Normally, when we do a review of one of the films on the 1001 Movies list, we attempt to link them to broader social issues; a great case in point is the last one we did, about the Henry Fonda vehicle The Ox-Bow Incident. Looking further back, it’s a thread that this series of reviews has embraced since even before it moved to Classically Educated.
But sometimes, a movie is so completely timeless that it forces you to take it on its own terms, without really looking into the broader social issues that engendered it. This could be because the director deliberately strove to keep them out, because the plot was compelling enough to make the viewer ignore them, or because the theme is so timeless that the setting could change in time without affecting it.
Alfred Hitchcock‘s 1944 film Shadow of a Doubt is such a film, mainly for the second and third reasons established above. This has often been cited as Hitchcock’s favorite film, and the reasons are clear to see – the tension is built brilliantly.
In most films, one of two situations arise: either the viewer is aware of things the characters aren’t, or both the viewers and the characters are equally in the dark, leading to a final reveal. For this film, Hitchcock chose to twist things around a little, and combine the two. The viewer has an inkling as to what’s going on, but isn’t quite sure – while the characters remain completely clueless… except for one, except at the very end.
Essentially, the plot revolves around a normal, happy family who gets a visit from a beloved uncle… who has a dark secret, or does he? One really can’t be sure.
Another notable thing about this film is that it really could only work effectively as a movie. If one removes the brilliant withholding of information that the film does by showing some scenes and not others, it would simply be a lineal thriller – and it would be impossible to do this effectively with any kind of novel with a consistent point of view. And that is what pulls it out of the ranks of the good films and puts it onto this particular list of greats.
It does help that the cast is a good one, with actors in the cast winning (for other projects, not this one) Oscars, Tonys and Emmies. And Hitchcock’s eye for talent wasn’t bad either – he gave future Emmy winner and Oscar nominee Hume Cronyn his Hollywood debut.
We’re not convinced it’s the man’s best film, as we prefer the earlier British films – but it definitely deserves to be one of the 1001 films.
Another little tradition we have when watching films that are seventy years old is to give a shout out to the cast members who are still alive. In this case, our regards go to Edna May Wonacott, who was 12 when she acted in this one!
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