Home > Uncategorized > Sunday Screening #32: Shadow of a Doubt

Sunday Screening #32: Shadow of a Doubt

If you’re lucky enough to live in Austin (hot), Texas then you’ll have an opportunity to sit in the World Famous Alamo Drafthouse Theater with my and watch this Sunday’s Screening on the big screen. The Drafthouse’s Cinema Club is presenting Shadow of a Doubt followed by insight into the film by Dr. Thomas Schatz. We did this once before with Bride of Frankenstein, and it is really nice to hear what an film professor has to add to our discussion. I will try to bring as much of his interpretation to the group as possible.

I’m sure many of you have seen Shadow of a Doubt before, and Hitchocock himself has referred to it as his favourite of his own films. If you’re in Austin hope to see you at the Drafthouse Sunday at 7:00pm.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. August 21, 2011 at 2:33 PM

    I’d seen Shadow of a Doubt once before and liked it all right, but I didn’t remember a whole lot about it. I recalled the girl who loves her uncle and the scene in the garage, but little else other than the broad strokes of the story (and that may be due to Hitchcock/Truffaut). I found my opinion of the movie didn’t change much from before. I love Joseph Cotten as the bad guy. There are many humorous scenes and the world of Santa Rosa is incredibly well-realized. Also, I find the idea of a man who the majority of the people like and only one or two know the truth about eminently appealing and it was handled very well in Shadow of a Doubt. But for some reason, all of the elements don’t gel into an outstanding whole for me.

    I felt like there wasn’t enough time spent with the girl in confusion about her uncle. She turned from blindly loving him to totally suspicious very fast. Even with the ring as a clue, her uncle’s explanation easily washes away her suspicion since the murderer could have sold it to the jeweler for cash. It’s hard for me to put my finger on what didn’t connect because there really is so much I like about the film, so I’ll be interested to hear what you guys have to say.

    Some notes on the film from Hitchcock/Truffaut:
    — Hitchcock felt the actor playing Det. Graham wasn’t suitable for the part, but any big actor thought the part wasn’t worthwhile. I thought he was fine.
    — The black smoke of the train that fills the station at the beginning was intentional to infer that a great menace was coming to town.
    — That waltz is called “The Merry Widow.” Now I get why it made Charlie so nervous!
    — Hitchcock doesn’t claim it as his favorite film, but that if he gives the impression of that, it’s because he feels it gives the logicians and the “plausibles” little to complain about.

    — I found the music to be overbearing and inappropriate much of the film.
    — I could watch a whole movie where the dad and his friend discuss murdering each other (but then, Hitchcock kind of did that with Rope, and I like it).
    — The first time I heard about the “don’t put your hat on the bed” superstition was in Stranger Than Paradise.
    — There’s a weird, sexual energy between Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten that kind of made me uncomfortable.
    — Just realized this: there is, quite literally, a merry widow in Shadow of a Doubt. Mrs. Potter.
    — Charly’s friend, Katherine, is a horndog.

  2. August 21, 2011 at 9:34 PM

    Just got home from the Drafthouse Ritz screening of Shadow of a Doubt. It’s always nice to get to watch great movies with a large enthusiastic crowd, and having a film professor introduce the film and talk about if afterwards is also nice.

    Some points Tom Schatz made during the introduction of the film:
    a) This was Hitchcock’s first wholy American film. It was shot in America and featured an American subject.
    b) One of the first films to ever be shot all on location.
    c) This is considered one of the films in Hitchcock’s “Female Gothic” series (along with Rebecca, Spellbound…etc). They are all a sort of retelling of the Jane Eyre story with a younger woman and an older man.

    I really enjoyed Shadow of a Doubt. It feels like one of those films that continues to be able to speak to audiences long after it’s release. For one thing, it’s Hitchcock. It’s hard to not enjoy Hitchcock films as he creates very enjoyable films. The nice thing about seeing this film with a large crowd is the amount of times the audience laughs throughout. Hitchcock once again does a good job of ratcheting up the stakes through-out the film, while also allowing the humor to be a release mechanism for the audience. There is a weird sexual tension between the Charlie’s that is unsettling, but in some ways seems to fit the film. It added something to the darkness/uneasyness of the film for me.

