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Shadow of a Doubt
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson, & Alma Reville (based on a story by Gordon McDonnell)
Stars: Teresa Wright (Young Charlie), Joseph Cotton (Uncle Charlie), Macdonald Carey (Jack Graham), Henry Travers (Joseph Newton), Patricia Collinge (Emma Newton), Hume Cronyn (Herbie Hawkins), Edna May Wonacott (Ann Newton), Wallace Ford (Fred Saunders)
MPAA Rating:NR
Year of Release: 1943
Country: USA
Shadow of a Doubt Poster

Alfred Hitchcock made Shadow of a Doubt during one of the most difficult periods of his life. At the time, his mother was slowly dying in England, and Hitch was trapped in the United States because the German bombardment of England during World War II made travel nearly impossible. Thus, not only was Hitch cut off from his cultural roots in England, but he was cut off from his family. Thus, he felt very much alone in the world.

It is little wonder, then, that Shadow of a Doubt became one of his most personally revealing--and deeply cynical--films. According to biographer Donald Spoto, the film became "a handbook of all the literary and cultural influences on [Hitchcock's] own life, and it would be as near as he would ever get to wearing his private heart on his public and professional sleeve." Little bits of Hitchcock's life are inserted throughout the film, in situations and character development (especially the villain), and its dark tone and brooding, pathological subtext form a reluctant window into Hitch's darkest side.

On the surface, Shadow of a Doubt tells a compelling, suspenseful story that, in typical Production Code fashion, is wrapped up neatly and moralistically at the end. But, take a closer look, and you will see, much like Hitch's vision of the American family, a bright, shiny surface barely masking a rotten core (that rotten core would become more and more rotten over the years, finding its most notorious rendering in 1960's Psycho). Just take the ending for example: Although, in keeping with the Production Code's moralistic edicts, the villain dies at the end (thus getting his just rewards), the film ends with two characters talking about their indefinite future while, in the background, we can hear a funeral eulogy praising the deceased murderer. Thus, in a morally ambiguous twist, the villain's legacy is guaranteed to live on forever in false admiration while the future of the conventional heroine is left uncertain.

Shadow of a Doubt revolves around an "average" American family, the Newtons, who live in the quiet, squeaky-clean town of Santa Rosa in northern California (though it could be anywhere in the U.S.). However, this is not where Hitchcock begins the film. Rather, he begins in a New Jersey boarding house with Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten), a mysterious character who is pursued for unknown reasons by two men. Hitchcock leaves all of this purposefully vague, as Uncle Charlie eventually makes his away across the country for an extended stay with his family, whom he has not seen in years. His doting older sister, Emma (Patricia Collinge), and her laid-back banker husband, Joe (Henry Travers), welcome Uncle Charlie into their house, unaware of the secrets he may be harboring.

The core of the story, however, is the relationship between Uncle Charlie and his niece, who has been named for him. Young Charlie (Teresa Wright), is a bright, innocent young woman in her early 20s who adores her uncle. In fact, you might even say she is in love with him. However, in a cruel twist, it is she who will eventually find out the truth about Uncle Charlie, which sets up a psychologically complex duality between the two namesakes, which is heightened even more by the story's overt suggestions of telepathy between them. The suggestion is that Young Charlie and Uncle Charlie are really two sides of the same person--Young Charlie representing trustful youth and innocence while Uncle Charlie represents darkness, cynicism, and misanthropy--which has been read by many as a none-too-subtle metaphor for Hitchcock himself.

Joseph Cotton, who worked in Orson Welles' Mercury Theater and starred in both Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), was a striking choice to play Uncle Charlie. Tall, handsome, and charming, he plays the character's ambiguity perfectly, becoming a suave, popular businessman in one scene, and turning explicitly sinister in the next. Teresa Wright, coming off three back-to-back Oscar nominations (one of which she won for 1942's Mrs. Miniver), was also an inspired choice to play the sweet, innocent foil to the sinister Uncle Charlie. Yet, just as Uncle Charlie is a complex, morally complex character, Young Charlie has her moments of moral grayness, as well. Despite her naivete, Young Charlie is shown to be capable of violence, which suggests all the more her metaphorical (perhaps literal) connection to her uncle.

