Life’s a Hitch: Shadow of a Doubt (1991)

Dave sees the faint silhouette of a rotund British director in this ’90s potboiler, as a classic from The Master of Suspense is remade for network TV.

The ‘90s saw a bounty of Hitchcock remakes designed for the small screen; from traditional variants like Jeff Bleckner’s Rear Window (1998), to bolder reimagining’s like Lifepod (1993) – Ron Silver’s trippy sci-fi take on Lifeboat (1944).

SHADOW OF A DOUBT sits firmly in the camp of the former, having even gone to the trouble of filming in the exact same town (Santa Rosa, California) as Hitch’s 1943 classic. That’s not to say it’s identical. Screenwriter John Gay (Run Silent, Run Deep (1958)) was keen to tell the Los Angeles Times about the odd tweak that he made to Gordon McDonell’s initial outline, most notably with the opening murder of wealthy widow Terese Mathewson (played by Tippi Hedren no less):

“Ten minutes into the original, and there’s no question that Uncle Charlie is the killer. Since there isn’t any doubt to begin with, the drama is in the girl’s reaction, and the family’s reaction to Uncle Charlie. So I thought it would be interesting to see him do his thing.”

Taking over the lead role from the sublime Joseph Cotton is Mark Harmon, who, as Charles Oakley, makes his way from New York back home to Newport, Rhode Island to reacquaint himself with his sister Emma (Diane Ladd), brother-in-law Henry (William Lanteau) and namesake niece Charlie (Margaret Welsh). They’re thrilled to see him again, regarding him as some kind of gallivanting chevalier returning from a string of capitalist conquests on Wall Street. However, as time passes, Charlie becomes suspicious about her uncle’s past – and with the help of an inquisitive reporter (Norm Skaggs), she begins to unravel a complex web of deception…

At times, Shadow of a Doubt 2.0 is a classy, elegant production – a period piece that frequently pays homage to its masterful antecedent. Director Karen Arthur and cinematographer Tom Neuwirth (who directed the ace prison flick Broken Bars (1995)) had a tight working relationship having just come off the back of Bump in the Night (1991) with Christopher Reeve, and it shows on-screen through some gloriously staged sequences and handsome lighting.

Having said that, it’s still a TV movie. Debuting on CBS in April 1991, Shadow of a Doubt struggles to shed its boob tube personality. Allyn Ferguson’s score periodically pulls it from mystery to melodrama, denting its ambition – although for Hitchcock completists and those with a penchant for sharply constructed suspense, it carries a gravitas that makes it a worthwhile distraction.

USA ● 1991 ● Thriller, TVM ● 100mins

Mark Harmon, Margaret Welsh, Diane Ladd, Tippi Hedren Dir. Karen Arthur ● Wri. John Gay (teleplay), Gordon McDonell (earlier story)

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