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Film / Shadow of a Doubt

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Young Charlie: 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.
Uncle Charlie: Something...nobody knows?
Young Charlie: Something secret and wonderful. I'll find it out.
Uncle Charlie: It's not good to find out too much, Charlie.

Shadow of a Doubt is a 1943 suspense film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Joseph Cotten stars as Charles "Charlie" Oakley, a Serial Killer on the run who comes back to his hometown of Santa Rosa, California to hide from the police. Teresa Wright is his niece Charlotte Newton, also called Charlie, who idolizes him—until the agents hunting "Uncle Charlie" reveal to her who her uncle really is.

Said to be Hitchcock's favorite of his own films. Appropriately for a film set in a small town, the screenplay was co-written by Thornton Wilder. Check out Roger Ebert's discussion on it here.

The film has been remade twice: in 1958 as Step Down to Terror, and in 1991 under the original title as a TV movie in which Mark Harmon portrayed Uncle Charlie. It also served as the inspiration for Park Chan-wook's Stoker.

In 1991, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

This film provides examples of:

  • Ax-Crazy: Uncle Charlie. Despite being more composed and calm than any other example it's clear that there's plenty wrong with him...
  • 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.
  • Blowing Smoke Rings: Uncle Charlie does this after lying down in bed at his sister's house, having successfully found a place to hide out.
  • The Bluebeard: Uncle Charlie himself, first to rich old widows, then to his own family.
  • Broken Pedestal: More like shattered into a million pieces.
  • Bumbling Dad: Joseph Newton is very good-natured and simple-minded, without a skeptical bone in his body. In other words, the kind of brother-in-law who'd be handy for a serial killer on the lam to hang out with.
  • 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.
  • Childhood Brain Damage: It's implied that a brain injury Uncle Charlie suffered when he was hit by a car as a child is what caused his "problem".
  • Creator Cameo: Hitchcock as usual, this time on the train playing cards. He has the entire suit of spades in his hand. Notable as a rare case of another character addressing Hitch during his cameo.
    Doctor (takes off glasses and examines him): You don't look very well either.
  • Creepy Monotone: Uncle Charlie, unless he's using his Nice Guy facade.
  • 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 airhead. When the detective suggests that he take out her daughter for dinner so she can show him around town, she says with a big smile, "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.
  • Evil Uncle: Oh boy.
  • Extremely Protective Child: Young Charlie is the eldest daughter of the family but she is determined to save her family from her Uncle Charlie's crimes and protect them from the truth about his activities, she even risks death twice to turn him in to the law. She even tells Uncle Charlie that she would kill him just to protect her family from him.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The events of the film take place over the course of five days (Wednesday - Sunday).
  • Faux Affably Evil: Uncle Charlie, who seems to struggle with keeping the mask of affability on. See all his snide comments when starting an account at his brother-in-law's bank.
  • Fourth Wall Psych: Uncle Charlie turns to face the viewer at the end of his Motive Rant, adding a little creepy punctuation mark to it, but otherwise he keeps the fourth wall intact.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Uncle Charlie, especially towards wealthy widows who he believes are wasting their husbands' money.
  • 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.
  • Idiot 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.
  • Leitmotif: The "Merry Widow" waltz by Franz Lehar frequently plays in scenes that reference Uncle Charlie's identity as the Merry Widow killer; a scene of couples waltzing to said composition at dizzying speed accompanies the opening credits and then recurs several times throughout the film.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: How Uncle Charlie tries to kill his niece.
  • 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:
    Uncle Charlie: 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 Head Taller: Cotten is quite a bit taller than tiny little Teresa Wright. This might make the climax less than believable to some.
  • 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.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: Uncle Charlie makes a big show of folding a newspaper page into a house for young Ann and Roger, so he can surreptitiously tear one of the articles out and throw it away. Young Charlie immediately sees through the ruse and figures out Uncle Charlie is hiding something connected to that news article. Eventually, she finds a copy of the torn article and sees it's about the manhunt for the Merry Widow Murderer. Nothing in the article really pointed to Uncle Charlie, either—it was just his overreaction that made him suspicious.
  • 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.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Charlie notices how his niece has grown up since they last met. Their relationship gets more serious afterwards.
  • Serial Killer: Uncle Charlie has been bumping off rich widows for some time by the time the film begins.
  • The Sociopath: Uncle Charlie is one of the earliest depicted in Hollywood cinema.
  • Those Two Guys: Charlie's brother-in-law 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.
  • Villain Opening Scene: The first scene is Joseph Cotten in a New Jersey flophouse, hiding out from the cops.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Everybody adores Uncle Charlie.
  • Wrongly Accused: You might think that, just like other Hitchcock films, that this trope is again the case. You'd be wrong.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Ann, to a degree. She keeps thinking that events will play out like the plots in the novels she reads.
    Ann: You must be hiding.
    Jack: We're not hiding.
    Ann: Well, you said "hsst." People who are hiding always say "hsst."