Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Journey Into Fear (1943)

'Journey Into Fear' was adapted from the Eric Ambler novel of the same name from 1940. The movie was completed in 1942, but it wasn't released theatrically, and in at least two altered forms, until 1943. More about that later. Eric Ambler was a prolific and well-known British author of mostly spy novels. Several of his novels were made into movies, such as 1939's 'The Mask Of Dimitrios' which was made a movie of the same name in 1944 (the novel was released in 1939). His 1937 novel 'Uncommon Danger' was turned into a movie called 'Background To Danger' in 1943 which was also the title under which the book was released in the US. His 1962 novel 'The Light Of Day' was put on the screen in 1964 by Jules Dassin as 'Topkapi'. The list goes on however, and in the case of 'Journey Into Fear', it does not end with this 1943 adaptation either. It was also used as source material for an episode on the 50s TV series 'Climax!', as well as a 1975 movie. Ambler also developed and co-wrote a tv series around the book's protagonist, Howard Graham, also to be called 'Journey Into Fear', but that never made it past the pilot episode. I would love to see that pilot episode however. And of course it was also made into a radio play, which happened more often than not in those days. In this case, 'Journey Into Fear' appeared as an episode on the well-known 'Escape' radio show in 1950, and can be heard here.

Anyways, let's focus on the 1943 movie, because there is plenty to say about this movie, especially about the involvement of Orson Welles. But let's first state the 'facts' as stated in the credits roll of this movie. The movie was directed by Norman Foster, after Joseph Cotten, the lead actor in this movie, turned it into a screenplay. Cinematography was handled by Karl Struss ('The Great Dictator') while Roy Webb ('Notorious', 'Out Of The Past') did the score. But as shall be explained further down, all is not what it seems... or so it seems.

The story revolves around Howard Graham (Joseph Cotten), a naval engineer working for an armaments manufacturer, who's in Istanbul, Turkey for a night with his wife Stephanie (Ruth Warrick), on their way to Batoumi. A local company representative, Kopeikin (Everett Sloane), takes Graham to a small nightclub where part of the entertainment consists of a magician's act. Graham gets asked to participate in one of his magic acts, and when it's over, the magician is shot dead. Graham realizes it was an attempt on his life, it would take some time to replace him, and in the meantime Turkey could not get any guns, which would give them a major disadvantage in the war against nazi Germany. Kopeikin and Graham make their way to the office of the police chief, Colonel Haki (Orson Welles), who tells Graham he knows a nazi agent named Mueller has ordered his killer Banat (Jack Moss) to take care of Graham. Seeing as they're on to Graham, Haki puts Graham on a small cargo boat to Batoumi, ensuring him his wife will be guarded and will travel to Batoumi safely. On the boat he sees Josette (Dolores del Rio) again, a sultry dancer he met at the nightclub, and her business parter Gogo Martel (Jack Durant). There are also several other passengers however, some of whom could be sent there to kill Graham. And he's absolutely sure they're still after him when Banat boards the ship on a stop in Trabzon...
'I didn't admit it, Stephanie, but I knew then that shot was meant for me...'
The movie starts off in a, for 1943, fairly odd way. It doesn't start with the credit roll but there's an opening scene before that. The camera zooms in on an opened window in a dingy hotel in Istanbul, looking into a room where a big and grubby man, Banat, puts a record on a record player. As the record plays, he's combing his hair and packing his gun. The record skips quite a bit however, creating a very weird mood and soundtrack. Once Banat turns off the player and leaves the room, the movie title is displayed and the credits start.

