Thursday, June 22, 2006

Just One Picking Cotten Minute

Joseph Cotten is one of those actors who always gave better than he got, especially since he got roles like one in Cimino's notorious Heaven's Gate, which was actually a step up from Airport '77. Even his first role, Jedediah Leland in Citizen Kane, made him the moral scourge who gets to have a drunken hissy fit that "unveils" Kane for us, as if we all didn't know Kane was a fraud from the start (of course, fascinating frauds are the centers of movies, moral arbiters are big-time bores).

Still, there's Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. There Cotten gets to play the debonair but evil Merry Widow killer, out to throw the sweet small town Santa Rosa and his sister's placid family for a loop. At one point he gives a dinner table sermonette on "horrible, faded, fat, greedy" widows and his niece Teresa Wright interrupts, horrified, to say, "They're alive! They're human beings!"

The camera has gotten closer and closer to Cotten as he has ranted, and Hitchcock cuts back to him, so the screen is now an extreme close-up from Teresa Wright's point-of-view, and Cotten swivels his head, looks down the barrel of the camera, and fires the most acidic, "Are they?" anyone could.

It's cliche to break the fourth wall anymore, but no moment does it more effectively for we're just not used to people talking to us when they're that sure of themselves and when we can be so sure we don't want to talk to them at all.


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