    After the film Schatz made several points, and answered questions from the audience. Some of the insights:
    a) Shadow of a Doubt is a film that introduced the direction Horror films would take 20-30 years after it (something horrible in the household causing horror). Interested to hear Nate’s thoughts on that. He also pointed out that Uncle Charlie’s introduction was basically the introduction used for vampires.
    b) This movies stock has consistently gone up since it’s release. Upon release some of the top tier reviewers gave it good reviews, but a lot of people didn’t quite know what to do with it.
    c) There are two levels of weird family interactions, as the relationship between Uncle Charlie and his sister seems to be weird, along with the two Charlie’s relationship.
    d) The movie does interesting things with P.O.V. and how the “gaze” of the film changes.
    e) Hitchcock once again has created a “villain” that the audience ends up pulling for despite themselves.
    f) The film becomes more dark (literally and figuratively) as it moves towards the climax.

  3. August 22, 2011 at 10:43 AM

    I find it interesting that Schatz uses the vampire comparison for Charlie and stating that it introduced the direction of horror because the first thing I thought of was that vampires have been “something horrible in the household causing horror” from their earliest representation. Sneaking into bedrooms, ingratiating themselves with hosts, seducing nubile young ladies. Maybe by “household” he means family, but even Hitchcock’s Sabotage from 1936 features a husband who is secretly a part of a terrorist organization and the family eventually finds out but not after serious harms comes to someone in the family. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t like pinpointing films as introducing a plot device that influenced future films when the odds are they didn’t. Plus, one could split hairs on the idea of “something horrible in the house” for eternity. That’s not a good basis for a sound theory.

    In Hitchcock/Truffaut, Hitchcock discusses how Shadow of a Doubt is structured around the number 2 (as is Strangers on a Train). I don’t necessarily think that means anything from a point other than filmmaking, but you can do with that what you like.

    I don’t agree that the audience is pulling for Uncle Charlie. Yes, he’s charismatic, but the audience gets frequent glances at his anger beneath his cool exterior. Plus, in my mind, pulling for him not only means hoping he gets away from the charges, but killing his niece. Did he mean that the audience hopes that he didn’t really commit the crimes? Because it’s also easy for the audience to root for someone who may not really be a murderer (and I know all of the clues and actions before the reveal point to him being guilty, but that didn’t stop Hitchcock — or the studio — from making a happy ending that didn’t make sense in Suspicion).

    • August 22, 2011 at 11:51 AM

      The vampire introduction of Uncle Charlie and the broader horror movie direction were two separate thoughts. As far as the “horrible in the household” he meant the change of horror films from say the Universal Monster movies, where the outsider or monster was causing the horror to films where a much less external force was causing the Horror (the two examples I am coming up with are Rosemary’s Baby where the baby is the horrific internal force and Pet Cemetery and the little kid neither are the greatest examples). I don’t think he was intending to attribute this change to Hitchcock, or pinpoint it as where this change started, he just mentioned it more or less as an aside. If you think that Charlie is going after Young Charlie, the vampire comparison makes even more sense in a way (her being the nubile young lady).

      Maybe to say the audience is pulling for him isn’t necessarily correct, I maybe should have said that he was a likable antagonist. I know that I had a feeling of regret when he perished.

      Another funny thing Schatz pointed out was a little vague, but was how the Sister (Young Charlie’s Mother) had basically introduced Charlie to his possible next victim, who was on the train with him.

      • August 22, 2011 at 4:14 PM

        I know they were two separate thoughts. I was just saying that when I read about the horror inside the home, my first thought was of vampires, so it was interesting that Shatz spoke of Cotten being introduced as one.

        I’d also argue that even though Uncle Charlie is family, he is an outsider. They don’t know what he does for a living and he’s rarely in their lives. They have an ideal of him that isn’t true. There’s probably some noise in the channel from Schatz’ words to your ears to you fingers to my eyes that’s not getting his exact point across.

        The Shining may be an appropriate film to discuss as internal horrific force.

        That point about the widow didn’t even occur to me and makes sense. I definitely wondered why Cotten was so keen on her apparent interest in him. Can’t believe I missed that.

        • August 23, 2011 at 2:14 PM

          Oh, interesting (you immediately thinking of vampires, and him mentioning the visual introduction to Uncle Charlie).

          True. He is more of an outsider, but the family treats him as one of them, and gladly welcomes him into their home.

