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The Washington Post (27/Apr/1991) - TV Previews: In Hitchcock's Shadow



TV Previews: In Hitchcock's Shadow

A Weak Remake of a Classic

Remakes are among the first refuges of scoundrels. Also of lazyboneses, since it's easier to do a remake of an old movie than to come up with a fresh idea. If only the infernal remakers would stay away from the classics, the films that are hardest to improve upon, or to equal. But they don't.

Tomorrow night on CBS, the "Hallmark Hall of Fame" offers a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt" at 9 on Channel 9 that is utterly, hopelessly and irritatingly inferior to the original.

Chief among the weaknesses is Mark Harmon, assuming (but just barely) the role of Uncle Charlie, dark-minded "Merry Widow" murderer; Joseph Cotten played him in the original. Harmon's wimpy diffidence disqualifies him for the role of a suave, menacing villain. He looks like he couldn't scare a parakeet.

Harmon did seem menacing as "Dillinger" this year on ABC and as serial killer Ted Bundy in the miniseries "The Deliberate Stranger." Maybe he had better directors in those. Karen Arthur, who did "Shadow," is not only no Hitchcock, she's no good.

The TV version opens with Charlie romancing his latest target, Tippi Hedren of Hitchcock's "The Birds." My, what a sly in-joke. Soon Charlie's on the lam, hiding out in the small California town where his doting sister Emma and her family live.

Emma's daughter, also named Charlie, worships and adores her worldly uncle. It's their relationship that generates most of the story's tension, especially once young Charlie starts piecing together her uncle's sick secret life.

Diane Ladd does her energizing utmost as Emma, and Shirley Knight makes two poignant, too-brief appearances as a town widow, another potential victim. But to the key role of young Charlie (beautiful Teresa Wright in the original), Margaret Welsh brings little besides a fat face and an excess of hair. She also looks too old to be on the cusp of sexual awakening.

Welsh and Harmon deserve each other, in the worst possible way.

Not one change made for the new version is an improvement, including setting the film in 1953 instead of 1943, when the first one was made, or adding a cheap fake-out to the strangler-on-a-train ending. The screenplay for the original was by Thornton Wilder, one of the greatest American playwrights of all time, with assists from Sally Benson and Hitchcock's wife, Alma Reville. The new script, by the dull and presumptuous John Gay, is a pale copy.

Might those who haven't seen Hitchcock's picture conceivably enjoy this one? If they lower all their standards to zero, maybe.