"Shadow of a Doubt," Alfred Hitchcock, Film Review
Alfred Hitchcock has a fun cameo in Shadow of a Doubt, as a card playing traveller on the train taking Uncle Charlie to Santa Rose. He has just been dealt a straight flush of spades, which the camera shows us spread out in all their glory. And if in film and novel writing plot is the king, dialogue is the queen and the characters are the knaves, Hitchcock holds all the cards.
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS
Shadow of a Doubt is an interesting film primarily because it presents a murderer as the hero. There is no doubt when we see Joseph Cotten's Uncle Charlie leaving his city boarding house perfectly dressed in a smart suit that we are looking at a Hitchcock hero. He then effortlessly outwits some bad guys waiting for him. Later, he pokes fun at the stuffy bank where Teresa Wright's Young Charlie father works. He breaks the father's superstitious rule of not putting his hat on the bed with a cheeky smile. The film is begging us to root for this character.
Yet we also find out early on that Uncle Charlie is not what he seems and then that he is a killer – the Merry Widow Murderer. And there are clear links to Teresa Wright's character, who had been named after him. Uncle Charlie's poking fun at the stuffy bank is later echoed when Young Charlie arrives at the library a minute after closing time and has to get past the dragon librarian, for example.
Review continues below...
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Uncle Charlie lectures Young Charlie that she knows nothing of the big bad world outside of her small town – and at the beginning of the film we see her lying listlessly on her bed, bored to death with small town life.
Of course, the film can't quite celebrate Uncle Charlie's murderous path through life, despite these efforts to make him a likeable and charming character.
Young Charlie's father and his friend are continually swapping stories about how to perform the perfect murder on each other, in a continual act of escapism through whodunit novels from their humdrum life. Be careful of what you wish for… Uncle Charlie then performs two dastardly attempts on Young Charlie's life in stunts that could have come straight out of one of her father's whodunit novels.
'The world's a hell – wake up,' says Uncle Charlie, and the film seems less interested in showing small town American values triumphing over evil than in demonstrating just how asleep everyone is.
Personal Score: 8/10
This is part of a series of film reviews where I give my comments on IMDB Top 250 films as a writer. The idea is that over time these posts will build into a wide-ranging writing resource.
For more details about the approach I've taken, including some important points about its strengths and weaknesses (I make no claims about my abilities as a film critic or even the accuracy of my comments... but I do stand by the value of a writer's notes on interesting films), see my introductory post here.