Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
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Alfred Hitchcock's best film and
Teresa Wright's best performance, SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943) is a low-key
thriller about a murderer who comes to live with his sister's family in
"peaceful, quiet Santa Rosa" in an effort to elude the police, and his young
niece who finds him out. Filmed primarily on location in Santa Rosa,
California, SHADOW OF A DOUBT is often regarded as
Hitchcock's first truly "American" movie, and his success in creating a
credible small-town atmosphere populated by "typical American" characters
makes the evil which intrudes upon this sunny utopia all the more
frightening. With a screenplay by playwright Thornton Wilder (whose
"Our Town" had just made an Everytown, U.S.A. out of Grover's Corners, New
Hampshire) and author Sally Benson (whose "Kensington Stories" had turned
the Smiths of St. Louis into the all-American family), the film portrayed a
way of life with which audiences of the time were familiar.
Though it was only her fourth film,
Teresa Wright received top billing in SHADOW OF A DOUBT, and her
performance demonstrates that she was worthy of the honor. As Young Charlie
Newton, the small-town girl who is forced to mature quickly a few short days
after her uncle Charlie (for whom she was named) comes to visit,
Wright is so convincing, the audience can't help but relate to her
What is most impressive about
Wright's performance is the incredible development of her character from
a naïve, small-town girl who adores her uncle, to a mature, disillusioned
young woman who hates him so much she's ready to kill him herself. And
unlike so many other
films in which the female characters play predominantly passive, victim
roles, SHADOW OF A DOUBT's heroine comes of age over the course of the film
and relies on her own inner-strength to overcome the challenges facing her
-- a characteristic typical of World War II-era heroines.
Clean-cut, charming and debonair
Joseph Cotten also turns in an excellent performance as Uncle Charlie.
Like his niece, the audience has a hard time reconciling his personal
charisma and devotion to his sister (Patricia
Collinge) with the ever-increasing evidence that he may be the film's
notorious "Merry Widow Murderer" and his dark, warped view of the world:
"Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know if you ripped the
fronts off houses you'd find swine?"
- "I know a wonderful person who'll come and shake us all up. All the
time there's been one right person to save us." --Young Charlie Newton.
- "The ones that say they don't want anything always get more in the
- "We're not just an uncle and a niece. It's something else. I know you.
I know you don't tell people a lot of things. I don't either. I have a
feeling that inside you there's something nobody knows about . . .
something secret and wonderful. I'll find it out." --Young Charlie Newton.
- "I can't face the world in the morning. I must have coffee before I
can speak." --Uncle Charlie.
- "What's the use of looking backward? What's the use of looking ahead?
Today's the thing. That's my philosophy. Today." --Uncle Charlie.
- "The whole world's a joke to me." --Uncle Charlie.
- "What does he do? Oh, he's just in business, you know, the way men
are." --Emma Newton.
- "I guess I don't like to be an average girl in an average family."
--Young Charlie Newton.
Much has been written over the years about
Hitchcock's use of "twos" in SHADOW OF A DOUBT: two Charlies, two
detectives in Philadelphia, two railroad station scenes, two young children,
two dinner table scenes, two toasts, two church scenes, two garage scenes,
and the "Till Two" bar, among others. Thus, it should come as no
surprise that two questionnaire men (Macdonald Carey and Wallace Ford, at
left) come to interview the Newtons.
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