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Universal Studios Home Video presents
"Are they? Are they human, Charlie? Or are they fat, wheezing animals? And what happens to animals when they get too fat or too old?"
DVD ReviewHitchcock films frequently dare us not to psychoanalyze them, and Dr. Freud would find plenty of raw material, from the mommy issues in movies like Notorious and Psycho to the castration nightmares that are fundamental to anything but the most facile interpretation of Rear Window. Shadow of a Doubt is a terrific movie in all kinds of ways, not the least of which is its abundance of doppelgangers, giving this film almost a more Jungian feel than a Freudian one. Sometimes the psychology here is so naked, the subtext so completely excavated, that it's laugh-out-loud audacious—and admittedly all of this talk may be better off in the lecture halls of the psych department or in the fifty-minute hour, because it doesn't convey what a creepy, menacing, thoroughly entertaining movie this is.
Hitchcock's dark sensibility here meshes perfectly with that of Thornton Wilder, the principal screenwriter on the project, making this movie seem like the bastard child of Our Town and Vertigo. Almost all of the action is confined to idyllic Santa Rosa, California, here functioning as a sort of Grover's Corners West, and focuses on the Newton family, the very picture of small-town contentment. Emma and Joe are the happy parents of three: little Roger, the youngest; precocious Ann; and Charlotte, known always and only as Charlie, out of school and on the verge of womanhood. Young Charlie is discontent and restless, though, for nothing ever happens in her town—what ensues is a classic Hitchcock lesson in being careful what you wish for.
For coming to town is Emma's brother and young Charlie's namesake, Uncle Charlie. A brief prologue shows him on the lam from the authorities, his pockets bulging with cash and jewels, one of two suspects in a series of homicides, the perpetrator of whom has been dubbed by the newspapers The Merry Widow Murderer. In truth Uncle Charlie's guilt is never very much in question, and he figures that he can cool off across the country in his sister's house, meshing into the picture of domestic contentment.
Hitchcock was famously dubbed the Master of Suspense, and though this is a great movie, there isn't much of the director's signature attribute—mostly, we're waiting for young Charlie to catch up to us about her uncle, and this becomes her moody, disturbing coming-of-age story, her first lesson about the darker angels of our nature. The confusion between the Charlies is deliberate, beginning of course with their names; they're introduced to us in almost identical scenes, each nearly cadaverous on a bed, wishing for change. And there's a deliberate sensuality between them, too—Uncle Charlie shows up with a gift for his niece, an emerald ring, which he places on her finger in an unsavory, unseemly parody of marriage. As so often happens, most of the family business is transacted over the dinner table, and Wilder and Hitchcock have put together a series of scenes that are fascinating and devastating. The best of these is Uncle Charlie's unprovoked, impromptu aria on the wives who do nothing but spend their husband's hard-earned money: "Drinking the money, eating the money, losing the money at bridge, playing all day and all night, smelling of money, proud of their jewelry but of nothing else, horrible, faded, fat, greedy women." It's the final ratification for young Charlie that her uncle is a murderer, that people aren't always what they seem, that there's more to life than the dewy morning streets of Santa Rosa.
There's the obligatory late-in-the-game romance, between young Charlie and one of the detectives looking for the killer, but it's not very convincing, because nobody's heart is in it—the one truly fascinating aspect of it is the behavior of Uncle Charlie, who acts like a jilted lover. Hitchcock assembles a pitch-perfect cast for this one, starting with Joseph Cotten as Uncle Charlie. There's something fundamentally good natured about the actor's screen persona, and Orson Welles showed it off terrifically in both Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, but here it's all about the dark notes, and the easy smile on Cotten's face makes him that much more terrifying. And Teresa Wright, probably most familiar now for her performance the previous year as Eleanor Gehrig, is marvelous as the small-town girl learning the dark lessons that no one wants to talk about. Also very good, in a small role as a cranky neighbor ODing on murder mysteries, is Hume Cronyn.
This supposedly was Hitchcock's favorite among his movies, and it's not difficult to see why: it's about the menace that lurks below every pretty picture, and there are elements of it in stories as varied as Blue Velvet, American Beauty and The Man Who Wasn't There (which is even set in Santa Rosa). It requires an extra bit of suspension of disbelief, but it's worth it—never came such poison from so sweet a place.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: Bacterial decay is frequently detectable; some of the photography still looks sharp, but this film hasn't been given the full-boat restoration it deserves, and that other Hitchcock titles have received.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: There are frequent sync problems with the audio transfer, with the picture galloping ahead a few frames at a time every now and again. Also, Dimitri Tiomkin's occasionally overheated score suits the story well, but it can be overwhelming at times on the mono track.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Box Set
Extras Review: Beyond Doubt: The Making of Hitchcock's Favorite Film (34m:47s) is heavy on the clips, intercut with remembrances from the director's daughter; cast members Cronyn and Wright; associate art director Robert Boyle; and Peter Bogdanovich. It provides a good brief overview, especially regarding the actors in the film, and tells us that one of the writers sharing screen credit with Wilder for the script, Alma Reville, is better known as Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock. You'll also find a look (06m:10s) at Boyle's beautiful production drawings, along with a gallery (08m:29s) of production photographs, chock full of publicity shots and international posters. The trailer on the DVD is for a re-release of the movie, and the production notes are brief but informative.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsI'm happy to throw my lot with the director and to call this my favorite Hitchcock picture, too—it's moody and brooding, and if you look just past its bravado and false sense of cheer, you'll find a study of the darkness of the human heart. Perhaps Thornton Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock brought out the best in one another, resulting in this sharp and unnerving motion picture. Very highly recommended.
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