          The Shining, good thought. It’s horrific force is about as internal as they come (well, Alien is too, but it eats its way external).

          The widow was very subtle. I didn’t put together that they Sister (mother) had introduced Uncle Charlie to her until Schatz mentioned it.

          (definitely some noise in the signal chain, my apologies).

  4. August 22, 2011 at 5:53 PM

    Good discussion going here! Schatz’s commentary is interesting, especially since so much has been said and written about this film. It’s hard to come up with new things to say about classics like these.

    Briefly, I’ll say that I totally agree that Uncle Charlie is a classic example of Hitchcock’s charismatic villains…he had this down cold, from Claude Rains’ character in Notorious, Bruno in Strangers on a Train, Vandamm in North by Northwest (which, as a totally random aside, may be my favorite Hitchcock movie)…the list goes on and on. Joseph Cotten plays the part perfectly.

    I always found the “little” clues that point to his villainy as very entertaining. Cutting up the newspaper that features an article about one of his killings and using it to play with young Charlie’s little brother, spilling the glass at the dinner table when she gets the name of the song right, the “jeweler rooked me” line, always struck me as clever high points. Although I will say that the scene where Uncle Charlie’s sister talks about his childhood head injury is cringe-inducing in how contrived it is.

    The dialogue is phenomenal. Of course there’s Uncle Charlie’s famous dinner scene monologue, which is fantastic, but then there are little gems, like when young Charlie’s sister says that their mother tries to bridge the distance between people talking on the phone “with sheer lung power.” Also, that scene features overlapping dialogue, which I don’t think was too common when this movie came out. Really a wonderful screenplay by Thornton Wilder.

    Hume Cronyn’s part is great. I always thought the very first shot of his character, timidly stepping into the frame, was so hilarious.

    I remember this random fact from the parts of Hitchcock/Truffaut I read…that Merry Widow waltz scene of people dancing looks like a stock shot, but was actually filmed for the movie.

    There are many more great things to say about this movie, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

    • August 22, 2011 at 11:09 PM

      I’m glad you brought up the dialogue. In my notes I commented on the fact that it’s witty, but realistic. It’s all totally organic and doesn’t feel a bit contrived, which is sometimes hard to get away from these days. My favorite interaction is this one:

      Young Charlie: Mrs. Henderson, do you believe in telepathy?
      Mrs. Henderson: Well, I ought to. That’s my business.
      Young Charlie: Oh, not telegraphy. Mental telepathy. Like, well, suppose you have a thought, and suppose the thought’s about someone you’re in tune with, and then across thousands of miles, that person knows what you’re thinking about and answers you, and it’s all mental.
      Mrs. Henderson: I don’t know what you’re talking about. I only send telegrams the normal way.

      My iconic image of Cronyn is coming over while they eat dinner. The fact that it happens often according to the mother kills me. I want to know what this guy is like at home.

      Sounds like you like the same things about Shadow of a Doubt that I do, John, and it sounds like you really enjoy the film. So, do you have any theories as to why it works as a whole for you and doesn’t for me? For me, it feels like the scenes don’t fit together smoothly or elegantly. At least that’s the best I can come up with right now.

      Also, I look forward to hearing some follow-up on “your more to say” comment.

      Andrea loves North by Northwest and it may have been the most fun I’ve had watching someone watch a movie for the first time because she was so into it. My favorite is Rear Window.

    • August 23, 2011 at 2:19 PM

      I question why they even introduced the “head-injury” it doesn’t add anything to the story (I guess it could be an excuse to why Uncle Charlie is evil).

      If I remember correctly Schatz said that Hitchcock himself re-wrote most of the dialogue in the film after Thornton had moved on to something else.

      • August 23, 2011 at 3:38 PM

        I agree…in fact, I think trying to explain why he’s evil is a mistake, and detracts from the story. Who knows why he’s evil, ultimately? That’s not important. What’s important is the profound effect this evil is having on the characters, particularly young Charlie.

        That’s interesting that Hitchcock rewrote a lot of the dialogue. Knowing Hitchcock’s predilection for dark humor, maybe he had a hand in the murder discussions between Herbie and young Charlie’s father.

        • August 23, 2011 at 11:51 PM

          I just wanted to agree with John about the “why” of evil not mattering. One of the many reasons the Halloween remake sucks donkey.

