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Few will ever forget this serial killer in new suburbia masterpiece. Teresa Wright is the naive young girl who believes her beloved Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton) is the greatest guy in the world. Such halting hero worship is challenged when it looks like said relative is actually a slick serial killer known as the Merry Widow Murderer. The rest of the film is a fantastic “is he or isn’t he?” From the Oscar worthy performances to the final confrontation on a moving train, Hitchcock draws us into this seemingly safe white picket fence world and shows us the ugly, and the evil, underneath. Just terrific.
As he would throughout the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, Hitchcock experimented with style and approach. Even this story of crossed killings (one consensual, the other far from it) couldn’t escape his cinematic tinkering. Thus we get the amazing murder at the carnival, the lens from a fallen pair of glasses capturing the act in all its noxious cruelty. Even better is the finale which returns to the fair and finds our reluctant hero taking on the wicked villain while riding an out of control carousel. From its homoerotic undercurrents to its splash and spectacle, it remains one of Hitchcock’s most astonishing artistic statements.
For many, this is Hitchcock’s masterpiece, and that’s saying a lot when you consider that filmmaker has made more than one movie that could be called same. For us, the films at three through one could easily be switched around, their effect both as art and as genre benchmarks beyond reproach. Here, Hitchcock is working personal… very personal. While accused of putting his fetishes and perversions onscreen for all to see, this story of a detective trying to decipher a mysterious murder remains a hypnotic and romantic stunner. We can see the source’s psychological complexity in every frame, and the results are beyond spellbinding.
Still smarting from the rejection of Vertigo and angered that North By Northwest was embraced instead, Hitchcock wanted to push the boundaries of his filmmaking acumen once again. So he settled on a story inspired by serial killer Ed Gein, gussied it up with a name cast, and then handled the entire project like an auteur’s version of a B-movie. Studio executives might have hated it, but it’s now cited as one of the greatest horror movies of all time. Better still, it’s effect on the public psyche was almost immediate. Let’s just say that showers have never been as popular since.
While he may have dismissed it as the kind of movie he could do with one hand tied behind his back, this remains Hitchcock’s ultimate statement. It’s the reason his resume reads “The Master of Suspense.” For the Mount Rushmore finale alone, the director deserves a few dozens film school courses in his name. With another stellar cast—Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, an incredibly Martin Landau—and a terrific mistaken identity plot, the film flies by on wings of well-honed cinematic craftsmanship. Not only has it stood the test of time, it belittles any attempt to match its forward thinking brilliance.