A man in London tries to help a counter-espionage Agent. But when the Agent is killed, and the man stands accused, he must go on the run to save himself and stop a spy ring which is trying to steal top secret information.
Charlotte "Charlie" Newton is bored with her quiet life at home with her parents and her younger sister. She wishes something exciting would happen and knows exactly what they need: a visit from her sophisticated and much travelled Uncle Charlie Oakley, her mother's younger brother. Imagine her delight when, out of the blue, they receive a telegram from Uncle Charlie announcing that he is coming to visit them for awhile. Charlie Oakley creates quite a stir and charms the ladies' club, as well as the bank President where his brother-in-law works. Young Charlie begins to notice some odd behavior on his part, such as cutting out a story in the local paper about a man who marries and then murders rich widows. When two strangers appear asking questions about him, she begins to imagine the worst about her dearly beloved Uncle Charlie.Written by
A Mixed Bag of Good and Bad: Dated, But Still Interesting
It has been repeatedly pointed out here that SOAD is one of Hitchcock's films most overlooked by contemporary audiences, but it must be remembered this film was highly regarded for 30 years following its original release. Of course, more time has passed since then, so the film can't help but be dated at present, although such a status is intriguing as it shines light on the values and mores of an earlier time in America, and as such, is instructive.
The strong points of the film are obvious: very well shot and attractive looking flick, outstanding job by the very great Joseph Cotten, and Theresa Wright, usually a pretty limp and wan actress, puts forth the best performance of her career. Both principals are well supported by the rest of the cast (particularly the Mother, the younger Sister, and Hume Cronyn as the next-door-neighbor). The film offers a charming glimpse of small town life in an America now long dead, and despite assertions by a poster that the wartime feel of the picture is absent, there are subtle but telling references to this off-screen catastrophic event (i.e., the presence of servicemen in at least two scenes, the notice in Oakley's brother-in-law's bank to Buy War Bonds and Stamps, Oakley's statements (in two scenes) that the world outside is evil, a "sty," and the Mother's insistence that the family "help the government" i.e., cooperate during wartime, when the two "surveyors" come to call). The various types of sexual tension in the film are palpable, and quite advanced for a picture of its time. And the little touches are great: Hitchcock's cameo, the brief bit with the waitress in the "Till Two" club, the assertions made by the clergyman at the family's after-speech party, the comic relief offered by the child actors.
The weak points are glaring: doddering pacing and rather ill-focused editing, a pat and too-convenient explanation for Oakley's violent acts (i.e., head injury), a clumsy handling of the presumed budding romance between young Charlie and the detective, the needlessly dramatized episode of young Charlie in the library which supplies gratuitous suspense and tension that's hardly needed at that point in the picture, and a most contrived and implausible climax, albeit pretty harrowing if one exercises a suspension of disbelief.
There are some plot holes that have been mentioned, and some others that have not. Of course, there's the over-generous openness of the family to the two "surveyors," the quick rise of Uncle Charlie as small town hero, the depositing of $40K at the bank without concern or suspicion on the part of others, the lack of curiosity about and ready acceptance of Uncle Charlie's mysterious past and the eventual disregard of Uncle Charlie's photograph as evidence in regard to several serial murders: these have all been mentioned here. What I found to be an odd episode in the film was young Charlie's near-fatal incident in the garage: despite the fact that she was almost killed, the rest of the family hurries off to Uncle Charlie's speaking engagement, leaving her home alone as if nothing more serious happened to her than a stubbed toe.
All in all, viewing this film in a theater last night (the first time I had seen it in about 15 years), I was slightly disappointed in how it played and felt that it has not held up particularly well since my last viewing. Maybe because this film played as a double feature with "Out of the Past" my perceptions were such. In comparison, the Robert Mitchum-Jane Greer-Kirk Douglas noir classic made SOAD seem dowdy, small and unaccomplished: in the final analysis, I recognized "Out of the Past" to be the superior film.
SOAD is still worth viewing, but with the above caveats in mind.
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