Hitchcock sought out playwright Thornton Wilder to work on the script because Wilder had recently won the Pulitzer Prize for his play about small-town American life, Our Town. Hitchcock, having only made four movies in Hollywood since his immigration to the U.S., was fascinated by Americana and all its cultural and ideological baggage. It was a period in which small communities and wholesome, morally guided family life were held in the highest regard; of course, Hitchcock saw them as veils for the hidden darkness of humanity. It is telling that Hitchcock identified so much with Uncle Charlie, and some of the speeches made by the character--especially one in which he declares that if someone were to rip off the fronts of houses in Santa Rosa, he would find swine living inside--sounds very much like Hitchcock's angriest inner voice forcing its way out.

Shadow of a Doubt is a brilliant piece of cynicism that exposes hypocrisy, moral rot, and a guilt that pervades both conventional criminals and everyday citizens. Despite the film's overall grim outlook, Hitchcock has a great deal of fun with Joe and his neighbor, Herb (Hume Cronyn), who together devour pulp mystery magazines and swap ideas about how they would murder each other. These scenes work largely as comic relief, but there is something telling about them, as if Hitchcock is making a statement about his own audience: Why do we find so much enjoyment in the intricate details of murder, mayhem, and criminality? In other words, why are we so fascinated with evil? The answer we are left with is as a simple as our own humanity: Hitch seems to be saying, it's part of our nature.

Shadow of a Doubt DVD
Shadow of a Doubt is available either individually (SRP $29.98) or as part of the Best of Hitchcock #1 DVD box set (SRP $174.98), which includes seven feature films and four episodes of the TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Aspect Ratio1.33:1
Audio Dolby 2.0 Monaural
LanguagesEnglish, Spanish
SubtitlesEnglish, French
Supplements Beyond Doubt: The Making of Hitchcock's Favorite Film: 34-minute documentary
Production drawings
Production photographs and poster gallery
Re-release theatrical trailer
Production notes
Cast and filmmaker filmographies
DistributorUniversal Pictures

As a film that was made almost 60 years ago, Shadow of Doubt shows its age. The print used for this digital transfer was obviously well-worn, as there is fair amount of speckling and a few occasional major blemishes and tears that mar the screen for a frame or two at a time. Although a few instances are a bit jolting, the vast majority of the imperfections are not particularly distracting and are not unexpected for a movie this old. The image, which is presented in its original 1.33:1 academy aspect ratio, is generally sharp and detailed, with good contrast. Black levels tend to be slightly unstable at times and there is a bit of grain around the edges of the frame, but nothing out of the ordinary for a 60-year-old movie. The only thing that could have improved this transfer is a full-fledged restoration.

There is the occasional hissing and popping(a few of which are quite loud, especially between scenes) on the Dolby 2.0 monaural soundtrack, but mostly it sounds clean and clear. The striking musical score by Russian-born Dimitri Tiomkin (who, over his career, was nominated for 23 Oscars) is well-rendered throughout, as are the various sound effects (wind whistling, cars driving, etc.) that contribute the naturalistic feel of the movie's presentation of small-town America.

Laurent Bouzereau's 34-minute making-of documentary, Beyond Doubt: The Making of Hitchcock's Favorite Film, focuses primarily on the characters, which is entirely appropriate since Shadow of a Doubt is more of a psychological character study than a traditional thriller. The doc contains interviews with stars Teresa Wright and Hume Cronyn, art director Robert Boyle, as well as filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich and Hitch's daughter, Pat Hitchcock O'Connell. This isn't a particularly revealing documentary in terms of the actual production, perhaps because it went so smoothly. Unfortunately, there is scant attention paid to Hitchcock's personal investment in the movie, although the fact that his mother died during production is mentioned. In fact, his daughter goes out of her way to separate the movie from her father's personal life, making the rather unsupportable assertion that he didn't bring anything personal to his films; rather, she says, it all came from his imagination. This statement is contradicted by not only 50 years of serious Hitchcock scholarship, but also by the notion that every artist brings something personal to his or her work because the imagination is not wholly separable from one's life experiences.

The disc also contains a nice gallery of more than 30 black-and-white production sketches by art director Robert Boyle. These drawings were replicated very closely in the finished film, although Boyle's style is even darker and more sinister than what Hitchcock eventually put on screen. There is also a gallery of more than 50 production photographs, the vast majority of which are posed studio pictures.

The included theatrical trailer is actually a re-release trailer, as it mentions several times that Shadow of a Doubt is being brought back to theaters. Finally, the disc includes the expected production notes and cast and crew filmographies.

Overall Rating: (4)

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