The scene in the nightclub is also memorable for several reasons. The magician and his trick that ultimately gets him killed is quite memorable, but Dolores del Rio's presence as Josette is the icing on the cake really. She's wearing a tight full body leopard skin suit in the nightclub scene, and while it would look more than a little silly on 99% of all women, it looks quite stunning on her. And she looks ravishing throughout this movie, del Rio has a lot of charisma and sex appeal here. French actrice Michèle Morgan ('The Chase', 'Passage To Marseille') was originally cast for the role of Josette, but I have problems imagining her looking anything but weird and wrong in that catsuit, so I'm glad the part went to Dolores del Rio, a Mexican actress who had been a movie star in Hollywood since the 20s.
'I am dumbfounded. But then I am dumbfounded every 25 minutes.'
Josette is also a part of the voice-over narration, which is done by Graham/Joseph Cotten, as he recites a letter he's written to his wife. The letter, and thus the narration, deals mostly with Graham making excuses for a fling/affair he had with Josette while on the boat, recalling all the events involved with the boat trip, although oddly enough not even so much as a tight hug or a kiss is shared between them in the movie. At least not in the footage that has been left untouched! There is however also a known version of 'Journey Into Fear' without the voice-over narration which means that in one version of the movie, the story is told in flashback using the voice-over narration, and in another version the story is told in a linear fashion, due to the the lack of voice-over narration! I am curious to see the other version, as well as the original version (which is improbable to ever surface). Supposedly the lost footage contained more references to the implied affair between Graham and Josette, as well as Colonel Haki trying to seduce Graham's wife Stephanie on the train to Batoumi!

The movie however is sprinkled, from start to finish, with all kinds of special touches. Banat's scratched up record makes an appearance in the opening scene. Its skipping soundtrack also announces Banat's arrival on the ship to the viewer, before Graham is aware of Banat's presence. Del Rio's bodysuit is an obvious one, and what a special touch it is! There is also a lot of humor in this movie. A couple travelling on the boat, Mr. and Mrs. Matthews (Frank Readick and Agnes Moorehead), have a very weird relationship, which is explained by Mr. Matthews to Graham. It's hard to explain in a brief manner, but he used socialist rhetoric as a means to get his wife to treat him well, because she fears what people might think of them, only to start believing the rhetoric and becoming a socialist himself. Visually there are a lot of small but nice touches as well. Camera shots at low and/or tilted Dutch angles, plenty of shadows (the majority of the movie takes place during the evening/night), people carefully positioned in shots to create tension, I imagine a lot more thought and care went into the camera work than you'd think at first. The finale is also memorable, taking place outside of a hotel in the pouring rain.

There are also some weird plot holes, or unexplained things at the very least, which might be due to the excessive cutting that was done. For instance Graham enters the boat with a rather large gun given to him by Kopeikin. He hides this gun underneath his matress, only to be gone later on. The gun is never seen again, nor is it ever revealed who stole it. And how do Mueller and his men know Graham is on the boat to Batoumi? There are more odd things, and I expect a lot of them making more sense with the additional footage that was left on the editing room floor. It isn't distracting however, it adds to the fun, because you never know what to expect.

The more and more I see of Joseph Cotten, the more of a fan of his work I become. The man was an amazing but somewhat under-appreciated actor with a wide range. Even though his performance here is fairly low-key and is nowhere near the presence he had in for instance 'Shadow Of A Doubt', he is really good here and he manages to express emotions with subtle facial motions. Dolores del Rio is also great here, although it seems clear her and Cotten shared more screentime in the original version. In a way, not having that footage, leaving some questions about their relationship unanswered, adds to her seductive aura. But even still, I enjoyed her performance a lot here. Most of the other, smaller characters are given a quirky side, resulting in some off-beat and funny moments, such as the aforementioned Mr. and Mrs. Matthews, and the actors do solid work here. Jack Moss has no lines as Peter Banat, and doesn't have to do much here besides stare at Cotten and eat soup with crumbled crackers in it, which is possibly for a good reason, as he wasn't an actor, but more about that later.
'Mr. Graham and I are going to blow up the Bank of England, seize Parliament, shoot the gentry, and set up a Communist government!'
Some people might say 'Journey Into Fear' is not a noir because it's got some quirky/funny moments and exhibits far less grittiness than usually associated with noir. I can see their points. But thematically the movie falls squarely into noir territories and a lot of the characters on the boat could potentially be linked to the nazi's plot to murder Graham, even including Josette, who just so happens to be on the same boat as Graham. And this is 1943, when the whole 'film noir' style was still being fleshed out (some argue it wasn't until 1944's 'Double Indemnity' that true film noir emerged). So yes, it's got elements from a variety of genres/styles, and film noir is definitely one of the main ones there in my opinion.

