurrent of misogyny in Uncle Charlie that’s undercut by his niece’s intelligence and kindness. The women of the Newton family are all interesting, from the forebearing mother (Patricia Collinge) to Charlie’s smart, very serious younger sister Ann (hilarious Edna May Wonacott). The dad reads murder mysteries and discusses them with his nerdy best friend Herbie (Hume Cronyn), who’ll eventually put all that speculation to good use. The romance plot between Charlie and detective Jack (Macdonald Carey) is undercooked, but then the story is really about a falling out of love between the two Charlies. Theresa Wright is delightful as young Charlie, but Joseph Cotten puts in a fantastic performances as Uncle Charlie, all sinister rage simmering under the surface of good manners and charm.
I couldn’t help feeling that some of the movie was missing; I watched it on DVD, but there were at least two scenes that ended abruptly or felt like they were missing something. The actual courtship between Charlie and Jack is completely missing. It looks alright, with some interesting angles, but Hitchcock hadn’t really come into his own as a visual director yet. The structure and build of the plot is typically brilliant; it’s a simple story, but it bubbles with tension in small moments, like Charlie humming a waltz or Uncle Charlie insisting she ride in the car with him. The menace is palpable, but it’s balanced with some humour and a great heroine in Charlie. The ending is a bit too tidy, but the journey there is worth traveling.
Shadow of a Doubt on IMDb