In Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Teresa Wright does something no law enforcement agency is able to do.
She handily dispenses with a dangerous villain and makes The World A Safer Place. (Get this: She does so while wearing classic leather pumps and tailored outfits.)
Shadow of a Doubt (1943) is Hitchcock’s attempt to scare the pants off cozy, middle-class America – if such a thing existed during WWII. The film is about a psychopath (Joseph Cotten) who hides from federal agents by staying at his sister’s home in a small California town. The family is enamoured with Cotten because he brings them expensive presents and always finds flattering things to say.
Wright plays Cotten’s niece, a smart young women with an affinity for her uncle. They both have the name “Charlie”, along with a peculiar bond that is best left unanalyzed. Additionally, Wright is convinced she has a telepathic ability to communicate with her uncle.
Unhappily for Cotten, this nearly proves to be true.
When he first arrives at the family’s home, Cotten’s odd behaviour stirs Wright’s curiosity, but she pushes these feelings aside lest they taint her admiration. However, when a handsome law enforcement agent (Macdonald Carey) tells her Cotten is a murder suspect, she starts researching her mysterious uncle. She’s determined to prove the agent wrong, but evidence to the contrary soon becomes overwhelming.
Shadow of a Doubt has a top-notch cast, including Patricia Collinge, Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn. Joseph Cotten gives one of his best performances as the evil Uncle Charlie, complete with chilling stares and menace-laced taunts.
Some say this is Cotten’s film, but we disagree. We feel this film rests squarely on Wright and her transformation from adoring niece to fed-up adversary.
Wright has an extremely expressive face; it’s almost as though we can read every thought that enters – and leaves – her mind. This is crucial when a character like hers undergoes such a fundamental shift in worldview.
Not only that, Wright holds her own against Cotten, the acting veteran. He’s charismatic and compelling, but she doesn’t shrink in his presence. Even after he’s cajoled and insulted and threatened her, and she’s collapsed in tears, she remains a stubborn, defiant presence on screen.
A good example of this is when Cotten learns he’s no longer considered a murder suspect. Look at his smugness now! He has the condescending confidence of a man who can’t lose. Even though the law enforcement agents have left town – and left Wright to fear for her life – she still accuses Cotten with every withering glance. In these scenes, Cotten does most of the talking, as if to conquer her accusatory silence.
Finally she snaps and puts a stop to his endless crowing: “Go away, or I’ll kill you myself.”
That’s exactly what happens, in the end, although the film portrays this incident as an accident.
If you haven’t seen Shadow of a Doubt, you’re in for a real treat. All the performances are riveting, but none more so than Teresa Wright’s.
Shadow of a Doubt: starring Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, MacDonald Carey. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson, Alma Reville. Universal Pictures Company, Inc., 1943, B&W, 108 mins.
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Wonderful tribute to Ms. Wright! I love this film and always felt that it relies on Wright and Cotten as a team — if one didn’t keep up their end, the whole movie would suffer. SOAD is also a great example of Hitchcock’s great female protagonists. I think he gets an incorrect reputation for being “misogynistic,” when really his women characters are quite interesting and strong. But that’s a blog post for another day…
I agree. So many people think Hitch is a misogynist in his films, but I don’t see that. Wright is one example of a very, very smart woman who refuses to look the other way.
As for Wright and Cotten as a team, aren’t they fab? I love their on-screen chemistry.
Another Alfred Hitchcock movie I’m not familiar with – can’t wait to watch it! I look forward to seeing Wright in it, and noticing how her character changes over the course of the movie. I appreciate the things you point out so I’m not as likely to miss them. Sounds like another good one. Thanks, Ruth!
Teresa Wright is utterly compelling as this character. She undergoes such a dramatic change and makes it look logical and natural. She’ll have you cheering for her the whole time – guaranteed!
Thanks for highlighting the wonderful Miss Wright. I don’t know why her career didn’t take off after this film and then The Best Years of Our Lives.
Yes, Teresa Wright deserved to have a much more prolific acting career. She had so much talent! I’ve read different accounts re: the downfall of her career, but I’m not sure which is closest to the truth.
Ruth, I’m loving your superb post about SHADOW OF A DOUBT! I’ve always loved this powerful, Hitchcock film, with Writht and Cotten, include the great cast! Brava, my friend! Fun Fact: Cotten and Writht also worked together as husband and wife in THE STEEL TRAP!
Ah, “The Steel Trap” is one I’ve yet to see. I know I’ll love it with Wright and Cotten portraying husband and wife. Thanks for reminding me about that film!
Great stuff! This is my favourite Hitchcock film. It has everything you could want from a classic Hitchcock thriller, and more.
This is one of my fave Hitchcock films, too. Superb acting and the tension never lets up. You’re right – it has everything you could want from a thriller. 🙂
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Yes, Teresa Wright is quite excellent in SHADOW OF A DOUBT. Indeed, it’s very strong cast all around. My favorite part of the film, though, is the portrait of Americana “painted” by Hitch and Thorton Wilder. That makes Uncle Charlie’s inner killer all the more chilling.
True. When you observe how easily Uncle Charlie deceives the family – how easily they wish to be deceived – it is very chilling indeed.
Shadow of a Doubt is a superb piece of Film Noir. I agree Wright manages to hold own next to Cotton. And Cotton made for a really excellently evil Uncle Charlie. Great tribute to Wright, Cotton & of course Hitchcock!
Cotten gives an amazing performance in this film. You’re right – he is utterly convincing as the evil Uncle Charlie.
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This is one of my favorite Hitchcock films that I discovered recently. I love his films from the 40s…
I wanted to invite you to my first Blogathon!!! http://phyllislovesclassicmovies.blogspot.com/2015/08/announcing-they-remade-what-blogathon.html. Hope you can join!!!
I love his films from the 1940s too. “Shadow of a Doubt” is one I love to watch once a year.
This is my fave Hitchcock film. I watch it at least once a year. It’s always nice to see it get some love.
Me too! I watch it at least once a year also. One of my fave Hitchcock films. Performances are all superb.
Wright is not wearing “classic Vera West couture”. The fact is that she’s wearing classic couture by Adrian.
Thank you for correcting my oversight. While Vera West has credit for costume design, Adrian does have credit for Teresa Wright’s gowns.