So, 'Journey Into Fear' is a fast-paced, entertaining and incredibly fun film noir, that looks great and has great characters, with good performances. Even Orson Welles isn't too over-the-top here as he had a tendency to do. This movie deserves more attention that it seems to receive. Do not hesitate to check this movie out, you won't regret it!

There is also another level of fun associated with 'Journey Into Fear', and that is the involvement of Orson Welles. Was there ever a movie he acted in that he did not have another hand in? Probably not. So there are also a lot of rumors and stories about his involvement with 'Journey Into Fear', a lot of which can be found on the excellent Wellesnet.

As mentioned before, Joseph Cotten is credited as having written the screenplay. However, it is widely believed he co-wrote it with Orson Welles, basing their screenplay on an earlier, uncredited, screenplay written by Ben Hecht and Richard Collins. Ben Hecht would become a fairly well-known screenwriter whose noir credits, sometimes uncredited, include 'Gilda', 'Whirlpool' and 'Kiss Of Death'.
Welles and his production company Mercury Productions produced 'Journey Into Fear', together with RKO. And while Welles has denied directing this movie, the amount of visual touches do suggest that Welles had more than a few talks with director Norman Foster. Foster was an actor/director who up until then had directed mostly Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto movies and was working at the time for Welles on 'Bonito The Bull', a short movie which was to be part of Welles' never to be finished 'It's All True' project. Welles was always doing several things at the same time, and so he got Foster to direct 'Journey Into Fear' instead. But I imagine Welles being Welles, he directed his fair share of scenes, including the striking opening scene which was added post-production. There are apparently even photos of him directing while dressed up as Colonel Haki, supposedly even directing 'Journey Into Fear' at night and 'The Magnificent Ambersons' during daytime. Cotten was also the lead actor of that movie, so it must have been quite a busy time for the two of them!
Welles didn't run Mercury Productions all by himself, and one of his business associates at that time, Jack Moss, ended up playing a big role in this movie as Peter Banat, the assassin. Remarkably, Moss/Banat does not talk throughout the entire movie. There is a big backstory about the relationship between Welles and Moss, who had a troubled relationship and eventually had a falling out, but that happened after this movie was done, I presume they were still on good terms when 'Journey Into Fear' was shot. There's an interesting piece about them here, for those who are interested, claiming Moss is (at least partially) responsible for Welles' downfall.
Having mentioned Mercury Productions already, Welles was also the person behind the Mercury Theater, a group of stage and radio performers, and as such, a lot of actors from that company were routinely cast in his movies. The most famous names are Joseph Cotten ('Citizen Kane', 'The Magnificent Ambersons') and Agnes Moorehead who would become the voice of the well-known 1943 Suspense radio play 'Sorry, Wrong Number', which would be adapted into a popular film noir starring Barbara Stanwyck in 1948 (reviewed here). Other Mercury Theater actors who also appear in 'Journey Into Fear' include Edgar Barrier, Frank Readick (his only feature-length movie credit) and Everett Sloane ('Citizen Kane', 'The Lady From Shanghai').
As mentioned earlier, Michèle Morgan was replaced by Dolores del Rio for the part of Josette. Dolores del Rio just so happened to be a having an affair with Orson Welles around that time, one does wonder if that had anything to with her casting.

