October 30, 2012 is when Universal is releasing the 'Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Collection' containing fifteen of the director's seminal works. In an effort to bring you the most in-depth coverage on this set we are going through each included movie to give you the most thorough review we can. Feel free to visit the 'Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Collection' hub page. There you will find links to the other movies in this set and everything you'd want to know about the set's technical specifics and its packaging.
'Shadow of a Doubt' starts off intriguingly enough. A nameless man lies on a bed, despondent and detached. He's being followed by two shadowy figures standing just outside his apartment. He's able to lose them in the streets, but they'll be back.
The man soon boards a train and heads out west. He's going to visit family. We don't know why he's running, but those shadowy men look like they're up to no good. We soon learn the man's name is Charles Oakley (Joseph Cotton). Like so many Hitchcock characters, Charles is a man with secrets. Secrets that become more and more apparent as the movie progresses.
Charles has family out west. His sister lives there with her husband and a few children. They're an idyllic bunch, living in the suburbs. However, seeing that the Master of Suspense is at work, they certainly can't stay a peaceful suburb family for long. Uncle Charlie is coming and he's bringing whatever trouble he's in with him.
The main lead in the movie, besides Uncle Charlie, is his niece who is also named Charlie (Teresa Wright). Young Charlie is a spunky, youthful type who is infatuated with her uncle. She's completely enamored with him. She hangs on his every word and adores just about everything about him.
Uncle Charlie is a congenial man. He's well-to-do, treats people with respect, and always has a smile on his face. If you haven't seen the movie before you'd think there was nothing amiss about him, but you have nagging suspicions rolling around in your head because of that opening scene. Soon Hitchcock starts dropping hints about Uncle Charlie's character. There's a scene where he rips something out of a newspaper that he doesn't want the family reading. His face isn't happy then. It's firm and tinged with anger. He looks like the detached man we saw in the opening few minutes.
What works so well here is how Hitchcock weaves a tale about Uncle Charlie. How he slowly reveals tidbits of information, yet keeps many of his cards close to his chest, always causing room for doubt. From the outset we know that something isn't quite right, then we get caught up in the happy-go-lucky life of young Charlie. It's easy to forget about the suspicious nature of her uncle as both of them laugh and have a good time together. However, Hitchcock is simply biding his time until he's able to ratchet up the suspense.
Once we figure everything out, even if we knew what was happening all along, the way Hitchcock has constructed the scenes towards the end of the movie is masterful. There's a family dinner where no one has a clue what's going on except young and old Charlie. They speak in terms that the rest of the family would understand, yet the subtext of their words is deafening.
What I liked about 'Rope' was the way the villain was able to roam free, espousing his sick and twisted ideals; justifying what he'd done. The same holds true for 'Shadow of a Doubt.' Ultimately the villain is given the best dialogue in the movie. A sadistic monologue that creeps me out every time I watch it. See, 'Shadow of a Doubt' is less about the mystery and more about the psyche of a criminal. Why do they do what they do? How do they justify it? How do they live with themselves afterward? It's a truly captivating glimpse into the mind of a killer.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Check the main hub page for the complete detail of the packaging of this set. Everything about it can be found there. For fun we've posted a picture of the section in the set created for 'Shadow of a Doubt' so you can see what it looks like.
Like the earlier reviewed 'Saboteur,' 'Shadow of a Doubt' is also black and white. While 'Saboteur' had a very striking black and white appearance that reminded me of the 'Twilight Zone' sets, I didn't feel the same way about 'Shadow.'
Universal has provided a 1080p transfer of Hitchcock's 1943 film that definitely shows its age. For whatever reason 'Shadow' is much softer on the detail than 'Saboteur' was. Everything appears softer. Mid-range shots are downright hazy at times as outlines and features of people become fuzzy and indistinct. Ultra-close shots do exhibit quite a bit of detail though. Some sweat and lines on a furrowed brow can be easily seen when the camera is zoomed in as close as possible.
The movie's establishing shots, like the shots outside an apartment building or the family's house, are plagued with noise. Scratches and pockmarks pop up regularly. They're really apparent in the establishing shots, but they can be seen through most of the film. One scene, where Uncle Charlie visits with the bank president reveals quite a lot of film damage that is pretty noticeable. It's only in that scene though.
Grain is nice and consistent though. DNR does seem like it has been used in places, doesn't appear to have been applied egregiously. The grain structure is fine and does provide for a distinctly filmic look.
Brightness fluctuates from time to time with black backgrounds fluttering from lighter shades back to inky blackness. Shadows on faces seem a little murkier than they did in 'Saboteur.' They appear to hide features instead of accentuating them. However, there are quite a few scenes, like when young Charlie walks up the stairs of their home with the detective, where shadows are quite distinctly outlined with their edges being perfectly exact.
I didn't notice any egregious artifacting errors. No banding, aliasing, or unduly digital noise to report. It isn't as crisp as 'Saboteur's presentation, but I'm sure it will please most fans.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono mix does a decent job too. It does a nice job capturing the spirit of the film and portraying the intensity of the movie's most suspenseful scenes. There are, nonetheless, a couple drawbacks too.
Dialogue comes across clean, and loud enough. Clarity when it comes to dialogue is nicely rendered. There are even a few times in the movie where a character lowly hums a waltz tune. Even though it's hummed low you can still hear it clearly. Voices never get lost and there aren't any noticeable audio dropouts like in 'Rope.' Here the spoken word is continuously intelligible. Clarity does suffer a little when Dimitri Tiomkin's original score hits the really high notes with his brass section. Trumpets and horns get a little muddled together in the higher ranges.
Another one of the minor inconsistencies in the mix is a problem with audio sync around the 10:20 mark where young Charlie is talking to someone in the doorway. After that the audio syncs back up, although I thought I spotted a few other scenes with sync issues, although those were brief and could've simply been chalked up to poor ADR.
While I think Hitchcock made even better films later in his career, it's hard to argue with what he considered his favorite. It really is a well-paced, wonderfully suspenseful thriller that doesn't see the need to hand the entire story to the audience on a platter. And then, once you know the secret, it's not like the movie is done. There's still that patented sense of dread running through the film, which keeps you engaged to the very end. Yes, the video isn't as great as it was in 'Saboteur,' but for the most part it gets the job done. Either way, this movie is still highly recommended.