|Our first glimpse of Uncle Charlie|
Cotten is perhaps most famous for his films with Orson Welles, but his best screen performance, in my opinion, is as the mysterious Uncle Charlie in the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Shadow of a Doubt. As the dapper and sophisticated uncle visiting his older sister’s family in California, Cotten establishes himself as a menacing presence from the moment he first appears on the screen.
Our first glimpse of Charles Oakley is of him laying on a bed in a boarding house, dressed in a perfectly tailored suit, smoking a cigar. The way the scene is shot and Cotten’s non-verbal, acting, we’re tipped off that Uncle Charlie is an unsavory sort. His face is stiff and immobile at times. His movements measured and deliberate.
|Was there ever a more menacing train?|
Uncle Charlie travels to Santa Rosa, California, by railroad. When the train arrives, the engine’s smoke stack spits out the biggest, darkest cloud of smoke, casting a shadow on the small train station, another clue that this is no ordinary family visit. In the beginning, all is well. Charlie loves showing off her handsome uncle who dresses like a first class passenger on a luxury ocean liner. Then, little by little, things begin to change.
|“You’re hurting me, Uncle Charlie!”|
|Uncle Charlie, a murderer?|
At the library, Young Charley finds the article that her uncle ripped out of the paper. It says that there are two men suspected of being the “Merry- Widow” Murderer. A man back east and one out west. One of the victims has the same initials that were engraved in a ring Young Charley’s uncle gave her. She is now convinced her uncle is a murderer. At dinner the next day, Uncle Charley talks about rich women, widows and all their money. The money their husbands made that they’re spending “frivolously.” Moments before Young Charley recounts a dream that makes it clear that she knows something about her uncle. From that moment on, the tension increases and it’s clear that Uncle Charley isn’t going to let his niece get in the way of his plans: to settle down in Santa Rosa. Cotten’s performance which had hints of menace now goes full throttle, warning his niece not to get in his way in so many words. The glimpses of charm that Young Charley saw earlier have vanished. Cotten’s face becomes tighter, more mask-like; it’s hard to know what he’s thinking, but you’re convinced it isn’t anything good.
|“…or are they fat, wheezing animals?”|
Finally Uncle Charlie is leaving town by train. Young Charlie, Ann and Roger are on the train saying their good-byes. While Ann and Roger get off the train, Uncle Charlie grabs his niece. As the train starts moving, Young Charlie realizes that he’s going to kill her. “Your hands,” she shouts, as their struggle now becomes physical.
Cotten is so good in Shadow of a Doubt that it is incredible to me that he was passed over come Oscar time. Cotten’s performance is so well played that it just looked too easy, I guess. Still it’s one of the great Hollywood injustices that He wasn’t even nominated.
If you’re looking for a good screen villain, you can’t do much better than Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt.
This post is part of the Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Ruth of Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows & Satin, and Kristina of Speakeasy. Click on any of the links to read more posts on great movie villains.
This film is one of my favorites! I've seen it countless times and it never gets old. Great write up:)ReplyDelete
Thank you, Victoria. I it was difficult to boil this movie down to a blog post; there's just so much going on. You could do a Ph.D. thesis on this film. I really love it and like you, never tire of seeing it.ReplyDelete
Good old Uncle Charlie. He is a great villain, and Cotton is what makes the role so memorable. He plays the part in a way that makes you like him, even though he's pure evil. The real mystery of the picture is that young Charlie couldn't see through him better.ReplyDelete
Great post on another wonderfully evil villain. This blogathon is proving to be quite a lot of fun.
Thanks for stopping by. Shadow of a Doubt is so complex. I think Young Charlie created a fantasy in her own mind. Plus she was very young, innocent and inexperienced. But, man, by the end of the movie she's not so young, not so innocent. And Cotton is just great; I can't imagine anyone else in the role. Again, thanks for stopping by.Delete
This is one of my fave movies + Joseph Cotten performance. He is SO chilling as the sociopathic Uncle Charlie.ReplyDelete
Thanks for this fabulous review and for contributing to the blogathon. No villainous blogathon would be complete without good ol' Uncle Charlie.
Thank you. It's one of my faves too and Joseph Cotton is just so creepy. It's an amazing performance.Delete
A great choice and a great write-up! I totally agree that Cotten should have gotten a nod at Oscar time -- he was so good in this performance. I especially enjoyed your discussion of the opening scene in the hotel room and the arrival of Uncle Charlie's train -- good stuff!ReplyDelete
Thank you, Karen. I think I bit off more than I could chew with this one. There are so many layers to Cotton's characterization. Thanks for stopping by.Delete
Uncle Charlie is definitely one of the greatest villains , And I agree it 's ridiculous Joseph COTTEN didn't win an Oscar.ReplyDelete
We're all in agreement: Joseph Cotton's performance was definitely Oscar-worthy.Delete
I need to revisit this one. Great review! =)ReplyDelete
Hitchcock is always worth a revisit, I think. Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it truly.Delete
This is a great write-up. Of Hitchcock movies, Shadow of a Doubt doesn't get the attention it deserves, neither does Joseph Cotten. A very subtle and memorable performance. What a great blogathon.ReplyDelete
Thank you for the stopping by and for agreeing with me! :) Cotton is just so good; he made it look so easy that I don't think people appreciated how subtle and nuanced a performance it was.Delete
I couldn't agree more: Joseph Cotten is menace personified. I think this is one of Hitchcock's scariest films (perhaps with the exception of The Birds and Psycho) because the character really seems like someone you could meet on a train or in a hotel. The human mind can conjure up scenarios with no foundation, and I should know - I can't go back downstairs at night once all the lights have been switched off!ReplyDelete
I've seen the film dozens of times and Cotton still creeps me out. And I agree it is one of Hitchcock's scariest films. It really gets in your head and your imagination, which is scarier than anything that could be on the screen. Thanks for stopping by; I appreciate to comments.Delete
Cotten is so amazing in this, and it's really one of the best Hitchcocks. We all have that relative that seems cool and perfect when we're young so we can all relate to this. I can also relate to having so much to say about a fave movie. Thanks for being part of this with such a good pick.ReplyDelete
Cotton truly is amazing as is everyone else in the cast. The contrast between him and Wright's youth and innocence is striking and all the more creepy. Thanks for asking me to a part of this blogathon.Delete
Great movie; great post. Cotten chilled me to the bone in this!ReplyDelete
Totally. I think it might be the single most chilling performance in all of film. Imagine a double feature with Leave Her to Heaven! Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate it.Delete