Shadow of a Doubt

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay:Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson, & Alma Reville (based on a story by GordonMcDonnell)
Stars: Teresa Wright (Young Charlie), Joseph Cotton (Uncle Charlie), Macdonald Carey(Jack Graham), Henry Travers (Joseph Newton), Patricia Collinge (Emma Newton), HumeCronyn (Herbie Hawkins), Edna May Wonacott (Ann Newton), Wallace Ford (FredSaunders)
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 difficultperiods of his life. At the time, his mother was slowly dying in England, and Hitch wastrapped in the United States because the German bombardment of England during WorldWar II made travel nearly impossible. Thus, not only was Hitch cut off from his culturalroots in England, but he was cut off from his family. Thus, he felt very much alone in theworld.

It is little wonder, then, that Shadow of a Doubt became one of his mostpersonally revealing--and deeply cynical--films. According to biographer Donald Spoto, thefilm 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 andprofessional sleeve." Little bits of Hitchcock's life are inserted throughout the film, insituations 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, intypical 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, abright, shiny surface barely masking a rotten core (that rotten core would become more andmore rotten over the years, finding its most notorious rendering in 1960'sPsycho). Just take the ending for example: Although, in keeping with theProduction 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 thebackground, we can hear a funeral eulogy praising the deceased murderer. Thus, in amorally ambiguous twist, the villain's legacy is guaranteed to live on forever in falseadmiration 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 itcould 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), amysterious character who is pursued for unknown reasons by two men. Hitchcock leaves allof this purposefully vague, as Uncle Charlie eventually makes his away across the countryfor 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), welcomeUncle 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, whohas been named for him. Young Charlie (Teresa Wright), is a bright, innocent young womanin 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 UncleCharlie, which sets up a psychologically complex duality between the two namesakes, whichis heightened even more by the story's overt suggestions of telepathy between them. Thesuggestion is that Young Charlie and Uncle Charlie are really two sides of the sameperson--Young Charlie representing trustful youth and innocence while Uncle Charlierepresents darkness, cynicism, and misanthropy--which has been read by many as anone-too-subtle metaphor for Hitchcock himself.

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

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

Shadow of a Doubt is a brilliant piece of cynicism that exposes hypocrisy, moralrot, and a guilt that pervades both conventional criminals and everyday citizens. Despite thefilm'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 abouthow they would murder each other. These scenes work largely as comic relief, but there issomething 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, andcriminality? In other words, why are we so fascinated with evil? The answer we are left withis as a simple as our own humanity: Hitch seems to be saying, it's part of our nature.

Shadow of aDoubt 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 AlfredHitchcock Presents.
AudioDolby 2.0 Monaural
SupplementsBeyond Doubt: The Making of Hitchcock's Favorite Film: 34-minutedocumentary
Production drawings
Production photographs and poster gallery
Re-release theatrical trailer
Production notes
Cast and filmmaker filmographies

As a film that was made almost 60 years ago, Shadowof Doubt shows its age. The print used for this digital transfer was obviouslywell-worn, as there is fair amount of speckling and a few occasional major blemishes andtears that mar the screen for a frame or two at a time. Although a few instances are a bitjolting, the vast majority of the imperfections are not particularly distracting and are notunexpected for a movie this old. The image, which is presented in its original 1.33:1academy aspect ratio, is generally sharp and detailed, with good contrast. Black levels tendto be slightly unstable at times and there is a bit of grain around the edges of the frame, butnothing out of the ordinary for a 60-year-old movie. The only thing that could haveimproved this transfer is a full-fledged restoration.

There is the occasional hissing and popping(a few of whichare quite loud, especially between scenes) on the Dolby 2.0 monaural soundtrack, but mostlyit 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 thevarious sound effects (wind whistling, cars driving, etc.) that contribute the naturalistic feelof 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 onthe characters, which is entirely appropriate since Shadow of a Doubt is more of apsychological character study than a traditional thriller. The doc contains interviews withstars Teresa Wright and Hume Cronyn, art director Robert Boyle, as well as filmmaker PeterBogdanovich and Hitch's daughter, Pat Hitchcock O'Connell. This isn't a particularlyrevealing documentary in terms of the actual production, perhaps because it went sosmoothly. Unfortunately, there is scant attention paid to Hitchcock's personal investment inthe movie, although the fact that his mother died during production is mentioned. In fact, hisdaughter goes out of her way to separate the movie from her father's personal life, makingthe 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 50years of serious Hitchcock scholarship, but also by the notion that every artistbrings something personal to his or her work because the imagination is not whollyseparable from one's life experiences.

The disc also contains a nice gallery of more than 30 black-and-white production sketches byart 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 puton screen. There is also a gallery of more than 50 production photographs, the vast majorityof which are posed studio pictures.

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

©2001 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (4)

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