The Media Show – Shadow Of A Doubt – tape 802

First on this tape “The New Look Media Show“. Was this the first episode presented by Emma Freud?

The first item looks at the relationship between the police and the media on the Broadwater Farm estate, following the murder of PC Keith Blakelock.

There’s pictures from ITN, from inside a furniture van full of policemen in riot gear emerging to overrun the estate, an operation to target drug dealers.

There’s a short piece about the spate of film and TV spy movies whose plot involves the planned assassination of Mikhail Gorbachev. Nice to see Shane Rimmer in one of them.

There’s a piece about Canadian cinema. Interviewed are Denys Arcand, about Jesus of Montreal.

Patricia Rozema, director of I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing.

Atom Egoyan

The next segment looks at Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. I have to admit that this is a film I didn’t enjoy very much. Watching this just reminded me how vile the film is.

Then the episode ends with a nice montage of scenes which take place in underground car parks – a location I’ve long thought was vital to any modern thriller.

After this, recording switches to another time on Channel 4 for a classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller, Shadow of a Doubt. I first watched this as part of a film studies course I went on at my local college. I was still at secondary school, but I decided to take this course, mainly as an excuse to watch a lot of movies, along with a bit of film theory. I never took the exam at the end, as that wasn’t of interest to me, but it was a good way of seeing a lot of films I possibly wouldn’t have watched otherwise.

One of them was this film, in which Joseph Cotten plays a shady character who we meet when he learns some people are after him, and he doesn’t want to be found.

He decides to leave town, and visit some family. The younger sister is great, so involved in reading her book she can barely be bothered to answer the telephone.

The father is played by Henry Travers, familiar as the angel Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Older sister Charlie is bored with life, and she decides to send a telegram to her Uncle Charlie, who she adores, only to discover that Charlie (Cotten) has already sent a telegram to her mother saying he’s arriving soon.

Everyone is so happy to have Uncle Charlie there, young Charlie in particular. He’s friendly, and brings presents for everyone. The clues that something is amiss are fairly small. Young Charlie is humming a particular tune at the dinner table, and the family try to remember what it is. They can’t quite remember the name, and just as Young Charlie is about to say the name of the piece, Uncle Charlie knocks over a drinking glass, interrupting her.

Later, he sees something in the newspaper, so to prevent the family seeing it, he builds a house out of the page.

Charlie’s father likes to talk detective stories with his friend. It’s a lovely running quirk that keeps the idea of murder in the audience’s mind.

Two men come to interview the family for some kind of government survey. They seem to be particularly interested in Uncle Charlie, but he tells Young Charlie he wants nothing to do with them.

When they manage to take a photo of Charlie, he demands their film.

One of the interviewers takes Charlie out, and she asks him if he’s a detective. He admits he is, and he’s looking for a man, and Uncle Charlie is one of the men they’re investigating. This sows doubt in Charlie’s mind, and she tries to find the newspaper clipping Uncle Charlie removed. When she can’t find it, she has to go to the library – it closes at 9pm, so Hitchcock makes her walk to the library into a suspense scene, culminating in her finding the story Charlie was hiding.

It’s interesting that Hitchcock holds on the story a long time – long enough for the audience to read it all, and get the exposition within.

At dinner time, Uncle Charlie espouses his philosophy about widows, a rather chilling view that they are worthless pigs, feeding off the wealth generated by their dead husbands. Clearly, at this point, there’s no secret, so Hitchcock is now showing his true nature.

He takes Young Charlie to a bar to find out what she knows and what she’s going to do. The waitress in this scene is an old school friend of Charlie’s, and she’s brilliant, bored with life, telling them she’s worked in most of the bars in town, and clearly with no interest in the job. I love these minor characters who all seem to have a little story of their own that we’re not seeing.

He asks Charlie for a last chance, just a few days.

But the next day, the news arrives that the other suspect in the Merry Widow murders was killed when being pursued by police, so Uncle Charlie must be off the hook. One of the detectives has fallen in love with Charlie and tells her. She’s flattered but not immediately swooning in his arms.

Uncle Charlie seems happy with this turn of events, on the surface, but his handling of Charlie betrays a different motive. “Charlie is a fine girl. She’s the thing I love most in the world.”

But later, Charlie almost falls down the steps when one of them breaks, then later she gets trapped in the garage with a car that’s running.

Uncle Charlie announces that he’s leaving for a while, coincidentally when a wealthy local widow is travelling, and Young Charlie is there to see him off. But Uncle Charlie keeps her there while the train starts, intending to throw her off the train because she knows too much.

But young Charlie manages to turn the tables, and Uncle Charlie falls under a train, in a nice bit of rear projection.

It’s nice to see that a film I enjoyed so much so long ago still works. It’s a lovely, effective small town thriller with some lovely performances, and lots of lovely little touches.

After this, there’s the start of American Football. I might have mentioned it before, but I always thought that presenter Mick Luckhurst seems awkward. Perhaps it’s his weird mid-atlantic accent that he’s acquired during his playing career, but he always seems to exude a slight air of reluctance. I’m probably doing him a disservice, but that’s always the vibe I get from him.

The tape ends during this programme.

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3 comments

  1. Ah, Atom Egoyan and Peter Greenaway, two of my least favourite pretentio-90s directors, together at last.

    Shadow of a Doubt is the film Hitchcock considered his best, or his favourite, anyway. The small town atmosphere is all the more vital because this was precisely the sort of place where the horrors of WW2 were being brought home to – there’s a theme of innocence lost that is very poignant, but it’s oddly unsentimental too. Cotten and Wright make a great team.

    Also, Joseph Cotten is the bane of the spellchecker, because it insists his surname is Cotton, when it isn’t, so across the internet it’s been creating its own Mandela Effect by correcting the spelling as it sees fit.

  2. I remember this showing of Shadow Of A Doubt from late ’89. My sister recorded it as she liked Alfred Hitchcock’s films and we watched it together. That close-up of Joseph Cotten as he talked about fat, greedy women was pretty chilling stuff and I remember when his niece found out about the Merry Widow Murders and the look of shock on her face. She also taped Strangers On A Train, Spellbound and Under Capricorn and we also watched Rope with my mum. I can also remember seeing the opening credits of Vertigo and what came after it before going to bed. My brother once said he thought it was a great movie.

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