'Journey Into Fear' was also one of the last projects Welles did while under contract with RKO, and a strained relationship it was, with Welles spending tons of money on projects that never went anywhere like the aforementioned 'It's All True' movie. RKO had shelved the finished movie in 1942, and managed to cut out 20 or so minutes of the movie before finally releasing it in 1943. Unfortunately the cut footage is most likely lost, as unused film was routinely destroyed in those days. But between their 'editing' job and releasing the movie, they had Orson Welles shoot additional footage, which is the opening scene apparently. Welles would later claim this was the first movie to have an opening scene shown before the credits, but had to admit later he was wrong, as it had been done a couple of times in the 30s already. Welles and Joseph Cotten also wrote the voice-over narration which was done by Joseph Cotten. Why there are 2 versions of this movie, with one not having this additional footage nor the voice-over narration, is unknown to me, but the version without the voice-over narration or opening scene, might be the version RKO created before Welles was involved again (it's about the same length however so that would suggest Welles cut out some material for the 'definitive' version as well?). Apparently this other version was shown in the UK a few times, so hopefully at some point this movie will be released properly on DVD with both versions. One can always hope!


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Brighton Rock (1947)

Brighton is a popular sea-side city on the South coast of the the UK with a famous landmark pier. But as is explained at the start of 'Brighton Rock' from 1947, things weren't always like that. In the 1930s, things weren't all pleasant in popular destination Brighton, with mobs roaming the streets. 'Brighton Rock' is a movie about one such mob, and one particular smalltime mobster in particular, Pinkie Brown.

Based on Graham Greene's 1938 novel of the same name, 'Brighton Rock' is still one of the best, and bleakest, British thrillers/noirs. It was adapted into a screenplay by Graham Greene himself together with Terence Rattigan. The movie was directed by John Boulting, with his twin brother Roy Boulting producing. The Boulting brothers would produce and direct a lot a movies together all the way into the 1970s, including some thrillers such as 'High Treason' (1951) and 'Suspense' (1960), but nothing quite as dark as 'Brighton Rock'. Cinematography was handled by Harry Waxman and the musical score was done by Hans May.
'I've sunk so deep, I carry the secrets of a sewer.'
Set in 1935, the movie's central character is Pinkie Brown (an excelling Richard Attenborough), the 17-year old leader of a small gang in Brighton. About a week before the movie starts, the old leader of the gang, William Kite, was killed by a rival gang who suspected him of talking to reporter Fred Hale (Alan Wheatley). At the start of the movie, Hale is back in Brighton again to distribute cards worth money across Brighton under an alias, as a promotional stunt for his newspaper. Pinkie and his gang chase him up & down Brighton and the chase ends up on Brighton Pier, where Hale and Pinkie end up on a ghost train. Pinkie pushes Hale out of the cart when its above the sea and Hall plunges to his death. To establish an alibi, one of the gang members, Spicer (Wylie Watson) hides a few more cards in the neighborhood, including in a cafe. Pinkie doesn't like the latter location, as he assumes one of the people might have seen Spicer, and will notice he's not Hale should they check the newspapers. Pinkie goes to the cafe to retrieve the card, only to find that one of the waitresses, Rose (Carol Marsh) already found it. He decides to befriend her and keep an eye on her, even tho Fred's death is ruled accidental.

Pinkie and his gang are not the only people Fred meets during his last, and final, visit to Brighton however. He also comes into contact with a singer/dancer in a travelling theater, Ida Arnold (Hermione Baddeley), who takes a liking to him. And when she finds out about Fred's death, she has her suspicions, which are only heightened by her 'psychic' powers. She decides to ask a few questions here and there to see what really happened to Fred. Pinkie in the meantime also has to deal with a rival mob led by Colleoni (Charles Goldner), whose outfit is much larger and more professional than his and they are ready to take over Pinkie's protection racket.

