I know, I know, we’ve all gotta go sometime…and 86 years ain’t bad…
Still, I’ve only known her for 19 of them (we first met when I was a
tween, discovering that the PBS late show could make up for any
amount of drunken brawling that went on in the space beyond my bedroom
door) I wouldn’t say that I “escaped’ into the world of
melodramas, screwballs, and noirs–but I certainly gave that old black
and white TV (along with my dog Shelly, and my cat Marbles) my full
attention… Call it meditation, with smiles and tears. And Teresa
Wright was one of the greatest people that I ever concentrated on.
That news story I linked to up there–it’s pretty lame…
Take this f’rinstance:
In 1943 Hitchcock made canny use of her innocent demeanour in Shadow of a Doubt (she played the doting niece who gradually realises that her beloved
Uncle Charlie may have murdered several susceptible widows); and with
her homely looks she slotted easily into the postwar domestic tapestry
of Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).
That’s an atrocity, frankly… I would argue that Wright’s performance in Shadow of a Doubt
is the finest by any actress in the Master’s oeuvre. “Canny use”? No.
For once in his life, Hitchcock lost control of that film. It breaks
out of the auteurist mold. The actors–the “cattle”–fight back… and
Wright led the stampede. In a Capra, or Dieterle, or Cassavettes, or
Borzage, you take it for granted that the actor’s subjectivity will be
given fair play. These directors specialize in the exhibition of
personality supernovae… In Hitchcock (or Kubrick), it’s the frame
that counts–the prison is the focus, not the prisoners…
Except in Shadow of a Doubt.–
oh the Hitchockian view is represented alright–Joseph Cotten (as Uncle Charlie) does the honours:
Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know if you ripped the
fronts off houses you’d find swine?
You think you know something, don’t you? You think you’re
the clever little girl who knows something. There’s so much you don’t know . . .
so much. What do you know really? You’re just an ordinary little girl living
in an ordinary little town. You wake up every morning of your life and
you know perfectly well that there’s nothing in the world to trouble you.
You go through your ordinary little day and at night you sleep your untroubled,
ordinary little sleep filled with peaceful, stupid dreams . . . and I brought
But the thing is–she does know something. And it’s not her “sweetness” that gives equal
ontological weight to the opposing point of view–it’s her resolve…
I wish I could post actual footage of this scene:
I don’t want you here, Uncle Charlie. I don’t want you to touch my mother. So go away, I’m warning you. Go away or I’ll kill you myself. See, that’s the way I feel about you.
She delivers the lines with such understated force…as if she’s actually
conserving the hysterical energy that any of us would feel welling up
within us if we ever found ourselves in such a situation–saving it up
it for the lethal blow.
Even more memorable are the two words–”Go away”–that escape through
her clenched teeth as she is revived by the author of her “accidental”
near-asphyxiation, surrounded by the good-natured chorus of benevolent
dupes whose innocence she strives so hard to protect throughout the
film… I once put those two words on my answering machine–during an
extended siege laid by collection agents… I don’t think it really
worked (those fuckers don’t hear anything–certainly not the voice of
conscience!)–but it sure made me feel better!
And for that, Teresa, (not to mention a wide range of performances in films as diffrent from each other as The Little Foxes, The Pride of The Yankees and Pursued) I thank you, from the bottom of my heart.