Shadow of a Doubt

Shadow of a Doubt ★★★★

Hitchcock #46

As she lies on her bed and sighs from extreme boredom due to her quaint suburban American town, Charlie Newton yearns for excitement. Moments later she speaks of telepathy when she discovers her Uncle wrote a telegram to her stating his arrival as she was in the middle of writing him a telegram to come visit. This brief example of a deeper mental link pervades the rest of the film as a motif of pairs (tagged along with a heart-numbing waltz) that plays through several important scene transitions. Young Charlie is named after her Uncle Charlie and we witness the rarity of an Uncle-Niece relationship that is the main focus of Shadow of a Doubt

There are two Charlies, two siblings to Young Charlie, two siblings of the older Newton family, two police detectives, two major scenes with trains (the arrival and departure of Uncle Charlie), two men accused of murder (one in the East and one in the West), two floors within the Newton household, a major confrontation at a joint called the Til Two club, and the major inclination Young Charlie has that she and Uncle Charlie are “twins” based on some elevated mental state. Perhaps the greatest (and most subtle) build-up Hitchcock has ever done is evident here, as we watch the Uncle-Niece relationship play out, and keep the aforementioned idea of “twins” and “pairs” in the back of our minds. All of this works toward the other purveying theme of this feature, which is “you destroy the thing you love”. The intimate relationship of “two” emphasizes this tragic virtue.

The briefly mentioned telepathy-based idea of “twins” is further interesting when brandished alongside Hitch’s fascination with “normal” people stumbling upon or confronting the extraordinary. In Hitchock’s world, the extraordinary is all about murder and the circumstances that lead to such powerful moments. Foreign Correspondent and Saboteur made within the three years prior to Shadow of Doubt may be its closest kin. Where they are war-based in plot and politic, Shadow of a Doubt applies the “every day” concept to an American family facing the potential underbelly of the idyllic white-picket-fenced suburbia. Additionally, when trouble comes for Robert Cummings in Saboteur he is assisted by the neglected and “small” people of society as he evades the oppressive, rich elite. The American family in Shadow of a Doubt does not face any rich elite, but is faced with the single, mysterious chameleon that is their mother’s brother. Young Charlie is on the precipice of adulthood and it is important to note that when she is reunited with her uncle we are to believe a decent amount of time has passed, subtly pressing us with the notion that perspectives of people change as we age. Things, more generally, are not what we once thought they were. Because of this and because we are introduced to Uncle Charlie first, we are skeptical in the film’s assertion of pinning him as the villain.

Shadow of a Doubt also lacks the major setpiece that most of Hitch’s more iconic films have, but I’d argue that the Newton household is exactly this setpiece. Set-up with windows on nearly every wall, Hitchcock never eases off casting light through them to highlight every inch of darkness. Shadows of windows are smattered throughout and character’s faces are occasionally aligned through a single pane of glass. In literature, windows have always been used as a psychological symbol, or more obviously, the visual bridge of the outside to the inside (and vice-versa). This symbol is of importance in Shadow of a Doubt because of the psychological “twin” concept and the full spectrum of emotions that embellish the theme of “destroying what you love”. As viewers, we are constantly peering into Young Charlie’s young soul during melodramatic moments as well as Uncle Charlie’s mysterious character (see his monologue on women). So when the two cops come to investigate the Newton household, they are very literally disturbing the darkened inside of Uncle Charlie. This is also another glimpse of the “big official” having their way with the “every day” person. By the time the finale comes around, we are found on a moving train with an open door and everything that was once held inside broken out into the open. Not by coincidence does the end hold a second train going in the complete opposite direction. It is the final punctuation of the “two” motif.

Rented on Amazon.

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