The Tale of Two Charlie's
Hitchcock fans cover your ears because what I am going to say could be seen as sacrilege but I really don't care for "Shadow of a Doubt". Actually let me clear that up a bit, "Shadow of a Doubt" is a well made movie with some great Hitchcock touches and a clever storyline about a murderous Uncle but I don't find it that entertaining. I'm not sure what it is but watching "Shadow of a Doubt" to be entertained on a simple thriller level it never quite gets there. But then as is so often the case for those who enjoy the debate, the in-depth analysis of what themes Hitchcock is exploring will no doubt enjoy his look at duality and dark versus light.
Young Charlotte 'Charlie' Newton (Teresa Wright - The Rainmaker) is tired off her dull life with her family in the equally dull Santa Rosa and wishes that her Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten - The Magnificent Ambersons) would come for a visit to make things more interesting. Unbeknown to her Uncle Charlie is planning to do exactly that but for other reasons than just catching up with the family. Happy to see her Uncle, young Charlie soon discovers that he has a darker side a much darker side when she becomes suspicious that he could be the man behind the 'Merry Widow Murders' and that he has a couple of detectives after him.
I would imagine that "Shadow of a Doubt" was quite a spectacular movie when it was first released, it was Hitchcock's first full blown American movie and the exploration of duality probably captivated audiences as we watch the cat and mouse games between Uncle Charlie and his niece. But watching it now over 60 years after its release and the storyline just doesn't have that wow factor, or at least it doesn't really captivate as much as Hitchcock's later movies. Maybe it's because watched for pure entertainment it is relatively simple as we watch young Charlie discover that her beloved Uncle is in fact a murderer and it becomes a case of how far will he go to protect his secret as in will he kill his own niece. As such "Shadow of a Doubt" naturally leads its way to a big climax as things become fraught between Uncle and niece to the point that it is life or death. But to be frank watched for pure entertainment it isn't especially entertaining.
The thing is that "Shadow of a Doubt" is a movie which seems to beg to be analysed as much of it surrounds the subject of duality, dark and light, good and evil. And as such Hitchcock serves up plenty of talking points such as scenes which mirror each other such as the introduction to both Charlie's as they lie in their beds. There are also the camera angles, the use of shadows as representations of themes and it goes on and on as "Shadow of a Doubt" is full to the brim of talking points. As such it is one of those Hitchcock movies which in my opinion has greater appeal to cinematic intellectuals rather than those in search of pure entertainment.
Despite my issue with "Shadow of a Doubt" not being entertaining the acting is remarkably good. Joseph Cotten as Uncle Charlie manages to convey that darkness brilliantly, being all nice and charming one moment but snapping at the slightest provocation the next. It makes for an interesting character especially alongside Teresa Wright as Young Charlie a very similar character with a dark side but more moody rather the angry. It makes the interactions between the two interesting as there is almost a flirtatious nature going on which becomes darker the longer the movie goes on.
And whilst Cotten and Wright are central to making "Shadow of a Doubt" work the rest of the cast which includes Henry Travers, Hume Cronyn, Macdonald Carey and Patricia Collinge don't let things down. In what are almost a collection of polarized characters all of these actors manage to find the humour in them which plays alongside the darker storyline between the two Charlie's.
What this all boils down to is that "Shadow of a Doubt" is a well made movie but compared to many of Hitchcock's later movies it just doesn't entertain at the same level. But it almost feels with its themes of duality that "Shadow of a Doubt" is a movie which is made to be analyzed and discussed.