Saturday, February 20, 2010

1943: Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock)

1943: Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock)
For awhile, it was hard for critics to think of Hitchcock as an artist.  He was the "master of suspense" and a wonderful entertainer, but it wasn't clear that his movies aimed for anything higher or more profound than that.  I'm not sure they always did, and for some reason in Hitchcock's case, I have no problem with it.   

What was it?  Was it Hitchcock's sense of humor?  Was it the way he would keep us guessing, depriving us of knowing for sure how the story would turn out?  Or was it simply the pure visceral thrills that he seemed to so easily provide?  Really, I'm not sure of the exact answer.  But whatever it was, Hitchcock could entertain at times in a way that would completely satisfy me, without ever seeming to directly address my more intellectual side.  

Shadow of a Doubt is a perfect example of the above for me.  It's fun, entertaining from beginning to end, creepy, darkly humorous, but it never really forces me to question anything above and beyond the story. All right, maybe it's just good moviemaking.  The story is extremely well-written, perfectly cast I would argue (particularly Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright), full of some fantastic set pieces, and demonstrates Hitch's understanding and mastery of suspense as well as any film he ever made.  

It's Hitchcock as I like him most.  He's distilled down to his role as master entertainer.  And it would be years before the French New Wave guys let him in on a little secret -- he might also be an artist. 

Other contenders for 1943: This is the sort of year that gives me a slight complex.  I didn't realize, really, how many key movies I still have to see until I started doing this countdown.  But this year, as much as any, exposes some serious gaps.  From 1943, here are all the major movies I have never seen: Jacques Tourneur's I Walked with a Zombie, Howard Hawks' Air Force, Henri Georges Clouzot's Le corbeau, Fritz Lang's Hangmen Also Die!, Carl Theodor Dreyer's Day of Wrath, Jean Renoir's This Land Is Mine, Raoul Walsh's Northern Pursuit, Robert Bresson's Les anges du peche, Howard Hughes' The Outlaw, Jacques Tourneur's The Leopard Man, Mark Robson's The Seventh Victim, and William Wellman's The Ox-Bow Incident.  Given that I've seen very little from this year, it makes sense that I only have one true runner-up. Michael Powell's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is another one of these movies that takes its time and gives us an unusually well-rounded look at the life of one man.  I've only seen it once, many years ago, but I remember it being human, epic, and very moving.  But, alas, I gave the year to Hitch as this is one of his films that I've always loved the most.  

9/1/10 I watched Jacques Tourneur's The Leopard Man.  I know it has a huge reputation, and I did enjoy it - it certainly achieves an extraordinary amount given its limited means.   And Tourneur/Lewton certainly understand the power of suggestion as well as anyone I've seen.   

9/10/10 I watched Henri Georges Clouzot's Le corbeau.  I was excited to finally see this one as I know it was a key film to Truffaut during his formative years.  Although I find it a little too talky and plotting and perhaps even a little dated, there are some extremely interesting moments.  I especially liked some of Clouzot's close-ups, and it was interesting to me to see how the idea of a character running from his past identity might have informed Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player.

9/15/10 I watched Carl Theodor Dreyer's Day of Wrath.  It's a film with a huge reputation and one that certainly has a real special strength to it. Although I would have to say that I still prefer his Joan of Arc, Ordet, and Gertrud, I found this film to be incredibly powerful, as well.  I'm not sure I understand all the subtext, but Dreyer proves to be unusually skillful with nature, actors, and providing his films with a special heft and sacredness.  

9/17/10 I watched William Wellman's The Ox-Bow Incident. Interesting to think how much of an influence it might have had on both the tone and look of Jarmusch's Dead Man.  The dialogue and feel of the film is stunningly modern at times.  And it once again confirmed how much the war factored in as subtext to the majority of the films made during WWII.  Wellman once again turns in a very interesting film.

9/17/10 I watched Jacques Tourneur's I Walked with a Zombie.  It's a very specifically directed film that maximizes all that it has.  I can't say that I fully connected to the story, but I certainly appreciate the strength that Tourneur was able to achieve from all his choices.  

9/22/10 I watched Mark Robson's The Seventh Victim.  Producer Lewton's reputation is valid - he's the master of lo-fi discomfort and offscreen sound, achieving masterful moments with the most limited of means.  Of all his work I've seen, this is probably my favorite.  