  5. August 23, 2011 at 3:30 PM

    I agree, the telepathy/telegraphy scene is great.

    I didn’t get a feeling of disjointedness between scenes. I will say that the final climactic scene at the end felt a little rushed. But I thought young Charlie’s transition from fully supporting Uncle Charlie to realizing he was a psychopath was pretty smooth. The undercover detective lays it all out for her, but, still not believing him, she goes to the library and finds pretty strong confirmation that he’s a murderer. I think she would have seemed slow or unsympathetically stubborn if she still didn’t get it then, especially since so many strong clues are given throughout the movie that none of the characters really pick up on.

    Also, that librarian sure was an old crone if I ever saw one.

    As for other great things, I think young Charlie’s father was really well-realized and portrayed. You really get the feeling that he’s a well-meaning but unambitious type of guy. His murder conversations with Herbie are wonderful–a great example of something that adds character and believable details to the story, while also poking fun at the film’s subject matter.

    There are also nice, Hitchcockian touches throughout, like the camera descending on young Charlie and Uncle Charlie when we first see them from opposite sides of the rooms they’re in, illustrating how they are diametrically opposed characters. And of course, her room is all bright and sunny, and his room is dark and seedy.

    Disturbing that the money Uncle Charlie has laying out in the open in the room is very likely from one of the women he killed.

    The choices the characters make about Uncle Charlie are interesting…young Charlie agreeing to keep things secret when Uncle Charlie confesses to being the Merry Widow Murderer, for the sake of her mother, and then her and even the detective agreeing to keep the whole town in the dark about it after the funeral.

    This clearly ties into a very Hitchcockian theme of the blurry line between guilt and innocence, explored so well in Strangers on a Train and others. In Shadow of a Doubt, this theme has a darkly poignant twist, as it’s a young woman’s innocence that’s been lost, weighted down with knowledge that would surely rock the sense of stability and trust that the mother and the entire town of Santa Rose cling to.

    A lot of interesting things at play here thematically that really elevate the film far above the status of just a solid thriller. Again, I want to mention Thornton Wilder’s screenplay, because as the playwright of “Our Town” he clearly brought to the film elements of innocent, small-town America that make this film unique and also serve as a perfect foil for Hitchcock’s darker themes. I think the combination of these two artists’ contributions work perfectly together.

    • August 23, 2011 at 6:46 PM

      Nate and I just had a telepathy moment.

    • August 24, 2011 at 12:02 AM

      May, I wish I saw the film in the same way as you. Everything you talk about I liked, too, but I still just walk away feeling, “that was good.”

      Things that stick in my throat:
      The relationship between Young Charlie and Graham
      How quickly the detectives find Uncle Charlie in Santa Rosa
      The head injury speech mentioned above
      The not-so-subtle attempts on Charlie’s life (wasn’t Uncle Charlie listening to the dad and his friend at all? [I do like that many decent murder ideas were offered, yet the ones used were so flawed])
      The exposition at the funeral (I think the audience can understand what Young Charlie thinks without her saying it)

      Something I just thought of regarding the Charlie’s is that if Uncle Charlie never tries to hide the article (and it would be silly for him to think his family might link him to that story), then Young Charlie never goes to the library to find out what was in it and she remains clueless (for a while at least) and may not believe a word of what the Graham has to say.

      • August 24, 2011 at 5:43 PM

        I agree the attempts on young Charlie’s life were none too subtle. Perhaps that was a concession to make the film more suspenseful and exciting for audiences.

        I also think the relationship between young Charlie and Graham was hastily sketched, but again, another concession to cram in an obligatory romance to the proceedings.

        I don’t mind either of these things since they just fit into the thriller genre expectations of the time. They’re not distracting to me.

        I do agree that all the explaining and wrapping up young Charlie verbalizes at the end is unnecessary. I think this is noticeable in several of Hitchcock’s films…Marnie comes to mind, and Psycho being the obvious example. I always strongly disliked that scene with that psychiatrist character just waltzing into the movie and lecturing the audience. Perhaps there was a consistent worry on Hitchcock’s part that the audience might not “get it.”

        • August 25, 2011 at 2:04 AM

          If there was one thing that is true about Hitchcock, it’s that the audience was his main concern, which makes the fact that his movies were so forward thinking kind of surprising. He challenged them with new concepts and technique, but still “pandered” to their baser instincts.

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