Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock, 1943, USA)

  Shadow of a Doubt is one of the best mid-period Hitchcock films. Made under his first contract in the US, Shadow is the first Hitchcock film truly set in the United States. In contrast to many of his other films, it explores small-town middle-class life. Hitchcock enlisted Thornton Wilder, the famous playwright of American small town life (Our Town), to help write the screenplay. Set in the town of Santa Rosa, California, the film tells the story of Charlotte Newton, a bored teenager who lives with her family. She receives notice that her beloved Uncle Charlie (with whom she shares a name) is visiting. It soon becomes clear that Charlie may not be so honest about his recent history, and detectives soon arrive. It is soon revealed that Charlie may be the “Merry Widow Murderer”, who has been killing rich widows and taking their money.

Joseph Cotten, most known up to this point for his roles in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, plays a heavy here. He is one of the best parts of the film, and his vicious speeches when he describes widows as animals are still shocking even today. It is perhaps the only time he played a heavy. Hitchcock was known for not wanting to portray villains in a stereotypical way, and Joseph Cotten’s Charlie is a prime example of this tendency. Teresa Wright conveys the wide-eyed innocence of the other Charlie very well. Many of the side parts, including Charlie’s father, are also very well-acted. Charlie’s father is played by Henry Travers, who is perhaps best known in retrospect as the angel Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Shadow of a Doubt also displays many of Hitchcock’s obsessions that would go onto define his career, including his talent for distinct visual compositions - and staircases.



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