9/26/10 I watched Fritz Lang's Hangmen Also Die!  It's a bit long, perhaps, but Lang demonstrates many times how cinematic his eye was.  He also shows how baroque and dark he was willing to take his work.  Some incredible moments, and a personal film, albeit a bit propagandistic.  

7/13/11 I watched George Stevens' The More the Merrier.  An offbeat, tonally strange romantic comedy.  Some of the romantic stuff seems to defy the Hays Code, which is fun to see, but it was hard to ever fully get into rhythm with the thing.  

10/17/11 I watched Jacques Becker's Goupi Mains Rouges.  My least favorite of the Becker films I've seen.  Has a terrific scene near the end in a tree, but otherwise not as engaging as some of his other work.  

11/16/13 I watched George Stevens' The More the Merrier again.  I am sure there have been great studies done on the correlation between viewer state of mind and a response to a work of art.  Even though I pride myself on having a fairly good first response that rarely shifts significantly one way or another upon a subsequent viewing, I have had occasion where I completely change my opinion.  Here is such a time.  I am not sure how I could have ever made the comments above as today I found this to be one of the most wonderful, moving romantic comedies I have ever seen.  The chemistry between Arthur and McCrea is downright dangerous and Coburn is the lovely force, both funny and wise, that keeps the fires stoked.  A new favorite and a lovely film that I hope others get to savor soon.  It brought me the exact pleasure I needed on this glum Saturday.

5/19/14 I watched Raoul Walsh's Background to Danger.  I found it entertaining enough.  Full of twists and turns and Lorre and Raft are always fun to watch.  It was tough though for me to get terribly invested in the plot or any of the characters.  Definitely not top tier Walsh.  Just decent wartime entertainment.  

5/4/19 I watched Raoul Walsh's Northern Pursuit.  There were some impressive action sequences and Flynn was good as usual alongside Walsh.  But none of it felt truly passionate or memorable.  

11/23/21 I watched Tex Avery's Who Killed Who?  Inventive but not my thing at all.  

2/7/22 I watched Robert Bresson's Les anges du peche.  In a rare case, Bresson emerges in his first feature already a masterful filmmaker.  His style is not yet fully formed, that would not happen until his third feature, but his understanding and command of the medium's power are fully present.  

Although I imagine there is a way to view the film, being that it was made in 1943, as a film of resistance, I experienced it at face value as a film of faith.  As such, it demonstrates faith as well as anything I have seen on film.  Bresson finds the cinematic tools to make us understand certain beliefs, such as sacrificing worldly materials to attain a true spiritual state, that in less skilled hands would leave us unmoved and unenlightened.  I experienced the film not only as a film about faith but as an indication of Bresson's faith in the medium of cinema to plumb the depths of human experience and to emerge with emotions of a deep spiritual and intellectual revelatory power.

10/23/22 I watched Billy Wilder's Five Graves to Cairo.  One of Wilder's first American films, made before Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard.  Showing up on Rosenbaum's extended 1000+ essential films, it is not surprising that Rosenbaum was a fan.  He tends to champion films that take a more honest look at history and consistently places more importance on that aspect of a film than whether it is entertaining, moving or stylish.  I have never seen a mid-war propaganda film that was any more unflinching.  It seems so much of its time that you can still smell and taste the war on it.  


  1. Jeffrey, SHADOW OF A DOUBT, which was Hitchcock's personal favorite among his films, is a laudatory choice, and one that does as you astutely note, demonstrate the master's command of building suspense. In ways I thought the later Laughton film THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER bore some pacing similarities, and i am also reminded mightily of Sir Carol Reed's THE FALLEN IDOL.

    For me, it's a firm choice: Dreyer's DAY OF WRATH, a brilliantly thematic and ravishingly photographed tratise on witchcraft, which ranks among the greatest films in the history of the cinema. But the Hitchcock you are going with, the Lewton/Tourneur collaboration I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, Bresson's LES ANGES DU PECHE, Maya Deren's avante gaarde MESHES FOR THE AFTERNOON, Powell and Pressburger's LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP and the Robson/Lewton THE SEVENTH VICTIM are masterpieces, and I might also be inclined to add Clouzot's LE CORBEAU to that shortlist.

