Shadow of a Doubt is one of my favorite Hitchcock films. He often called it his favorite too. It’s the story of evil coming into a sweet little world that doesn’t see it coming. The two main characters emphasize this difference.
There’s Uncle Charlie and Charlotte “Charlie” Newton. Little Charlie is thrilled when she finds out her beloved Uncle is coming to visit and shake things up. She’s bored with her “average” life in her average town in her average home. Her uncle is a well-traveled business man. No one seems to know what his business is but he sure has a lot of money to throw around. When we first meet Uncle Charlie, he’s casually puffing away on a cigar while money litters the floor around him. How does he get all that money and why does he come to visit all of a sudden? Something’s just not right but we don’t know what yet.
Uncle Charlie is deliciously evil – he oozes charm but only as a means of glossing over his true nature. It takes little Charlie a while to pick up on the signals that her Uncle isn’t what she thought but when she does, she figures out his terrible secret and tries to get him to leave.
No one but little Charlie suspects – but she has to be careful because clearly her Uncle is dangerous. At the same time, she doesn’t want to turn him in because it would be better if he’d just leave. Then her mother doesn’t need to know the truth about her favorite brother and maybe she can forget about it…like a bad nightmare.
Little Charlie’s whole family is “average” and I use that word in the nicest way possible. They’re a nice family who eats dinner and attends church together – they’d never expect one of their own family members to be dangerous, let alone try to kill them. Such a shock, little Charlie knows, would be just too much for them.
So, she tries her best to outsmart her evil Uncle and get him to leave peacefully…in lies the suspense. They’re worthy opponents – and the stakes are high.
Shadow of a Doubt is an interesting film because it looks so wholesome and good. Set in beautiful Santa Rosa, California – flowers are in just about every scene as decorations in the house or outside on the trees. It looks pretty. The women are an dresses, the men are in suits. I think it’s a device used more commonly now but at the time, the idea of putting someone evil in such a sweet environment was probably much fresher and it works well. I think the point is, bad people don’t have to look like “bad guys.” Even in the nicest of places, evil can exist.
Uncle Charlie sums it up best in his snarling statement to his niece who discovered his secret…
“You’re just an ordinary littler 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 the fronts off 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.”
But Charlie’s not so ordinary – she was the smartest girl in her class at school. She may have started out wide-eyed and innocent but it doesn’t take her long to adapt and figure out how to get rid of her Uncle. She tells him, flat out and plainly…”So, go away, I’m warning you. Go away or I’ll kill you myself. See, that’s the way I feel about you.”
Uncle Charlie doesn’t take too kindly to that warning and he’s even less pleased when his niece starts falling in love with one of the detectives trying to catch him.
The ending is not as clear as it may appear. The movie has an ending – it’s not ambiguous BUT it also leaves us wondering about what else is out there that we don’t really get – just because it isn’t as it appears. It’s a little disturbing really, if you choose to dwell on it.
It’s a great movie – entertaining and suspenseful as one can expect from Sir Alfred Hitchcock. If you like his other films, you’ll probably like this one too.