Thursday, December 26, 2013

shadow of doubt - 1935

shadow of doubt
from a story by arthur somers roche

not to be confused with the much more popular hitchcock film, shadow of a doubt, which came along eight years later, shadow of doubt rolled out during the heyday of comic mystery cinema, in 1935. i've become a big fan of these movies but i didn't even realize that this one fell into that category until i started watching.

even then i didn't realize that this was a comic mystery, given that it gets off to a rather slow start. fortunately, i wasn't in a particularly impatient mood on this particular day and so i stuck with it and it wasn't long before things began to pick up considerably.

shadow of doubt stars ricardo cortez as sim sturdevant and viriginia bruce as his main squeeze, actress trenna plaice. it's not too far along into the proceedings before they've both become suspects - along with a few others - in the murder of a thoroughly unlikable playboy type, movie producer len haworth. before long sim's wealthy old aunt melissa decides she's going to leave her home for the first time in about a quarter of a century and get to the bottom of the mess.

which is where things really start to pick up. early on, aunt melissa is a rather formidable presence but nothing to write home about. when she slips in private detective mode things turn decidedly zany and the patient viewer is rewarded for toughing it out through the early bits.

the obvious comparison here is to edna may oliver, the best of the three actresses who played hildegarde withers in the various adaptations of stuart palmer's fiction. aunt melissa obviously has a bit more of a nest egg than palmer's withers, a schoolteacher, but they are both sturdy women of a certain age who are not particularly inclined to put up with any crap from anyone. i kept waiting for aunt melissa to lash out and belt someone with the cane she carries everywhere, but as to whether she actually does, you'll have to see for yourself.

cortez also turns in a great performance and there are outstanding supporting roles from regis toomey as a gossip columnist and ivan f. simpson as aunt melissa's long-suffering and always deadpan butler (who's racked up a debt of $78,000 playing cards with her over the course of the decades).

as for the plot, it's serviceable enough, but nothing special, as is so often the case with these flicks. which is to be expected and it really doesn't detract from the film's overall greatness. i'd rank shadow of doubt right up there with the best of the palmer movies, the thin man series and any of the others of those great comic mysteries of yesteryear. don't miss it.

here's a rather entertaining contemporary review from the new york times.