Pinkie, despite being only 17 years old, is the leader of the gang, and the other men in the gang are all at least 2 or even 3 times his age. Pinkie is ruthless, cold, filled with a lot of anger and hate, but he's a very calculated person with a natural tendency to lead rather than follow. He denies himself pleasures of any kind, he doesn't drink, smoke or eat chocolate, and has no interest in girls. Rose means nothing to him, except as a person who can ruin him, the only reason he is able to stand her around him. Rose however, who is a devout Christian, becomes almost a self-assigned martyr, deeply devoted to Pinkie. She's in love with Pinkie, but she also wants to be his savior, the catalyst through which he can repent for his sins. And for that she turns a blind eye to the truth, that he's a murderer. It's almost like she has found a purpose for her life, and that purpose is Pinkie's repentance. This stark contrast is quite painful to watch at times, especially when Pinkie records his voice onto a record for Rose. As she looks at him in an idolizing, devoted manner, he records for her his true feelings, and it's quite heartbreaking to watch. The recording comes into play again at the very end of the movie, again creating a gutwrenching and touching moment, which lingers on long after the movie ends, in more ways than one. They have the kind of cinematic relationship that you'll remember for a long, long time. It is to the credit of Graham Greene, Richard Attenborough and Carol Marsh that this uneven and highly unbalanced relationship is believable and touching and not ridiculous to watch.
'You believe, don't you? You think it's true.' 
'Of course it's true. These atheists don't know nothing. Of course there's hell, flames, damnations, torments.' 
'Heaven too, Pinkie.' 
'Ah, maybe.'
Richard Attenborough is stunning in this movie. Despite being only in his early twenties when this movie was shot he brings a charisma, intensity and menace to Pinkie that is impossible to ignore. His eyes truly look like he's seething with hate inside. Pinkie is nothing sort of a fearless and ruthless psychopath. Likewise, Carol Marsh is almost equally great as well, she makes Rose into a saint-like person, devoted to Pinkie, even giving up her own chances of redemption, without coming off as creepy or deranged.

The other main characters are also memorable and are given excellent performances throughout by their actors. Pinkie's top man Dallow (William Hartnell, the very first Doctor Who), is almost as cold and callous as Pinkie, and doesn't even pretend to stop Pinkie when Pinkie's about to kill Spicer in a gruesome but beautifully shot scene. But unlike Pinkie, he still has somewhat of a moral compass. The gang also uses a corrupt and alcoholic lawyer to handle their affairs, Prewitt (Harcourt Williams), who is a coward and uses quotes from classic books to add gravity to his alcohol-soaked words and who is all too easily manipulated and controlled by Pinkie. Williams makes Prewitt a far more important seeming character because of his layered acting than Prewitt really is. Baddeley is also good as Ida Arnold, a brass and loud character which could've very easily been a caricature, but thankfully isn't, despite some outrageous outfits (she works as a pierrot for a group of performers).

Thematically and visually the movie is dark, dark, dark. There's not a sliver of hope for Pinkie, not even in the person of Rose, whom he doesn't accept, but merely tolerates because he must. And even Brighton starts to look menacing and threatening here, with its narrow sidestreets, the over-crowded and claustrophobic Brighton Pier and the small houses with their cramped rooms and dodgy staircases. And when the night falls and the rain is pouring down hard, the almost empty Brighton Pier becomes a nightmarish maze. The movie also has several point-of-view shots where the actors look straight into the camera, as if we're the person they're looking at. It really adds to the intensity of the movie and draws the viewer in even more. When Pinkie looks straight into the camera, at the viewer, you really feel the menace lurking behind his straight face.
'I wanted to be in a state of grace when I married you. But then I remembered, it wasn't any good confessing any more, ever.'
'Brighton Rock' is one of the very best films noirs in my opinion, it impresses from start to finish and in every way. It has great characters and performances, a compelling and pitch black story that is soaked in noir, it looks beautiful with some really memorable scenes and shots. It is a true classic in my book, and I cannot recommend it enough.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Two O'Clock Courage (1945)

What do you get when you combine a lighthearted screwball comedy with a twisty murder-mystery and throw in a dash of amnesia noir? Usually you would end up with quite a mess, but 1945's 'Two O'Clock Courage' does an admirable job of bringing these elements together in an enjoyable little noir-ish thriller.

