Henry Travers

You Can’t Get Away with Murder (1939, Lewis Seiler)

The You in You Can’t Get Away With Murder refers to Billy Halop, nineteen year-old punk kid who doesn’t respect what sister Gale Page sacrifices for him and instead runs around with neighborhood tough Humphrey Bogart. They knock over gas stations, they play pool, it’s a good life… at least until things go wrong during a hold-up—with Bogart’s not billed victim using what looks like (but sadly can’t be) a Krav Maga disarm on him, forcing Bogart to use the gun he took off Halop instead of his regular piece. Only Halop got his gun from sister Page’s boyfriend’s apartment. Harvey Stephens is the boyfriend, some kind of reserve cop or security guard. It gets established by the car Stephens is driving in the first or second scene… I wasn’t paying attention. I thought he was a cabbie.

As Halop and Bogart get pinched for a different hold-up, the cops gossip about Stephens’s getting arrested for the murder Halop knows Bogart committed. End first act, let’s go second.

Bogart and Halop are in Sing Sing for five year sentences—the film, which looks like an A picture from time to time, usually thanks to Sol Polito’s gorgeous photography and Bogart’s phenomenally slimy performance, has a great introduction to Sing Sing with a tour boat introducing it. Things are fine enough, save Harold Huber trying to convince Bogart to dump Halop and make Huber his number one pal, which eventually becomes important but never to character development. There isn’t any character development in Murder. It’s important because after Stephens gets sent to the prison’s death house and Halop starts feeling pangs of guilt at not telling the truth, Huber’s able to poison an increasingly suspicious Bogart against his buddy.

It does help Bogart loses Halop to the prison library, where kindly, aged inmate librarian Henry Travers works toward rehabilitating the lad best he can without ever being able to say the word, “Jesus.” Having Travers get to lay in with religious indoctrination instead of just vague “you won’t be able to live with yourself if you don’t tell the truth” business probably wouldn’t improve Murder, but it might give Travers something to chew on in his performance. What he’s got is pretty thin; three screenwriters—Robert Buckner, Don Ryan, Kenneth Gamet—and they can’t come up with good monologues. I do wonder if one of them came up with the train car in the middle of the prison yard for the breakout standoff, or if it was a group effort.

Because once Page realizes Halop knows something, she tries to get him to save Murphy too, which Halop resents. Maybe if Murder went a different way—i.e. not into prison—it’d be able to get through with Halop, but he’s never good. Like… just… no. He’s never good. Sometimes when he’s doing his fidgeting stuff it seems like it could lead to something good—if he weren’t talking in bad Jimmy Cagney impressions—but he never breaks from the exaggerated deliveries. Bogart’s able to amp it up, quiet it down like none other. He’s awesome. No one else is even close. I mean, Huber and Travers are only good about thirty percent of the time, which isn’t a lot given their importance.

Page is fine. She’s got nothing to do but moon over Stephens, who’s eh (you can see why Halop doesn’t like him), and fret over Halop.

If the movie didn’t treat him like a racist caricature, Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson would win for actor you most like to see onscreen. But the movie cranks the racism from about a two (for 1939) to about a six, which is way too much. Wasting Anderson’s voice is bad enough.

And George E. Stone isn’t good as the main prison gossip, who’s always around to advance the plot. He’s ineffectual. Against Halop, which is incredible.

Even if Halop were good, even if Seiler didn’t get weird with almost all the close-ups—the medium shots are fine, the close-ups are intentionally but pointlessly askew—the script would still be blah. Even with Bogart being great… well, there are better movies to see Bogart doing the same thing in.

That Polito photography is fantastic though. Especially at the end.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Lewis Seiler; screenplay by Robert Buckner, Don Ryan, and Kenneth Gamet, based on a play by Lewis E. Lawes and Jonathan Finn; director of photography, Sol Polito; edited by James Gibbon; music by Heinz Roemheld; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Billy Halop (Johnnie Stone), Humphrey Bogart (Frank Wilson), Gale Page (Madge Stone), Harvey Stephens (Fred Burke), Henry Travers (Pop), Harold Huber (Scappa), Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson (Sam), and George E. Stone (Toad), Joe Sawyer (Red), Joe Downing (Smitty), and John Litel (Attorney Carey).


