Shadow of a Doubt

Shadow of a Doubt ★★★★

By all accounts, Shadow of a Doubt was one of Hitch's personal favourites. It's not hard to see why; building on a strong script, he crafted a well-structured thriller that contained a lot of his favourite things: a charming villain, a hotel scene, a chase scene, staircases, murder, reckoning, trains and double figures. The latter is particularly pronounced, not just in the direct echo of the heroine's name, Charlie, which she shares with her Uncle, but also how we're introduced to both characters. Recumbent on their beds, in contemplative mood, each pondering their respective futures. Their story arcs mirror each other as well, with mutual adoration (more than a little uncomfortable, it has to be said!) turning to mutual suspicion and then spying on one another, possibly with murderous intent.

The mystery here is almost no mystery at all, and I think it's fair to say this is more of a character study, leaning heavily into melodrama and away from typical noir tropes, at least after the opening scene. When we first see her, Charlie Newton is bemoaning her lot in life - it's too comfortable, too predictable (oh, the unbearable burden of privilege!). The introduction of Charlie Oakley into her life brings her the thrill she was missing, just not in the way she was expecting. It's an excellent performance from Teresa Wright, who as her Uncle observes, is clearly the head of her household and develops in maturity as the film progresses, although it's inevitably overshadowed by Joseph Cotten in the lead role. He brilliantly captures the outward charm and inner monstrousness of Uncle Charlie. The scene when he delivers his very unpleasant speech at the dinner table, all but a confession to his past transgressions, is squirm-inducing, especially the point at which the camera zooms in on his cold gaze and he looks right down the lens, staring down the viewer. Truly chilling. I felt a frisson of recognition in his second great monologue, a tense face-off at the aptly named 'Til Two bar, from a snippet of dialogue I've heard many times before:

The world's a hell.
What does it matter what happens in it?

Smothered Hope. Life shifts up and down... those Puppies were some serious film buffs! It's a great quote too; in the context of the whole speech, it betrays Charlie Oakley's misanthropy - his empty, amoral view of life that contrasts so sharply with the rectitude of the family Newton and Charlie Newton in particular. With two such striking central performances, it's maybe not surprising there's a little woodenness in the wings although I really liked Hume Cronyn's turn as a kind of prototype Louis Tully; nervous, nerdy, bespectacled partner in hypothetical crime of Charlie's father, Joseph (Henry Travers).

When he makes the journey from The Big Rotten Apple to Santa Rosa, Uncle Charlie brings more than a shadow of a doubt; his presence signifies the dark underbelly of small town middle-class America - a strain of perversity taking root behind the white-picket fences and wholesome appearances - another of Hitchcock's favourite things.

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