What's remarkable about this movie, besides the weird combination of styles and genres, is that it's directed by Anthony Mann, who would go on to direct quite a number of much purer, more hard-boiled and overall better noirs without a trace of comedy, like 'T-Men' and 'Raw Deal'. It's hard to imagine him directing this lighthearted movie, but he did. The movie is based on a novel of the same name by Gelett Burgess, which had already been turned into a movie in 1936, called 'Two In The Dark'. The director of that movie, Benjamin Stoloff, was the producer of this movie. Robert E. Kent wrote the screenplay with additional dialogue written by Gordon Kahn. The cinematography was handled by Jack MacKenzie. The score was done by Roy Webb whose work for movies includes 'Notorious' and the classic noir 'Out Of The Past'.
'Next time you want a cab, just whistle or flap your arms or something. Don't try to stop it with yer head.'
Tom Conway plays Ted 'Step' Allison, although at the start of the movie neither he nor the viewer knows his identity. In case you forgot, I did mention this movie had an element of amnesia noir... Allison has amnesia, in fact he can't even remember what he looks like. Thankfully a cabbie, Patty Mitchell (Ann Rutherford) decides to help him find out who he is. They find their first clue inside his hat, the initials R.D. are stitched inside it. It doesn't mean a thing to Allison however, so they head to the nearest police station. But when they get their hands on the latest edition of the newspaper outside the station, they find out that earlier that evening a man named Robert Dilling was murdered in the same area where Patty picked up a dazed and confused Allison. Patty doesn't believe Allison is the murderer however because he's 'not the type', so they decide to continue with their search for Allison's real identity, as well as his possible connection to Robert Dilling and his murder. But of course they're not the only ones trying to find out about Robert Dilling's murder, so does inspector Brenner (Emory Parnell) who in turn is closely followed by newspaper reporter Al Haley (Richard Lane). And they're taking a keen interest in Allison, who still doesn't know who he is.

Tom Conway and Ann Rutherford play off against each other quite well, he as the confused, slightly posh man without an identity, and she as the bubbly, wise-cracking cab driver who has given her cab the name Harry. Rutherford's Patty provides a number of lighter, more comedic moments, both with her wise-cracks, but also with her look and demeanor. She wears her cabbie's hat at an extreme angle on her head an has a pencil stuck behind her ear. Rutherford and Conway really make this movie work with their acting and chemistry. Her bubbly energy is infectious and because it is not over-the-top it excites rather than annoys and his quizzical demeanor works as well, it is a lot of fun to watch them try to unravel his identity and connection to the murder.

Richard Lane has a screwball like running gag throughout the movie, phoning in a new lead or suspect on the Robert Dilling murder case to his newspaper editor, who grows more and more frustrated with each consecutive call. It's not as bad as it sounds, but it does get a bit grating and ridiculous, especially near the end of the movie when the twists and turns pile up and so does his phone bill. His exchanges with Emory Parnell are more comedic than serious as well, and only work in some places unfortunately. The movie also features a young Jane Greer (still working under her real name here, Bettejane Greer), better known for her parts in 'Out Of The Past' and 'The Big Steal', who shows off her natural sultriness in her first credited appearance, but when she is supposed to act drunk later on, she comes off as slightly awkward. Either way, it's nice to see her in this one. Tom Conway in the mean time was reunited here with Jean Brooks, whom he played with in 'The Seventh Victim'. Brooks has a small role here as a stage actress, and she would do only a few more movies after this one, retiring from the movie business after RKO dropped their contract with her.

Overall, the movie is pretty light on the noir visuals. But there are a few scenes that should please noir aficionados. The opening scene with Allison stumbling into a streetsign and almost getting run over by Patty, is pretty neatly done with a simple but nice tracking shot as the camera approaches Allison. There is also a pretty atmospheric noir scene where Allison breaks into the office of a writer and finds the manuscript for 'Two O'Clock Courage', a play which plays a central part in the mystery. He gets gunned down at close range, yet the bullet only grazes his head, triggering back his memory and a small flashback sequence. The scene is as noir as it gets, devoid of all comedy and pretty well-done. The climax at the end of the movie where several people end up getting killed is also quite noir and ties up some loose ends, as well as finally revealing the real killer.
'Murder... That's a cheerful way to improve my mind!'
So to summarize, take a splash of amnesia noir (a very light one tho), mix in a whodunit mystery and add some screwball comedy, and you got a ridiculous but tasty cocktail that will keep you entertained for a bit over an hour. Worse things have happened.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Shadow Of A Doubt (1943)

Few directors are as famous as Alfred Hitchcock. To some fans his movies form a genre in itself even. I wouldn't go quite that far, but it would be hard to argue that he did not have a profound effect on film making as a whole, and on the thriller genre specifically. Some of his movies have definite noir touches, and 1943's 'Shadow Of A Doubt' most certainly is one of them. It brings together a lovely, innocent small town and a lovely, innocent family and a charming but sinister invader with a disturbing secret, resulting in a remarkable movie that is both very dark as well as having quirkiness and humor in it.