Primrose Path (1940, Gregory La Cava)

Primrose Path gets fun fast. Given the film opens with nine year-old Joan Carroll stealing a neighbor’s tamales (instead of buying them) for her and her grandmother, Queenie Vassar, it sort of needs to be fun. Vassar’s the maternal grandmother, not related to despondently alcoholic dad Miles Mander. Ginger Rogers is the older daughter, who we soon find out has forced herself into a kind of functional naïveté about her family’s situation. See, Mander’s a drunk because wife Marjorie Rambeau is out as a professional mistress. But he can’t work because he’s a complete drunk. Vassar trying to break the two up doesn’t do any good for their relationship either. Meanwhile Rambeau lives in a somewhat forced naïveté of her own, at least as far as Mander’s concerned.

Path opens about this family barely surviving—with Carroll apparently already lost, Vassar poisoning all the fresh water—and then there’s Rogers, who’s figured out a way to navigate herself through it. Until she takes a ride from kindly and silly old man Henry Travers when she’s on her way down to the beach. Path takes place in a small city (or large town) on the California coast. Closer to San Francisco than L.A. The contrast between Travers’s beachfront hamburger diner and Rogers’s regular life is striking inside and out. But definitely out. Path’s first half is full of fantastic location shooting, with director La Cava and cinematographer Joseph H. August delivering some fantastic scenes.

So once Travers and Rogers start bantering and she realizes he’s not an old pervert, she agrees to let him forward her a lunch. Once in the diner, she meets banter-master Joel McCrea, who works the counter. Except Rogers doesn’t like McCrea’s banter so he tries to get a rise out of her, which continues for a sequence of scenes, culminating in McCrea kissing Rogers. Well, once he’s kissed her, she’s smitten, leading to her telling a few small lies to get out of her life and into his.

For a while Rogers is able to avoid her past, but it’s not too far away, just on the “other side of town.” There’s never a “wrong side of the tracks” remark, but there are a couple audible train whistles. La Cava can be subtle and La Cava can be obvious. He can also be subtly obvious. He saves the straight obvious for the romance between McCrea and Rogers. It doesn’t take long for him to get just as smitten.

Unfortunately, neither character is being entirely honest. While Rogers’s lies don’t have any further repercussions after she and McCrea are joined at the hip, McCrea’s kind of been on holiday. Path gets away with a lot during the Production Code—there’s adultery, there’s sex work, there’s drunken Mander, there’s the thieving kid, whatever—but it’s most impressive moves are with Rogers and McCrea. They never get their big blowout scene, which is simultaneously disappointing and understandable–Path has got to keep light on its feet before the realness can grab it. Vassar’s downright evil at times and McCrea’s got a hideous mean streak. The film plays the former almost for laughs (as well as keeping Vassar’s understandable despondence and her unforgivable cruelty separate) while the latter just sets up La Cava’s third act commentary on people. The film’s very focused on the family. Rogers shares time with McCrea more than he gets the time to himself. Same goes for Travers. It’s a long time before he gets anything to do separate from Rogers (and then it’s just to talk about her with McCrea). It’s Rogers’s movie. Then Rambeau’s. Then Vassar’s. Then McCrea’s. McCrea still gets a full character arc, he just doesn’t get it on screen. So when La Cava opens things up—pretty much for the first time (the diner scenes are all about Rogers and McCrea’s salad days)—it’s for the finale. And the finale is really subtle and amusing, but it also informs some earlier plot points. Allan Scott and La Cava’s script is incredibly patient. The film’s a stage adaptation but never feels stagy; quite the opposite. It’s hard to imagine the story told any other way.

The music from Werner R. Heymann’s excellent. Sound is important in Primrose Path and La Cava and editor William Hamilton are careful how they reinforce the narrative with it. The film’s full of echoed moments, with only one of them being at all obvious. La Cava keeps the rest of them submerged and they more reverberate than sound off. So Heymann’s music has to fit perfectly and it always does, not just the scenes content but in place among the echoes. Path runs just over ninety minutes but it never skimps, never rushes. La Cava, in direction and script, is casually deliberate. He does excellent work here.

Great performances from Rogers and McCrea. He doesn’t get the lead role but he does have some breakout moments. For a while it seems like he’s going to be most successful for his toxic male behavior stuff but it turns out there’s going to be more to his character arc and McCrea keeps excelling. Meanwhile Rogers has to keep a lot mildly submerged too and she gets to go full bloom at finish to great success as well. The parts are good. Better than than the showier ones like Mander or Vassar. Vassar’s character is just a little too hurtful for the performance, but she’s still good. Mander is great. Rambeau is great. Rambeau’s part is far less showy as the film progresses.

