Project Hitchcock – Shadow of a Doubt


Shadow of a Doubt - Opening Credits

Welcome back to Ohio Cinephile and today I’m beginning a year long journey into one of the greatest, if not the greatest, director of all time Alfred Hitchcock.  I had never seen one Hitchcock film until I took the plunge in June of 2008 and purchased the Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection on DVD.  That purchase was one of the best purchases I ever made because I viewed some of the best films I’d ever seen and lead me to get every Hitchcock film I could own.  Eventually we’ll get to all of them in depth but today let’s start it off with a film that Hitchcock himself has said is his favorite film, Shadow of a Doubt.  This review will go on the film, so SPOILERS will be abound, be warned.

Shadow of a Doubt was released on January 15, 1943 and stars Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten.  The film centers around two characters both of the same name.  One is a dreamer, a young girl named Charlie (played by Wright) who want’s more out of life (don’t we all Charlie, don’t we all).  She’s frustrated with how she see’s her mother work all day, do the chores, go to sleep, and repeat.  She want’s a better life for her family and herself, but doesn’t see any way out of their mundane existence and even calls herself a nagging old maid.  But then, the bulb above Charlie’s head came on and remembered she has an Uncle Charlie and he might be able to help them out.  Little did she know that Uncle Charlie was on his way anyways and it would turn her world upside down.

Shadow of a Doubt - Charlie's idea

The other character this film centers around is Uncle Charlie (played by Cotten) is not a good guy.  In fact you get that feeling in the opening scene as he’s laying in bed and his demeanor of his housemaid is dismissive but once she mentioned there were two men looking for him, he immediately goes on the run, evading them, and beginning his journey from Philadelphia to Santa Rosa be with his sister, brother in-law, and nieces and nephew.  Uncle Charles does not like to be photographed and keeps a low profile.  Is he shy?  Is he secluded?  No, you see Uncle Charlie is a serial killer that’s been labeled the Merry Widow Murderer.  While Charlie is the dreamer looking for that miracle out of her boring, mundane life, Uncle Charlie is the killer that’s looking for a place to hide, which leads to the collision course of uncle and niece.

Shadow of a Doubt - Uncle Charlie goes after Charlie

To me, there were two standout moments in this film and both involved Uncle Charlie. The first was a haunting scene where Uncle Charlie explains at the dinner table his real feelings towards middle aged widows who live off their dead husbands money.  “The cities are full of women, middle-aged widows, husbands, dead, husbands who’ve spent their lives making fortunes, working and working. And then they die and leave their money to their wives, their silly wives. And what do the wives do, these useless women? You see them in the hotels, the best hotels, every day by the thousands, drinking the money, eating the money, losing the money at bridge, playing all day and all night, smelling of money, proud of their jewelry but of nothing else, horrible, faded, fat, greedy women… Are they human or are they fat, wheezing animals, hmm? And what happens to animals when they get too fat and too old?”  This also confirms the suspicions Charlie was having about her uncle after working with a detective and finally discovering that indeed her uncle is the Merry Widow Murderer in the newspaper he tried to conceal earlier in the film.  The other scene also follows that up with Charlie abruptly leaving the house during dinner when she’s upset her father and his friend are discussing a perfect way to murder someone.  A morbid thing to discuss at dinner nonetheless, she also knows the horrible truth of her uncle.  Uncle Charlie chases after her and the two go to a bar where Charlie is ready to let her uncle know what she now knows but Uncle Charlie explains his reasoning harshly to her.  “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 you nightmares. Or did I? Or was it a silly, inexpert little lie? You live in a dream. You’re a sleepwalker, blind. How do you know what the world is like? Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know, if you rip off the fronts of houses, you’d find swine? The world’s a hell. What does it matter what happens in it? Wake up, Charlie. Use your wits. Learn something.”  Not exactly the kind of guy you want to hang out with at the family reunion. The acting in these scenes was well done and really made the movie that much better.

Shadow of a Doubt - Charlie and Uncle Charlie at the bar

Lets talk about the climax to this film.  This is what Hitchcock did great, build suspense through the movie and have it pay off.  I just love how every little thing through the movie paid off in this scene.  The symbolism in which Charlie is now in a dark dress, where through the film and even the first time we see her she’s in a white dress.  The train station that Uncle Charlie arrived at would be the place he would demise.  The hand grabbing from earlier in the film where Uncle Charlie told Charlie he was just playing happens in this scene and Charlie knows it’s not playing, it’s that her life is on the line.  And the scene with Uncle Charlie telling his sister Goodbye.  It all ties together and was a great payoff in the end.  I also love that this is not a happy ending film.  Charlie doesn’t tell anyone about the awful deeds her uncle did and kept that secret with the detectives that were after him.

Shadow of a Doubt - Uncle Charlie at the dinner table

Clearly I really like this film.  I feel when I finally rank all of the Hitchcock films, this is going to be pretty high.  The direction was well done, the acting was well done, and the story is a very good suspense thriller.  I love the imagery of the train carrying Uncle Charlie arriving to the station, the dark coal pouring out in the air, and arriving to this station for this innocent family to be consumed by their sadistic family member.  I also love the growth of Charlie in that her innocence is shed in the film and has to deal with a very difficult situation, in which she hates her uncle but can’t let her family know as it would kill her mother of the atrocities her brother committed.  Charlie is carrying this burden of knowledge, is almost killed THREE TIMES, and still at the end of the movie where she pushes her uncle off the train to his death, doesn’t reveal her uncle was a killer in order to protect her mother.  It’s one of Hitchcock’s best and more haunting films.

Shadow of a Doubt easily gets an 9/10

Shadow of a Doubt - Poster


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