    My Own #1 Film of 1943:

    Day of Wrath (Dreyer)


    I Walked With A Zombie (Tourneur/Lewton)
    Les Anges du Peche (Bresson)
    Meshes in the Afternoon (Derren)
    The Life and Daeth of Colonel Blimp (P & P)
    Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock)
    The Seventh Victim (Robson/Lewton)
    Le Corbeau (Clouzot)
    My Lerned Friend (Hay)
    The Ox-Bow Incident (Wellmann)
    Heaven Can Wait (Lubitsch)
    The Leopard Man (Tourneur/Lewton)
    The More the Merrier (Stevens)
    The Song of Bernadette (King)

    Another wonderful analysis/consideration of your own top film here!

  2. I love Shadow Of A Doubt too, it's definitely one of my five favorite Hitchcocks, and while I totally agree with you that a film doesn't have to say anything to be great, I think Shadow Of A Doubt has a lot to say about the nature of violence, and its relationship to human institutions and establishments (here, suburbia).

    For me, though, it's no contest. 1943 belongs to Colonel Blimp. I'm an Archers nut and I'm never gonna change, and 1943 begins one of the most extraordinary streaks in cinematic history. For the next five years (at least) my favorite movie of that year is whatever Powell and Pressburger are up to. The reason that Colonel Blimp is my favorite film of 1943 (and A Canterbury Tale is my favorite film of '44 and I Know Where Im Going is my favorite film of '45 and A Matter Of Life And Death is my favorite film of '46 and Black Narcissus is my favorite film of '47) is that just like when I'm watching a movie directed by Tarkovsky or Tati or Malick, while I'm watching a movie directed by Michael Powell I feel like there's no way a greater director ever lived.

  3. We just watched this film the other night and "I, Confess" the week before. I feel it was one of Joseph Cotton's best performances/roles. And Teresa Wright was amazing. Love how Hitch makes use of comedy with the chatty kid. The mother, played by ?? was also wonderful.

    Charly (Wright) adding it up after reading the article in the paper at the library is classic Hitchcock. We know that SHE knows -- but what will she do with this knowledge? How will she react? Who does she tell?

    Same for "I, Confess" and many of his films. The protaganist is carrying a lot of emotional weight on their shoulders, in their head and heart. These layers stack up to create powerful suspense.

    Great to come across your blog!

    Happy viewing,


  4. Sam, thanks so much for your excellent comments! Wow, I've never thought of SHADOW OF A DOUBT and THE FALLEN IDOL as siblings, but I think you're absolutely right. What an interesting observation.

    I can't say I know THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER well enough to make that connection. But you could absolutely be on to something with that one, as well.

    I still need to see DAY OF WRATH, and I plan to very soon. Given my love of some of Dreyer's other work though, it's almost guaranteed that I'll totally fall for this one, too.

    Thanks, Sam, as always, for the great knowledge and wonderful comments!

  5. Doniphon, great comments! I still have some gaps in my Powell and Pressburger but definitely share your love for COLONEL BLIMP and BLACK NARCISSUS. I imagine I will love the other three you mention, as well, when I catch up with them (something I expect to happen soon!)

    I hear your points about the subtext of SHADOW OF A DOUBT and don't disagree at all. I think what I was trying to say, more than anything, was that it's a movie I respond to primarily in a visceral and emotional way. Or, in other words, watching this Hitchcock for me isn't really an intellectual experience, like maybe I have with some of his later work or with the work of many other auteurs.

    Always great and instructive to hear from you. Thanks!

  6. Thanks, Jeff! All great stuff, and I couldn't agree more.

    I particularly love these sentences:

    "The protaganist is carrying a lot of emotional weight on their shoulders, in their head and heart. These layers stack up to create powerful suspense."

    I CONFESS is a Hitchcock I still need to see, but I plan to in the near future.

    Thanks again for the great comments!