Primrose Path is an outstandingly nimble romantic drama. La Cava, Rogers, and McCrea can keep it loose enough for sincere and affable romance, while still getting into the hard family drama stuff. It can’t go either way fully because, well, it wouldn’t be a vehicle for Rogers and McCrea then, but La Cava finds an ideal balance.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Gregory La Cava; screenplay by Allan Scott and La Cava, based on the play by Robert L. Buckner and Walter Hart; director of photography, Joseph H. August; edited by William Hamilton; music by Werner R. Heymann; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Ginger Rogers (Ellie May Adams), Joel McCrea (Ed Wallace), Marjorie Rambeau (Mamie), Miles Mander (Homer), Queenie Vassar (Grandma), Joan Carroll (Honeybell), and Henry Travers (Gramp).



Dark Victory (1939, Edmund Goulding)

Bette Davis and George Brent never kiss in Dark Victory. He’s a brilliant neurosurgeon, she’s a mysteriously ill young socialite. He saves her, they fall in love. But does he really save her….

Victory gives Davis an excellent part, right up until the end of the film. It’s a somewhat bumpy ride–in the first act, which is three acts of its own, Davis isn’t particularly likable. The film establishes her on her Long Island estate, twenty-three and free. And very rich. With some decent suitors (Ronald Reagan in an affable performance) and her best friend (and secretary) Geraldine Fitzgerald. Davis goes riding during the day, out on the town in the evening, then home to party all night.

The film opens with her dealings with Humphrey Bogart, who plays her stablehand. He’s Irish and sexist. Bogart’s accent is usually Irish, though very noticeable when not. The sexism just leads to banter; it’s not a great part, in the end, for Bogart. He’s a tool of the melodrama. But he’s still likable, especially at the beginning, when Davis comes off like a spoiled brat and Fitzgerald her enabler.

The film’s focus moves soon to Brent, who gets her case from a decidedly underused Henry Travers. Brent’s excellent as the conflicted doctor, enough so to humanize Davis in their first scene together. From then on, although the action sticks with Brent for quite a while, Davis’s part gets better. She’d had some good dialogue quips, but she was the film’s subject–more, the film’s characters’ subject–not the protagonist.

Whether or not she ever truly gets to be the protagonist is questionable (and one of the film’s eventual failings; it shouldn’t be in question).

So the first thirty-five minutes concern Davis’s recent headaches and how Brent treats them. There’s never a discussion of medical ethics in Dark Victory and it kind of needs it. A lot, as it turns out. Because the only way for the film to function without them–which leads to Brent and Fitzgerald alternately and jointly infantalizing Davis–is through melodrama. After forty-five minutes, Dark Victory never tries for more than melodrama; it promises more than melodrama, but it never attempts to fulfill those promises.

The melodrama does give Davis and Fitzgerald some good material. Not really Brent. Brent gets overshadowed by everyone in the second half of the film, including Reagan (not to mention Bogart, accent or not). The script avoids dealing with Brent, once he’s done just as a doctor. Brent still has some fine moments in the film, but nothing like he had in the first half, when his forced calm demeanor ached with tragedy. It’d be a lot to keep up the entire runtime, sure, but at least screenwriter Robinson could’ve had him in some longer scenes.

Robinson’s adapting from a play, which might explain some of the pacing after the first act. Davis goes through a minor character change, with some fabulous costuming, incidentally, but it requires a rather extreme narrative distance. For her next character change–she gets a lot of character development with the part, going through four distinct phases–the narrative distance closes in, which is great, but the script gets real choppy. It’s a stagy bit of narrative. Not stagily filmed, but stagily plotted. There’s a jump forward, then an exposition-heavy sequence taking place over a single night, with characters strolling through in order to explain what’s happened since the jump forward. All the acting’s fine–Davis is great–but it’s too jammed, too rushed.

And if it’s going to be so jammed, so rushed, at least have Travers do a walkthrough. He goes from leading the second tier supporting cast in the first act to complete, inexplicable onscreen absence.

Davis’s performance makes the film. Brent’s, for a while, seems like it could but their relationship is way too chaste (exceptionally so considering they were carrying on off-screen). Fitzgerald and Davis have a wonderful relationship, full of character development and so on… until the development stops. The film foreshadows a lot for its characters and delivers none of it. Ostensibly it delivers on one thing, but through cop out.

Technically, the film’s fine. Goulding’s composition is decent, if unimaginative in his overuse of interior long shots–the sets aren’t that great and even if they were, they’re immaterial to the melodrama–and Ernest Haller’s photography is good. Max Steiner’s score is excellent.

Davis gets to do so much in Dark Victory, it’s unfortunate the film doesn’t let her do all it promises for her. I almost started talking about the film as the difference between a part and a role. If there’s such a difference, Dark Victory gives Davis a great part but promises her a great role.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Edmund Goulding; screenplay by Casey Robinson, based on the play by George Emerson Brewer Jr. and Bertram Bloch; director of photography, Ernest Haller; edited by William Holmes; music by Max Steiner; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bette Davis (Judith Traherne), George Brent (Dr. Frederick Steele), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Ann King), Ronald Reagan (Alec), Humphrey Bogart (Michael O’Leary), Virginia Brissac (Martha), Cora Witherspoon (Carrie), Dorothy Peterson (Miss Wainwright), and Henry Travers (Dr. Parsons).


Random Harvest (1942, Mervyn LeRoy)

It’s hard to imagine a more supreme melodrama than Random Harvest. Almost the entire first hour (of two and a nickel), the film chronicles the blissful romance of Greer Garson and Ronald Colman. He’s an amnesiac World War I veteran, she’s on the stage–a combination of song and comedy–and she’s his savior. They live in a little cottage. It’s all very wonderful.

And very boring. Colman’s good as the amnesiac and Garson’s rather likable in her role–her dedication is convenient (none of the three screenwriters–Claudine West, George Froeschel, Arthur Wimperis–manage any subtlety), but Garson manages to sell it as much as possible.

But then Colman’s memory comes back and it turns out he’s the utter bore, not the film. Random Harvest moves through phases, some small as the focus switches between Colman and Garson, but also bigger ones, like when Colman’s memory returns and seven years pass in less minutes and he’s all of a sudden romancing Susan Peters.

Peters is actually rather good, but her role doesn’t really affect the narrative. She causes Garson–who comes back in a contrived, but inventive plot twist (and Garson excels in the second half of the film)–some consternation. Some, not a lot… and not for long. Peters inexplicably disappears from the film too, along with the entire supporting cast.

With his memory back, Colman loses a character and gets a backstory. He did better with a character.

He’s still likable and Garson’s great so Harvest works.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy; screenplay by Claudine West, George Froeschel and Arthur Wimperis, based on the novel by James Hilton; director of photography, Joseph Ruttenberg; edited by Harold F. Kress; music by Herbert Stothart; produced by Sidney Franklin; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Ronald Colman (Charles Rainier), Greer Garson (Paula), Philip Dorn (Dr. Jonathan Benet), Susan Peters (Kitty), Henry Travers (Dr. Sims), Reginald Owen (‘Biffer’), Bramwell Fletcher (Harrison), Rhys Williams (Sam), Una O’Connor (Tobacconist) and Aubrey Mather (Sheldon).


The Invisible Man (1933, James Whale)

The Invisible Man is a filmmaking marvel. First off, R.C. Sherriff’s screenplay sets things up speedily and without much exposition. The film introduces Claude Rains’s character through everyone else’s point of view–first the strangers he meets, then his familiars–all while Rains is front and center in the film. Even though he is, after all, invisible.

Rains is another marvel. The script is excellent, Whale does a peerless job directing (more on his contributions in a bit), but Rains makes the whole thing possible. With him, Invisible isn’t some horror picture or a sci-fi one, it’s a very simple, very tragic story of a man going mad. It doesn’t need the special effects, it just needs Rains. Everything else is a bonus. It’s an outstanding performance.

The whole cast is great–Gloria Stuart has to sell the idea Rains was once a lovable guy, so goes Henry Travers for instance. William Harrigan gets to be a sleaze bag but a decent enough minded one.

Now for Whale. Many of the special effects in The Invisible Man are unbelievable. Even the ones where they obviously used some kind of matte decades are sort of unbelievable, but the practical effects–where the bandages must have been suspended by wire–those are astonishing. And Whale knows, early on, to wow the audience. But he never lets up with it; it’s one wow after another.

The Invisible Man gets better on every viewing. The work from Whale, Rains and Sherriff is singular.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by James Whale; screenplay by R.C. Sherriff, based on the novel by H.G. Wells; director of photography, Arthur Edeson; edited by Ted J. Kent; music by Heinz Roemheld; produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Claude Rains (The Invisible Man), Gloria Stuart (Flora Cranley), William Harrigan (Dr. Arthur Kemp), Henry Travers (Dr. Cranley), Una O’Connor (Jenny Hall), Forrester Harvey (Herbert Hall), Holmes Herbert (Chief of Police), E.E. Clive (Const. Jaffers), Dudley Digges (Chief Detective), Harry Stubbs (Inspector Bird), Donald Stuart (Inspector Lane) and Merle Tottenham (Millie).


The Rains Came (1939, Clarence Brown)

I was expecting The Rains Came to be a standard soap–with some ethnic flair, of course (Tyrone Power’s an Indian doctor, Myrna Loy’s a British lady). Instead, it’s a little like… Maugham-lite. Neither Loy nor Power is the lead (in fact, Power’s in it so little he should get a “special guest star” credit). The lead is actually George Brent (who gets third-billing).

He opens the movie and he carries it for quite a while. Loy doesn’t show up for a while and, even when she does, Brent’s around the entire time. His troubles with missionary’s daughter Brenda Joyce, for example, take up the screen time when Power should be getting his own backstory. Brent’s the bored Englishman on self-imposed exile in India (hence, Maugham-lite) and he drinks and threatens to cavort. He makes Rains a joy to watch, even when it’s going through it’s more melodramatic sections.

As it turns out, Loy is not a stoic, upstanding British woman as I expected. She’s a bit of a tramp, frequently stepping out on her odious husband–played by Nigel Bruce, whose death scene is played for laughs. It makes Loy a little bit less than likable (elevating the initially annoying Joyce to that position) and quite tragic once she discovers selflessness–again, Maugham-lite.

Additionally, there are great special effects, harmless direction from Brown and some fine supporting performances–Maria Ouspenskaya in particular.

The Rains Came has some excellent moments; they overshadow the mediocre ones.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Clarence Brown; screenplay by Philip Dunne and Julien Josephson, based on the novel by Louis Bromfield; director of photography, Arthur C. Miller; edited by Barbara McLean; music by Alfred Newman; produced by Darryl F. Zanuck; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Myrna Loy (Lady Edwina Esketh), Tyrone Power (Maj. Rama Safti), George Brent (Tom Ransome), Brenda Joyce (Fern Simon), Nigel Bruce (Lord Albert Esketh), Maria Ouspenskaya (Maharani), Joseph Schildkraut (Mr. Bannerjee), Mary Nash (Miss MacDaid), Jane Darwell (Mrs. Smiley), Marjorie Rambeau (Mrs. Simon), Henry Travers (Rev. Homer Smiley), H.B. Warner (Maharajah), Laura Hope Crews (Lily Hoggett-Egburry), William Royle (Raschid Ali Khan), C. Montague Shaw (Gen. Keith), Harry Hayden (Rev. Elmer Simon), Herbert Evans (Bates), Abner Biberman (John, the Baptist), Mara Alexander (Mrs. Bannerjee) and William Edmunds (Mr. Das).


Stanley and Livingstone (1939, Henry King)

There are some beautiful sequences in Stanley and Livingstone, unfortunately, they’re mostly the second unit work from Africa. These sequences–the endless line of men trekking across great expanses–reveal the landscape and wild life of the continent with fervor. Later on, they’re even incorporated into a great rear projection. Spencer Tracy walks from the right of the frame, in front of the screen, to the left, into a physical set. It’s a nice move, probably the best one in the film (but none of the rear projection is shabbily incorporated).

It’s unfortunate the rest of the film comes off so disjointed. Henry King either didn’t shoot enough coverage or editor Barbara McLean simply ignored it for some reason. King’s fine when he’s shooting long shots or unfolding the matter-of-fact narrative (reporter Stanley’s search for Livingstone), but he has real problems when he’s trying to do the tacked-on unrequited romance angle. Or, almost as bad, the awkward, Walter Brennan fueled comedy relief. Brennan’s an American frontier scout in Africa. It’s as funny as it sounds.

