Shadow of a Doubt is a 1943 suspense film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Joseph Cotten stars as Charlie, a murderer on the run who comes back to his hometown to hide from the police. Teresa Wright is his niece, also called Charlie, who idolizes him—until the agents hunting "Uncle Charlie" reveal to her who her uncle really is.Said to be Alfred Hitchcock's favorite of his own films. Check out Roger Ebert's discussion on it here.
This film features examples of:
Big Bad Wannabe: Herbie and Joseph are always talking about how to commit an untraceable murder (which eventually disgusts Young Charlie). Luckily, Herbie shows his true good colors in the end.
The Bluebeard: Uncle Charlie himself, first to rich old widows, then to his own family.
Chekhov's Gun: Herbie and Joseph's love of tracing murders leads to Herbie saving Young Charlie's life when she's trapped in a "Make It Look Like an Accident" murder attempt just like the ones he so fondly imagines.
The ring Uncle Charlie gives his niece lets her trace it to the woman he stole it from, proving he's guilty.
Dating Catwoman: Young Charlie and Detective Jack Graham start to fall for each other, even though he's trying to arrest her uncle.
The Ditz: Mother Emma is quite the bimbo. When the detective suggests that he take out her daughter for dinner so she can show him around town, she says with a big stupid grin, "Ann?" Ann is eleven. When he tells her he meant her older, adult daughter, she still insists he should take out Ann instead.
Dutch Angle: Used in a shot of Uncle Charlie after the truth is revealed.
Hero Antagonist: The cops who are looking for Uncle Charlie. As the truth about him starts to appear, the "antagonist" part starts to fade.
Hoist by His Own Petard: The story in the newspaper about the Merry Widow Killer may have gone unnoticed if Uncle Charlie hadn't tried to conceal it.
Uncle Charlie tries to throw Young Charlie into the path of an oncoming train. She overpowers him and manages to throw him out instead.
Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Cotten is quite a bit taller than tiny little Teresa Wright. This might make the climax less than believeable to some.
Idiot Ball / Villain Ball: Young Charlie winds up giving the incriminating ring back to her uncle when confronting him with what she knows. Uncle Charlie, for his part, keeps it, allowing her to retrieve it and force him to leave town.
Incest Subtext: The relationship between the two Charlies shows shades of this, and Uncle Charlie even gives Young Charlie a wedding ring. Strangulation or asphyxiation is also a big theme and Uncle Charlie's attempts to choke his niece seem to evoke Erotic Asphyxiation.
Knight Templar: Uncle Charlie targets old rich widows because he believes them to be like fattened cattle, wallowing in money and too disgusting to be left on Earth.
Morality Pet: Notably averted. While Young Charlie desperately wants Uncle Charlie to be good, and he doesn't want to hurt her unless he has to, he's by no means willing to stop his evil ways and decides to kill her rather than risk her betraying him.
Motive Rant: Uncle Charlie gets a little carried away at a family dinner:
'"The cities are full of women, middle-aged widows, husbands dead, husbands who've spent their lives making fortunes, working and working. And then they die and leave their money to their wives, their silly wives. And what do the wives do, these useless women? You see them in the hotels, the best hotels, every day by the thousands. Drinking the money, eating the money, losing the money at bridge. Playing all day and all night. Smelling of money. Proud of their jewelry but of nothing else. Horrible, faded, fat, greedy women... Are they human or are they fat, wheezing animals, hmm? And what happens to animals when they get too fat and too old?"
Oh, Crap: Uncle Charlie when Young Charlie reveals to him that she's found an incriminating ring.
One Steve Limit: Averted to great effect with Uncle Charlie and his niece Young Charlie, although their real names are Charles and Charlotte, respectively.
Police Are Useless: Two cops chasing Uncle Charlie, one of which falls in love with Young Charlie, but they don't arrest him or even stick around, thus leaving Young Charlie to deal with her uncle by herself.
They also completely ignore Uncle Charlie at the beginning when he escapes them, demonstrating they don't know what the murderer looks like, but then why wouldn't they stop any person they spot leaving the hotel?
They're ultimately satisfied that the other guy they've been chasing is the strangler and Uncle Charlie never pays for his crimes, at least, he's never brought to justice.
Psychic Link: A very subtle example. Uncle Charlie has gotten off the train. Young Charlie is there to greet him—but she senses something is wrong about him, although she can't say what.
Both Charlies are introduced lying on a bed, staring pensively at the ceiling. Young Charlie gets the idea to telegram her uncle at the same time he is sending his telegram. Later, Young Charlie says she feels they are twins, and that she knows he has a secret.
Young Charlie: Mrs. Henderson, do you believe in telepathy?
Telegram Operator: Well, I ought to. That's my business.
Rule of Three: Uncle Charlie tries three times to kill his niece. The first time he breaks the steps of the outside stairs, trying to get her to step through one and break her neck. The second time he leaves her locked in the garage with a running car while the room fills up with smoke. The third time he tries to throw her off a train.
The Sociopath: Uncle Charlie is one of the earliest depicted in Hollywood cinema.
Those Two Guys: Charlie's father Joseph and his best friend Herbie, who are always chatting about how to commit the perfect murder.
Uncle Pennybags: Uncle Charlie wants to appear this way, and is certainly very good at projecting this to both his family and potential victims. However throughout the movie he shows signs of arrogance and condescension with his money; notably the scene at the bank Joseph works at, where he basically treats the act of setting up a multi-thousand dollar account (think millions today) like he were buying a prepaid movie-rental card.
"You think you know something, don't you? You think you're the clever little girl who knows something. There's so much you don't know, so much. What do you know, really? You're just an ordinary little girl, living in an ordinary little town. You wake up every morning of your life and you know perfectly well that there's nothing in the world to trouble you. You go through your ordinary little day, and at night you sleep your untroubled ordinary little sleep, filled with peaceful stupid dreams. And I brought you nightmares. Or did I? Or was it a silly, inexpert little lie? You live in a dream. You're a sleepwalker, blind. How do you know what the world is like? Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know, if you rip off the fronts of houses, you'd find swine? The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it? Wake up, Charlie. Use your wits. Learn something."