SHADOW OF A DOUBT/FAMILY PLOT: A DOUBLE BILL OF ALFRED HITCHCOCK MOVIE REVIEWS BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
SHADOW OF A DOUBT. (1943) DIRECTED BY ALFRED HITCHCOCK. STARRING JOSEPH COTTEN, TERESA WRIGHT, HENRY TRAVERS, PATRICIA COLLINGE, MACDONALD CAREY, WALLACE FORD, HUME CRONYN AND EDNA MAY WONACOTT.
FAMILY PLOT. (1976) BASED ON THE BOOK ‘THE RAINBIRD PATTERN’ BY VICTOR CANNING. DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY ALFRED HITCHCOCK. MUSIC BY JOHN WILLIAMS.
STARRING KAREN BLACK, WILLIAM DEVANE, BARBARA HARRIS, BRUCE DERN, CATHLEEN NESBITT AND ED LAUTER.
I had a grand time re-watching both of these Alfred Hitchcock thrillers back-to-back over Christmas this year. SHADOW OF A DOUBT is widely-regarded as a stone-cold classic, not only one of the master director’s best films but also the one he’s supposed to have considered to be his own personal favourite of all his movies.
FAMILY PLOT is Hitchcock’s final film, a thriller also with twists and turns to beat the band but with a distinct comedy element to it. Both films concern family ties and the exhaustive complications that can arise therein, which I’m guessing we all know from experience to be the case…!
I like SHADOW OF A DOUBT best, without- ahem- a shadow of a… Well, you know how that ends, haha. Teresa Wright plays a small-town girl, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Newton, who lives in Santa Rosa, California. She’s named for the man she idolises, her Uncle Charlie who’s her mother’s adored younger brother.
Uncle Charlie is back in town after a long time away, and Young Charlie is so thrilled to have him back that she doesn’t give much thought to what he’s been up to during his lengthy absence. The whole family is delighted to have the prodigal uncle back under their roof, especially Charlie’s kindly older sister Emma, who wants to mother him and never let him out of her sight again.
There’s something a little different about having the handsome and charming Uncle Charlie around the place this time around. For one thing, he seems to be being shadowed by two guys, men whose claims to be conducting a national survey on families for the ‘government’ are so lame that it’s surprising anyone at all believes ’em.
(Mind you, housewives from the ‘Forties were probably so used to swallowing their husband’s lies and edicts that every word out of men’s mouths was gospel to them, haha, and it didn’t occur to them to question what they heard.)
Also, Uncle Charlie seems more secretive and edgy than Charlie remembers, and he doesn’t seem too comfortable in his own skin. Perhaps most disturbingly of all, he seems to have picked up some extremely warped world views in general and views on a certain type of woman in particular.
Young Charlie gradually comes to the realisation that maybe Uncle Charlie’s time away from the family was spent engaging in pursuits that weren’t quite, shall we say, lawful. Maybe they were even murderous…
Joseph Cotten does a wonderful job of playing the charming uncle with the shadowy past. I adore the love story between Young Charlie and the cute-as-a-button detective.
I also love Henry Travers, also known as ‘Attaboy, Clarence!’ or Clarence Odbody the Angel in Frank Capra’s IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, who’s playing Young Charlie’s father here. His deliciously but unconsciously fiendish conversations about crime and murder with his best friend Hume Cronyn (husband to Jessica Tandy from DRIVING MISS DAISY) act as a delightful backdrop to the build-up of suspense, tension and high drama going on elsewhere in the film.
Even though it’s the master director’s last film, I must confess to not liking FAMILY PLOT as much as I do SHADOW OF A DOUBT, which to me feels like a far superior film. FAMILY PLOT is a comedy-thriller and, as I’ve always been much more open to being frightened half to death by the films I watch than being made to laugh by them, maybe that’s why I’m not crazy about this movie. It’s still a good film though, and well worth a watch if you’re a Hitchcock fan.
Barbara Harris, apparently a lady whom Hitchcock had been wanting to work with for a while, plays a phoney psychic who’s been commissioned by a rich elderly client to find her nephew who’d been given away for adoption at birth.
The rich old lady is feeling guilty for having forced her sister, who’s now deceased, to give away her baby boy and so she wants her nephew back so that she can die with her guilty conscience assuaged. The nephew, incidentally, will inherit the old dear’s entire fortune if he can be found…
The phoney psychic Blanche will pick up a handy little commission of ten grand as well, a sum that neither she nor her boyfriend George, a humble chauffeur hilariously played by Bruce Dern who’d previously been in Hitchcock’s MARNIE, are going to sneeze at. All they have to do now is to find this nephew who’s heir to a massive fortune, the elusive Edward Shoebridge…
On the other side of the story, we’ve got smarmy ‘jeweller’ Arthur Adamson (William Devane) who, along with his stunning girlfriend Fran, played by horror queen Karen Black, makes his real living out of kidnapping rich folks and demanding a ransom in gemstones.
Karen Black, who was utterly superb in horror movies like BURNT OFFERINGS and TRILOGY OF TERROR before moving on to star in modern horror flicks like Rob Zombie’s HOUSE OF A THOUSAND CORPSES, would add a touch of solid-gold class to any proceedings, and she plays a blinder here. William Devane, who starred alongside Roy JAWS Scheider and Dustin Hoffman in MARATHON MAN, is also perfectly cast as the duplicitious businessman.
You’re probably wondering where the whole ‘family’ element comes into the picture. Let’s just say that when the paths of the two sets of couples collide, and collide they most certainly will for reasons which I’m not at liberty to divulge, it’ll give a whole new meaning to the words ‘family plot…’
You can’t go wrong with a Hitchcock, any Hitchcock. Even if I’m personally not nuts about FAMILY PLOT, it’s still the last film the master director ever made and as such is worthy of respect. As for SHADOW OF A DOUBT, it’s an absolute cracker of a thriller. So go on, film fans, pull that cracker! After all, Christmas is only over when you decide it is…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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