'Shadow Of A Doubt' was based on a story by Gordon McDonell and turned into a screenplay by among others Alma Reville, Hitchcock's wife. The musical score was done by Dimitri Tiomkin ('D.O.A.', 'Angel Face'), and a lot of it was based on a waltz by Franz Lehár. Cinematography was done by Joseph Valentine ('Possessed', 'Rope').
'I know you. I know that you don't tell people a lot of things. I don't either. I have a feeling that inside you somewhere, there's something nobody knows about.'
'Something... nobody knows?'
'Something secret and wonderful. I'll find it out.'
'It's not good to find out too much, Charlie.'
'Shadow Of A Doubt' might as well be called 'A Tale Of Two Charlies', as its two main characters are called Charlie. There's Charlotte 'Charlie' Newton (Teresa Wright), a teenage girl, bored out of her mind with her dull life, who is over the moon when her uncle Charlie, Charles Oakley, comes to visit them, all the way from New Jersey. She was named after him and idolizes him, believing they're kindred spirits. Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) however has alterior motives for travelling cross-country to visit them. At first all is fine and she loves having uncle Charlie around, spending as much time with him as she can. But soon small things happen that make her think uncle Charlie has a secret to hide from them, believing it to be a wonderful secret initially, and she's determined to find out what it is. But as she discovers, uncle Charlie's secret might be darker than she could have ever imagined, as he could be the Merry Widow Murderer, who's sought on the West coast for 3 murders...

 The movie focuses on Charlie and uncle Charlie and their relationship, which changes drastically over the course of the movie, helped by Jack Graham (Macdonald Carey), a detective posing as a government interviewer doing a piece on the Newton family, but who in reality is trying to keep tabs on uncle Charlie and take a picture of him to send back to New Jersey for identification purposes. Charlie had already uncovered some weird behavior in uncle Charlie but didn't think much of it. The cryptic engraving in a ring uncle Charlie gave her as a present and its possible connection to one of the murders proves to be the tipping point for her however, and from that point on the movie changes from 'Charlie & uncle Charlie against the world' to 'Charlie vs. uncle Charlie', but there is still no real evidence, so she has to keep her fears and suspicions to herself, while seeing her mother happier than ever with her kid brother staying over.

Joseph Cotten is simply amazing as uncle Charlie. To the viewer, and later on to Charlie, he has an icy-cold demeanor filled with dread and menace. However, to the family and the local community of Santa Rosa, California where the Newtons live, he's a charming and successful businessman with a quirky sense of humor and a bit of an odd outlook on life. Even a vitriolic speech about 'faded, fat, greedy women' at the dinner table is shrugged off as nothing special. This makes uncle Charlie such a scary and memorable character, despite his creepy ideas on life and rich widows in specific, he blends in perfectly well. Cotten usually played the 'good guy' in movies and starred in genuine classics such as 'Citizen Kane' and 'The Third Man', but every time I think of Joseph Cotten I think of uncle Charlie and the ominous aura he possesses in this movie.