  7. I was trying to decide what I wanted to watch last night and saw that you had this one listed as your choice for 1943... and since I had been planning on revisiting it at some point in the near future anyway, I decided to watch it last night. It's definitely a great one. I place just behind my personal favorite Hitchcocks (Rear Window, Psycho, Rebecca, and Vertigo) but it's very close. And it's a great contender for the best film of '43. But ultimately I have to stick with my original choice - Jacques Tourneur's I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. I think it's the best movie that Val Lewton ever made and second only to Out of the Past in Tourneur's work. Here is a top 5 for me for '43:

    1. I Walked With a Zombie (Tourneur)
    2. Day of Wrath (Dreyer)
    3. Five Graves to Cairo (Wilder)
    4. Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock)
    5. Air Force (Hawks)

  8. Jeffrey, certainly a fantastic choice though for some reason not one of my favorite Hitchcock's. That said, just about any Hitch is better than most films. He certainly captures the feel of small town America in the 1940's. I always loved the dark humor of his films. My own personal pick is "The Ox-Bow Incident", a tense downbeat western with outstanding performances and a strong indictment on mob rule and group mentality. A great film by Wellman.

    #1 The Ox Bow Incident

    Other choices in order...
    Shadow of a Doubt
    The Seventh Victim
    I Walked with a Zombie
    The More the Merrier
    Heaven Can Wait

    I too have some gaps in this year (Hangman Also Die, Le Corbeau and Days of Wrath among them.

  9. Dave, I noticed this morning that you had just re-watched this! I'm so glad that you had a good experience with it. I still have to see the other four of your top five list, but I'll report back here as soon as I watch them.

    Thanks, as always, for the excellent comments!

  10. John, thanks so much for the great comments! I need to see THE OX-BOW INCIDENT and have already added it to the queue. I'm really looking forward to it.

    Thanks, as always, for sharing your wonderful perspective! Glad to see I'm not the only one with a few gaps here and there.

  11. Hard to argue with any Hitchcock choice. This isn't a top-tier one for me but I love Cotten and Wright in it, and it's certainly a fine movie.

    My own top choice would have to be I Walked With a Zombie, one of Lewton's best films if not his absolute best, and an utterly haunting work of low-key horror. The same year, of course, also yielded the Lewton/Robson Seventh Victim, an almost equally great film, a kind of poem to death. I also love Meshes in the Afternoon, and the very underrated Air Force, one of Hawks' great ensemble pieces.

  12. I'll add to the love for the Lewton films -- both ZOMBIE and SEVENTH VICTIM are fantastic. I haven't seen SHADOW OF A DOUBT in many years, but I remember it being great fun (you made a good point about how it's simply an entertaining yarn instead of something that tries for an deep introspection).

    My top film for the year would be THE OX-BOW INCIDENT, sort of a film-noir Western that show Wellman and Henry Fonda at their finest.

  13. Ed, great stuff! I hate to say I haven't seen the two Lewton pictures yet, but I have already added them to the queue.

    At some point, I'd also love to see if I could get a list of your 10 favorite Hawks (or even 15!). As someone who loves him as much I do but knows him better, it'd be instructive for me to see how you rate them.

    Thanks, Ed!

  14. Troy, thanks so much for the great comments! I definitely want to see the Lewton films and THE OX-BOW INCIDENT soon. They're all three already on the queue, and I can't wait!

    Always fantastic to have your perspective! Thanks, Troy.

  15. Will be curious about your opinions on Lewton once you see some of those; he's a pretty essential figure for 40s cinema.

    And as requested, here's my top 15 Hawks:

    1. Only Angels Have Wings
    2. His Girl Friday
    3. Rio Bravo
    4. The Big Sleep
    5. Twentieth Century
    6. The Thing From Another World
    7. El Dorado
    8. Hatari!
    9. A Girl in Every Port
    10. Ball of Fire
    11. Monkey Business
    12. Ceiling Zero
    13. Scarface
    14. The Big Sky
    15. Air Force

    These are tough to rank, though, and I love all of those so much that their placements could vary from day to day.

  16. Ed, I'm really excited to see these Lewton films! I'll post back (in red) as soon as I've seen them. I've already done some retroactive posting on my 1926, 1927, 1928, and 1930 entries.

    Thanks so much for the Hawks list. It's awesome to have as I move forward, I really appreciate you taking the time to send that my way.

    Thanks, Ed!

  17. Among my top five Hitchcock absolutely extraordinary work.

  18. Thanks so much, Jeremy! Great to see you here. And wonderful to hear that you and I are on the same page with this one.

    Everyone, please check out Jeremy's awesome blog and list that he's in the middle of now, too: