Watched: December 12 2016
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey, Henry Travers, Hume Cronyn
Runtime: 1h 48min
Young Charlie Newton (Wright) is depressed and feels sorry for her mother whose life is in a rut. She needs some action in her life – a break from the routine. However, she gets more than she bargained for when the family receives a telegram from uncle Charlie (Cotten), her mother’s brother and young Charlie’s favourite uncle, informing them that he is coming to stay for a bit.
The big city uncle arrives in the small town of Santa Rosa and lavishes his family with presents and the glamour automatically associated with New York businessmen. However, very soon a pair of “surveyors” show up wanting to photograph and interview the family, especially the newly arrived uncle. Young Charlie starts to get suspicious, not only because of the hostility her older namesake shows the surveyors but also because he hid a newspaper clipping about “the Merry Widow Killer,” a serial killer preying on rich widows, from the family.
The surveyors turn out to be investigators who suspect Uncle Charlie of being the killer, although they have another suspect as well. One of the investigators, Jack (Carey), takes Charlie the Younger out and eventually talks her into helping them as long as they do not make an arrest in front of her mother, as she’s afraid the shock (and shame) would devastate her. The tension between uncle and niece builds as strange “accidents” start to befall her and she suspects dear uncle Charlie might be trying to get rid of the one family member who know of his (possible) double life.
As always, the tension and suspense are really intense in this Hitchcock thriller. The relationship between the two Charlies is creepy – first because of the slightly incestuous undertones and later on the way he manipulates her and takes advantage of her love for her mother. Besides their relationship though, the family is really quite lovely. Even the younger children have clear and defined personalities, and we loved the father and his friend’s never ending murder plans for each other. Charlie the Younger is at once too smart and too naïve for her own good and could probably learn a thing or two from her bookish little sister once in a while.
Eventually, Charlie learns from her uncle and starts using his own manipulative tricks against him. In fact, throughout the film she goes from naïve and sweet school girl to a grown woman in charge of herself and her own fate. Some murderous cinematic bildungsroman there! And we loved it!
What we learned: families always spoil the youngest. Also, it’s important to include Veronica Lake in your evening prayers. Childhood head trauma always leads to criminal behaviour.
Next time: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)