July 11th, 2008

SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943) ***

It has been said that Shadow of a Doubt was Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite film that he ever directed.  It’s certainly not mine (that would be Psycho), but I can see why he would like it so much. 


Joseph Cotten stars as Uncle Charlie, a seemingly normal guy who goes to visit his niece and namesake (Teresa Wright) in California.  They have a mutual admiration for each other and even jokingly refer to each other as “twins” because they’re so much alike.  Slowly but surely though, Little Charlie starts to suspect her uncle is actually “The Merry Widow Murderer”; a serial strangler who preys upon rich widows. 


The film is at its best when Hitchcock focuses on the relationship between the two Charlies.  Cotten gives one of his most memorable performances as the charming yet sinister uncle and Wright is also quite engaging as his niece.  Unfortunately, the film is rife with one too many supporting characters that gum up the works and abruptly bring the suspense to a screeching halt.  The chief culprit is Hume Cronyn (in his film debut) as a murder obsessed neighbor who has constant discussions on how to perform the perfect murder with little Charlie’s father.  Although Cronyn’s performance is amusing and his character provides some trademark Hitchcock black humor, he greatly distracts from the central dynamic of Charlie’s relationship with his niece.  Flaws aside, it’s all worth it for the suspenseful climax, which ranks among Hitch’s best stuff.   


Hitchcock did Lifeboat (also with Cronyn) next. 

NOTORIOUS (1946) ***


Cary Grant stars as a smooth talking secret agent who wants the boozing daughter of a convicted Nazi (Ingrid Bergman) to be a spy for the American government down in Brazil.  After he romances her a little, she agrees to warm up to a Nazi (Claude Rains) and infiltrate his organization.  When Bergman gets a little TOO close to Rains, Grant gets six shades of jealous, which threatens to compromise their mission. 


Grant’s debonair good looks, impeccable charm and unflappable sense of humor in the face of danger always made him the ideal leading man for the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.  Here he adds variable shades of grey to his usual persona and in turn, delivers one of his best performances.  Bergman looks as beautiful as ever and Rains, one of the most underrated actors of all time, does a fine job as the lovelorn Nazi with a domineering mother.


All the plot stuff about mixed loyalties and spying shenanigans are perfunctory as the real core of the story is the love affair between Bergman and Grant.  They’re really wonderful and their chemistry together makes up for the particularly sluggish pacing.  Despite the underwhelming stuffy machinations of the plot, Notorious is still worthwhile to see Hitchcock flexing his stylistic muscles.  Some of the camerawork is inventive and the famous “kissing” scene between the two leads (originally designed to get around the Hayes Code’s three second kiss rule) is quite memorable. 


The Paradine Case was the Master’s next.