“Go away, I'm warning you. Go away or I'll kill you myself. See... that's the way I feel about you.”
The first time I watched Shadow of a Doubt was a few years ago. I did not think much of it. To be honest I do not think too much of it now even after rewatching it with a better understanding of Hitchcock and his style. I can see why he considers one of the films he made though it has the type of story that appealed to him.
Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotton) is sitting in his room starring at the ceiling. His landlady comes into the room to tell that two men claiming to be his friends are looking for him but she told the two men that he was not home. He tells the woman that it is funny that the men said they were his friends because he does not even know them. When the landlady leaves he looks out the window and thinks to himself they cannot pin anything on him. Charlie knows the two men are detectives. He walks out of his boarding house knowing they will chase him. He manages to shake them off his tail. Charlie goes into a pool hall and calls Western Union to send a telegram to his sister Emma Newton in California to tell her that he is coming for a visit.
Charlie Newton (Teresa Wright) is also sitting in her bed starring up at the ceiling. The phone rings downstairs and she makes her younger sister, Anne, answer the phone. Anne tells the woman at the telegraph office she does not have a pencil to take the message down she will have her mother call her back. When their father, Joe, comes home he goes up to Charlie in her room. He asks what is wrong and she says in so many ways that she is bored she needs something to come and shake up their dull lives. Charlie gets the idea to telegraph her uncle Charlie who she is named after and is very close to. Her mother finds out that the telegram is from her brother Charlie that he will be coming into town. At the telegraph office young Charlie finds out her uncle is coming into town.
The family is thrilled to have Uncle Charlie at the house. Emma is very happy to have her baby brother she absolutely adores around. Before dinner Uncle Charlie shows Anna how to make a barn out of the newspaper. All three Newton children say that is their father’s paper. When young Charlie goes to put the paper back together she realizes that pages three and four are missing. At dinner Uncle Charlie gives everyone presents. He gives his niece a ring with initials inscribed on the inside. His niece notices that the initials are wrong but he just blows it off as the jewelers having done a poor job. Young Charlie goes to her uncle’s room after dinner saying she knows he is hiding something he was the one who took the two newspaper pages. Charlie tries to tell his niece that there was an article some gossip on a good friend of his. When she picks up the pages Charlie gets up from his chair and grabs his niece’s wrists and twists the papers out of her hand.
The next morning Emma brings her brother breakfast in bed. She tells Charlie two men came to the door that morning saying they are from the government and have been traveling the country looking for the perfect American families to document. Charlie knows what is going on he knows they are the detectives who were after him in Philadelphia. He tells his sister he will not be part of this interview he does not want photographs taken of him. There are no photographs of him and he wants to keep it that. Emma tells him young Charlie has a photograph of him when he was a kid. She shows him the photograph. It is him when he was ten years old when he got a bike for Christmas. He went out riding it on the ice and slid right into a trolley car and fractured his skull. When he woke up he was never the same again he did not look the same nor did he act the same he was always looking for mischief.
The detectives posing as questioners for the government come into the house. They take photographs of the rooms in the houses and the family. Young Charlie takes them upstairs and one of the men, Saunders, take photographs of the room Uncle Charlie is staying in. The other detective, Jack Graham, later on asks young Charlie to go out to dinner with him. Charlie figures out Jack and Saunders are detectives. Jack tells her Uncle Charlie is possibly the Merry Widow Murderer. When Charlie gets home she goes to her room to see if the clippings her uncle took out of the paper are in the trash bin. She does not find them there and runs to the library. The library is closed but fortunately the old librarian lets her in. Charlie sees the clippings in the paper including a lady with the initials that were on the ring her uncle gave her.
Now Charlie’s world has been turned upside down. She can no longer be the innocent small town carefree girl she once was. Her uncle that she is named after and adored unconditionally is a man who murdered three women. Charlie can no longer bear to look at her uncle. He eventually figures out that his niece knows about what he has done. His knowledge brings danger to Charlie’s once tranquil life.
Ken Mogg in his book The Alfred Hitchcock Story found the description about the director’s films from art director Robert Boyle- he “liked to tell his fairytales against reality.” Mogg says in the next sentence “If young Charlie is Shadow of a Doubt is perhaps Little Red Riding-Hood, her uncle is the wolf.” Both observations are a perfect way to describe this film. It is a fairytale, a nightmare fairytale, told in reality and Charlie is the Riding-Hood to her uncle’s wolf. I think the story is interesting but I just felt there was no tension in the story. When I watch a Hitchcock film I expect there to be some kind of tension. I am sure there is depending on who is watching this film but to me there is not the tension I expect from the director.
I was not too crazy about the cast. They were all purely American characters and actors. I guess I am used to Hitchcock’s European/continental characters in his other films. At the same time they all fit their roles quite role. Teresa Wright was good as the niece who held her uncle up on a pedestal and when she learned the truth from him she fell hard and despised him. I loved the way she told Joseph Cotton the quote I posted above. I was afraid of her! It is a line that you cannot imagine Wright saying. Maybe that was the point it was so shocking to hear her say that because she looked so innocent and sweet even when she was supposed to be feeling miserable. Joseph Cotton is just an awesome actor. He was a great villain. I liked how the audience was made to sympathize with Charlie. We learn that he suffered from a fractured skull when he was little and he was never the same since. We know now that someone’s personality can change depending on how bad and where they sustain a head injury. We also never saw him kill the widows. But as Hitchcock told Francois Truffaut Charlie was probably a killer who thought the widows deserved to die. We feel terrible that young Charlie has to destroy her beloved uncle because of what she knows he has done.
Shadow of a Doubt has an interesting story but I just felt there was no tension in it. When I watch a Hitchcock film I expect there to be some kind of tension. I am sure there is depending on who is watching this film but to me there is not the tension I expect from the director. Although I am not thrilled with Shadow of a Doubt I still suggest seeing it.