Teresa Wright ('The Best Years Of Our Lives', 'Pursued') is also really good here as Charlie. This was her fourth movie, and the first for which she did not receive an Oscar nomination, one of which she also won (for 'Mrs. Miniver'), according to IMDb something no one else achieved before or since. She gives the innocent, small-town girl Charlie a strong and determined edge, and the transformation in her relationship with uncle Charlie is done quite well. The chemistry between her and Cotten and their changing bond is part of what elevates this movie to great heights. Charlie, and Teresa Wright, reminds me of Iris/Margaret Lockwood in an earlier Hitchcock classic, 'The Lady Vanishes'. Both are young women who live a fairly carefree life, and through the course of the movie learn how strong and determined they really are. Almost a decade after this movie, Wright and Cotten would star again in another noir thriller, as husband and wife no less, in 1952's 'The Steel Trap'.
'We're not talking about murder, I'm talking about killing Herb and he's talking about killing me!'
The supporting cast is also wonderful, and the script gives them all distinct characters. The Newtons, as well as Santa Rosa, represent an average family in an average small town, but Hitchcock has given them their own unique and quirky personalities. Mother Emma 'Emmy' Newton (Patricia Collinge) is the head of the family and pampers her kid brother Charlie because he's the youngest one, unlike her own youngest kid, Roger (Charles Bates) who tries to be noticed but is mostly ignored or dismissed by everybody else. Dad Joseph 'Joe' (Henry Travers) has a dull job as a bank teller but enjoys discussing various ways to kill a person with his colleague Herb (Hume Cronyn), and younger daughter Ann (Edna May Wonacott) reads non-stop and wants to marry a librarian when she grows up. Oh, and she asks for a blessing for Veronica Lake in her nighttime prayers, how can you not love her? Macdonald Carey's Graham is pretty middle-of-the-road in comparison and seems almost too young to play a government agent, but his character is helped by a blossoming romance between him and Charlie.

The music's theme is centered around the Merry Widow waltz by Franz Lehár, a tune that Charlie cannot get out of her head when uncle Charlie comes to town, already hinting at what's to come. Visually, the movie is beautiful, and has plenty of clever touches. Some shots and scenes are repeated in a different context, such as when uncle Charlie looks out of a window at two men who are shadowing him in New Jersey, and later on at the Newtons he carefully peers out of a window again only to find two women chattering about unaware of his presence. There are also plenty of beautiful shots that are used to signify the changing relationship between Charlie and uncle Charlie, including shots that are taken from the point of view of one of them. And lastly, there are a lot of small things that happen or are said, that are innocent enough by themselves, but still somehow tie in to the story, and they become more prevalent on consecutive viewings, adding to the appreciation of the movie. For instance, in one scene, a jaded waitress sees the ring uncle Charlie gave to Charlie as a present, and casually remarks that she'd die for a ring like that, not knowing its past. Or when Joe tells uncle Charlie to not put his hat on the bed. Uncle Charlie asks Joe if he's superstitious, to which Joe replies that he isn't, but he also doesn't believe in inviting trouble, but trouble has of course already found its way into the Newton residence.

I've already mentioned the 'faded, fat, greedy women' dinner table speech, but there's also another well-known monologue by uncle Charlie, when he takes Charlie to a shady cafe and all but confirms Charlie's suspicions about his real reason to come to Santa Rosa. He ends his talk with a pitch-black observation which is probably the best-remembered quote from this movie:
'Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know if you rip the fronts of houses you'd find swine? The world's a hell, what does it matter what happens in it?'
Hitchcock was known for loving to shoot on set and disliking shooting on location, where he had less control over the surroundings. But due to severe budget restrictions set by the War Production Board, he was forced to use location shooting and only a minimal amount of sets for this movie (source). He hand-picked Santa Rosa, California as the location for the movie, using some of its inhabitants as actors in the movie including first time actor Edna May Wonacott who's quite remarkable as Ann Newton (here's a wonderful post on her), and the story goes that he fell in love with the town so much he bought a house there.

The ending apparently was studio-mandated, Hitchcock wanted it to be more open-ended and leave more to guess/think about for the audience. It might have worked better, I don't know, to me the ending is quite fitting. Either way, the movie's great. Hitchcock is reported to have said on several occasions that 'Shadow Of A Doubt' was his favorite of all of his movies. I am not a Hitchcock expert but of all of his movies that I've seen so far, this one is also my favorite. It is really really good and full of tension as well as some black and sardonic humor, and to me it gets even better after repeat viewings. Highly recommended!