The romance, however, reveals the film’s most significant problem. It’s not really about Spencer Tracy. He’s in ninety-five percent of the scenes, but the film tries to explore his personal growth, which isn’t part of the narrative journey. One moment he’s one way, the next he’s different. It’s a revolutionary, absolute and immediate change. The film culminates in a hearing scene–but really a courtroom scene, as it gives Tracy a lengthy monologue–and it’s boring. The climax has a strong dose of deus ex machina and the film visibly strains to bring Tracy into the narrative. He’s been on the sidelines for ten minutes, even though he’s been on screen. It’s a wrong move for the ending; maybe it’s just because the story left Africa, where it was most compelling.

Tracy’s performance is excellent. The script fails him–most of his changes occur during voiceover narration–but he’s still great. As the romantic interest, Nancy Kelly is ineffective. Charles Coburn’s fine as the bad guy, Richard Greene’s amiable as his good-hearted son. Cedric Hardwicke gives a strange performance as the titular Livingstone. He’s going for something and he doesn’t get it, but the failure isn’t absolute and it is interesting to watch. There are a couple moments where he really lets loose and they’re wonderful. Henry Travers is wasted in a manner similar to Brennan.

Some of the film’s problems come from trying to ignore it’s all white man’s burden. In a strange move, the film–in the script–by-passes the evangelical component and promotes the importance of geography… but then concludes with “Onward, Christian Soldiers” playing over Tracy’s African exploration montage.

While the film’s compelling at times–and the production is generally of fine quality–it’s strangely empty and shouldn’t be. It coasts quite a while on the initial good idea before Tracy can’t keep it going on his own anymore.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Henry King; screenplay by Philip Dunne and Julien Josephson, based on historical research and a story by Hal Long and Sam Hellman; director of photography, George Barnes; edited by Barbara McLean; produced by Darryl F. Zanuck; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Spencer Tracy (Henry M. Stanley), Nancy Kelly (Eve Kingsley), Richard Greene (Gareth Tyce), Walter Brennan (Jeff Slocum), Charles Coburn (Lord Tyce), Cedric Hardwicke (Dr. David Livingstone), Henry Hull (James Gordon Bennett Jr.), Henry Travers (John Kingsley), Miles Mander (Sir John Gresham), David Torrence (Mr. Cranston), Holmes Herbert (Sir Frederick Holcomb), C. Montague Shaw (Sir Oliver French), Brandon Hurst (Sir Henry Forrester), Hassan Said (Hassan), Paul Harvey (Col. Grimes), Russell Hicks (Peace Commissioner) and Frank Dae (Peace Commissioner).


Shadow of a Doubt (1943, Alfred Hitchcock)

Shadow of a Doubt is a strange one–the presence of Teresa Wright and the small town atmosphere and the Gregg Toland-esque (but not Gregg Toland) cinematography make it feel like William Wyler, the presence of Joseph Cotten and the camera angles and intricate sound design make it feel like Welles (or at least an RKO picture Welles produced and did uncredited directing on), and some of the feeling in the shots… only some of them… make it feel like a later Hitchcock, like Psycho or Marnie, anything but one of his early American pictures. Shadow of a Doubt feels absolutely foreign from something Hitchcock did in the UK, The Lady Vanishes for easy comparison, but also unlike his more well-known American works of the 1940s. Artistically speaking, it’s the most exciting Hitchcock got after he gave up all the filmic experimentation with the move across the Atlantic and it’s some beautiful stuff in Shadow, because he hasn’t got a formula worked out, because Hitchcock’s successful formulas tend to rely on the intrigue, not on the lack of it. Shadow of a Doubt works in the end not because of Hitchcock’s efficiency as a suspense director, but because that Wyler-esque family drama (the contribution of Thornton Wilder?) works so well.

Two different things are going on, from the actors, in Shadow of a Doubt. Teresa Wright does her thing, essaying this conflicted, happy, sad, romantic young woman who’s petrified, but who’s also able to navigate an impossible situation with seeming success–falling in love during it as well. Then there’s Joseph Cotten, who’s playing a character much like one Joseph Cotten would play for the next ten years, both as good guys and bad guys–the guy who’s completely evil, but maybe not wrong about his motivations for being evil, also not so evil he can’t care about people. Cotten is not a Hitchcock actor, which makes Shadow an odd favorite for Hitchcock to pick from his oeuvre. There’s just something about Cotten–you can see he’s doing what he’s doing, Hitchcock’s direction be damned. It’s another reason Shadow of a Doubt is so different–all the excellent, excited performances. Hitchcock usually sucked the enthusiasm out of actors, even in good films, instead letting them be themselves with written dialogue, but in Shadow of a Doubt, it’s a much, much different situation. Patricia Collinge does some excellent work in the film, usually in scenes unlike any other Hitchcock scenes. The most Hitchcockian actor is Macdonald Carey and Carey is essential as Wright’s love interest and Cotten’s pursuer, but he’s got that blander Hitchcock acting style going. He’s good, but it’s not a textured, tortured performance, not like Wright, Cotten or Collinge.

