Find the list here: The Top 250 Films List Total Films Watched: 250/250

Sunday, 27 January 2013

#250 - 'Shadow of a Doubt' (1943)


"What's the use of looking backward? What's the use of looking ahead? Today's the thing - that's my philosophy. Today." - Uncle Charlie.

What better way to start this challenge than with an Alfred Hitchcock thriller.

'Shadow of a Doubt' tells the story of Uncle Charlie, a businessman who pays an unexpected visit back to his family. His elder sister Emma and his niece, also named Charlie - after her uncle - are delighted. Uncle Charlie brings gifts and charms some of the locals. Young Charlie begins to doubt her uncle's authenticity, after seeing him cut out a newspaper article. Two undercover detectives searching for the 'Merry Widow Murderer' - a man who takes advantage of, then kills wealthy widowers - are tracking Uncle Charlie. They suspect he is the murderer, so in order to try and find out more about him, they pose as surveyors, taking photographs and asking questions of the family. Uncle Charlie refused to take part, leading Young Charlie's suspicions to grow. She goes to the library and searches for the content of the newspaper article that she saw Uncle Charlie remove. It details the hunt for the 'Merry Widow Murderer'. Could this man, her mother's younger brother - her uncle - really be a cold blooded murderer?
Joseph and Herbie.
The tension is built up slowly throughout as Young Charlie begins to piece together what is going on with her uncle. As she gets closer to Jack, one of the detectives, she learns more about the real reasons why her Uncle has come to visit out of the blue. The scene where Herbie and Joseph are discussing how the 'Merry Widow Murderer' was allegedly found after walking into an aeroplane propeller and having to be identified through his clothing felt a little contrived. I suppose that main plot point had to be brought to the two Charlie's attentions but it could have been done a different way, like a radio broadcast for example. Herbie and Joseph provided some of the comic elements of the film, with the continued conversations on their methods on how to kill each other in the best way possible. Joseph's retort to Young Charlie's protestations - "We're not talking about killing people. Herb's talking about killing me and I'm talking about killing him" was a particular highlight.
Uncle Charlie.
The film was beautifully shot. Closer shots of Uncle Charlie's face became more prominent the more the audience found out about him. His knowing look speaking a thousand words. The newspaper article scene mentioned above was interesting. The article started with the large headline, "Where is the Merry Widow Murderer?" before slowly scrolling down to reveal the content of the article below in what struck me as a flash of a precursor to Lucas's scrolling Star Wars opening crawl. The scene on the steam train at the end of the film would have been a real shock to audiences back in the '40s. Modern viewers used to CGI and Michael Bay explosion-fests wouldn't bat an eyelid at the sudden jump cut used at the climax of the drama. The action is implied off camera. The jump cut adds to the drama and reflects the abruptness of the finale. 
The newspaper article.
It is no surprise to learn that Alfred Hitchcock would often claim that this was his favourite film. It is a character driven thriller that relies on great acting performances. You won't find any action sequences, chases or explosions which was quite refreshing. At one hour and forty three minutes it was a little long, with some scenes dragging on a little. Overall, it was an enjoyable beginning to the challenge, starting with a film I hadn't heard of before looking at the list. Two hundred and forty nine to go... 


 Up next, #249:

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