A psychological thriller about a small town girl and her honest and angelic family, this film is about how pure evil can always impose itself on the innocence of those that are truly pure. Young Charlie played by Teresa Wright lives with her family in a town so pristine that it might make pleasantville look mundane. However it is that ordinary life that makes Young Charlie restless as for some time she’s been void of any passion and is desperate for something to be elated about. She gets her wish when her Uncle Charlie, a well traveled man that she adores and was named after, comes to visit after being unheard from for many years. Young Charlie thinks the company of Uncle Charlie is just what she needs in life, and believes the admiration is mutual as they are connected through spirit and name. However as the story unfolds and the truth behind her Uncle gradually becomes clear, Young Charlie endures the harsh reality that sometimes the ones we love tend to disappoint us the most.
Joseph Cotton plays the mysterious uncle, and is brilliant in his mystique and alluring demeanor. However the audience can’t help but notice his unusual behavior, despite the loving indifference he receives from his sister’s family. The truth is that he is a fugitive known as the “Merry Widow Murderer,” yet after approached by detectives Young Charlie is reluctant to believe it, and even when her uncle confides in her (while threatening her) she conceals it from the family feeling it would only spread her pain not extinguish it.
Memorable scenes include the manipulation by Uncle Charlie throughout the film, most notably when he uses the young children to hide a newspaper clipping that will potentially expose him. That scene brings to mind the supporting cast that fills out a wonderful ensemble of actors, including Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn who together have a dark sense of humor that leads to delineations throughout the film on what would qualify for the ‘perfect murder.’ Somewhat reminiscent of Robert Cummings character in Dial M For Murder, this subtle dialogue is vintage Hitchcock as it sets the tone for the inevitable clash between the Charlies, which ultimately materializes on a train in a messy exchange that I assume wouldn’t have impressed the aforementioned connoisseurs of murder. Nevertheless this film was known to be Hitchcock’s personal favorite, as it’s simplicity brings out the beauty of the innocent and the horror of the depraved and immoral, symbolizing that terror can infiltrate the most respectable family in any wholesome neighborhood of Anytown, USA.