I’d only seen Shadow of a Doubt once before, maybe ten years ago, and for the majority of the film, I was upset, remembering it being much better than it unfolded. But once the end came around and especially the neat coda, I had bought into it entirely. Hitchcock’s visual style, while incredibly fun to watch, is nothing compared to the film’s unlikely emotional impact.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay by Thorton Wilder, Sally Benson and Alma Reville, from a story by Gordon McDonell; director of photography, Joseph A. Valentine; edited by Milton Carruth; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; produced by Jack H. Skirball; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Teresa Wright (Young Charlie), Joseph Cotten (Uncle Charlie), Macdonald Carey (Jack), Henry Travers (Joe Newton), Patricia Collinge (Emma Newton), Hume Cronyn (Herbie Hawkins), Wallace Ford (Det. Saunders) and Edna May Wonacott (Ann Newton).


The Very Thought of You (1944, Delmer Daves)

Delmer Daves–for someone whose directing occasionally makes me cover my eyes in fright–does an all right job with The Very Thought of You. He has these tight close-ups and, while there are only a few of them, they work out quick well. Otherwise, technically speaking, he doesn’t have many tricks. He’s on the low end of proficient and I kept thinking, as I watched the film, what a better director could have done with the material, since the film’s so strong.

There isn’t much internal conflict in The Very Thought of You. World War II applies pressure on the characters, pushing them into conflicted situations, which gives the film a nice lightness. It gets slow occasionally, since the only foreseeable suspense throughout is Dennis Morgan’s character getting killed in battle–except he and Eleanor Parker have multiple goodbyes, only to get to see each other again before he goes off. The first act is loaded with good scenes and great conversations and, while the second doesn’t have as many, it has enough the pacing doesn’t get too bothersome.

I suppose the film is propaganda, but it’s incredibly light propaganda if it is–a shot here or there, an extra line of dialogue. Morgan looks like a leading man, but he’s probably the weakest actor in the film. I’ve seen it before but didn’t remember much and I was worried he’d be expected to carry it. Instead, Parker’s got an awful family–Beulah Bondi and Andrea King remind of wicked characters from a fairy tale and both are excellent. Obviously, Parker needs some support in the family scenes, so Henry Travers is her understanding father and does some nice work. Georgia Lee Settle is her precocious little sister and she’s good too. The 4F brother, played by John Alvin, also does some good work. The family scenes are most of the best written ones, since they have visible conflict. The other good scenes are the ones with Parker and Faye Emerson and the ones with Dane Clark as the comic relief (with a heart of gold). The romance between Morgan and Parker–the majority of the film takes place over two days–has all off-screen conflict and, though it’s the subject of the film, one just takes it for granted and engages with the rest.

The film is well-made (though there’s mediocre direction–with a few exceptions) and it’s nice and a pleasant viewing experience. Still, without any conflict and any real suspense, it’s a chore to maintain interest. It’s rewarding, but still a chore.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Delmer Daves; screenplay by Alvah Bessie and Daves, from a story by Lionel Wiggam; director of photography, Bert Glennon; edited by Alan Crosland Jr.; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Jerry Wald; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Dennis Morgan (Sgt. David Stewart), Eleanor Parker (Janet Wheeler), Dane Clark (Sgt. ‘Fixit’ Gilman), Faye Emerson (Cora ‘Cuddles’ Colton), Beulah Bondi (Mrs. Harriet Wheeler), Henry Travers (Pop Wheeler), William Prince (Fred), Andrea King (Molly Wheeler), John Alvin (Cal Wheeler), Marianne O’Brien (Bernice), Georgia Lee Settle (Ellie Wheeler), Richard Erdman (Soda Jerk) and Francis Pierlot (Minister Raymond Houck).


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