Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
A young girl comes to suspect that her beloved Uncle is a serial killer.
Clearly the most under-rated movie of Hitchcock’s entire career. ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ is often slyly ignored as the director’s quirky personal favourite, and nothing more.
Joseph Cotton’s ‘Uncle Charlie’ is as close as the director came to showcasing the personification of evil and watching Cotton’s performance as the least sympathetic of all Hitchcock’s villains is something to savour. Usually, Hitchcock gives us something endearing in his villain’s characters – not here. Cotton darkens every room in which his lean frame ambles; his eyes portray an intoxicating degree of hate and his words are laced with a kind of vitriolic intensity that makes you wince inside. Juxtaposed next to this character is a classic small-town American family.
Teresa Wright plays ‘Charlie’, the family’s golden girl and namesake of her handsome ‘Uncle Charlie’. Given the constraints of the time, Hitchcock can only nudge us towards the incestuous feelings beneath their happy relationship but the cat-and-mouse game they play to the film’s finale is in some ways reminiscent of Hitchcock’s earlier ‘Suspicion’ (1941), where a unhinged Joan Fontaine suspects husband Cary Grant of trying to murder her. In this film, it’s almost as if ‘Charlie’ is as hurt and jealous of her Uncle’s unfaithfulness to her as she is mortified of his murderous actions.
It’s probably this film which serves as the first direct example of Hitchcock’s penchant for black humour. Earlier movies hinted at his taste for macabre comedy but it’s the roles of ‘Herb’ and ‘Joe’ – who fill after-dinner conversation with possible methods of killing each other – which slams this into the face of the audience once and for all (watch out for the lovingly spectacled Hume Cronyn as the bookish ‘Herb’). It feels almost as if Hitchcock himself is having a conversation with you at home…..
Technically the film gleams like a polished diamond – for example, watch out for Hitchcock’s use of shadows falling behind our protagonists. It’s become heresy to say so but this is a much better movie than ‘Vertigo’ (1958). It’s a crying shame that movie has become the standard-bearer for Hitchcock’s powers as these are just as evident in this classy thriller from the 1940s.
Put simply, ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ is a masterful and gripping suspense movie with an astonishing lead performance. It has none of the lavish plot-turns of ‘Vertigo’ (1958) but it’s simple elegance means it doesn’t need them.
Hotdog rating: 9.5/10