Review of suspense-thriller, ‘Shadow of a Doubt,’ Alfred Hitchcock’s personal favorite

June 25, 2021 Mario Bautista 446 views

ALFRED Hitchcock is known as the Master of Suspense, and rightfully so as a lot of his films are bonafide thrillers. He’s been quoted several times as saying that “Shadow of a Doubt” is his most favorite work among his films.

Made in 1943 at the height of World War II, the movie has a plausible scenario and the villain, Charles (Joseph Cotten), is a man who is hero-worshipped by his niece, Charlie (Teresa Wright), who thinks they have a special connection because she was named after him. The whole family is, in fact, delighted to see him as he brings presents to all on his visit.

But we viewers learn early on that Uncle Charles is a man of many secrets and the real reason he goes to visit Emma (Patricia Collinge), his sister in the small town of Santa Rosa, California, is that he’s hiding from law men who’ve been tracking him down in the East Coast.

Soon, Emma’s daughter, Charlie, the teenager who adores her uncle, starts noticing telltale clues that make her suspect that the uncle she adores may actually be the serial killer referred to in the newspaper as The Merry Widow Killer, who have already murdered three wealthy widows.

This is why the “Merry Widow” waltz by Lehar is frequently heard in the movie, but as some sort of a counterpoint with menacing undercurrents. In the same way that the movie’s main setting is an idyllic small town where everything seems so clean and antiseptic, and they never get to discover the truth about the double-faced man that they look up to.

Charlie cannot reveal to her folks what she has learned about his uncle and she is also aware that her knowledge about his true self could very well make her his next victim. And yes, Uncle Charlie is really plotting her death and hopes to make it appear as accidental.

The irony of it all is that the people in their town look up to his uncle as some kind of a role model and they even invite him to deliver a public speech. The film is developed in a believable manner and Hitchock’s storytelling is quite engrossing, thanks to script co-written by one of our favorite American playwrights, Thornton Wilder of “Our Town”, “Skin of Our Teeth” and “Matchmaker” which inspired the hit musical, “Hello Dolly”.

The film works also because of the bond earlier formed between Cotten and Wright. The persona of Cotten as Uncle Charlie is a seemingly sweet and harmless man, but he’s actually a psychopath who exudes quiet evil. He seems to have been the origin of the Norman Bates character in Hitchcock’s classic “Psycho” some 20 years later.

At first, you want to give Uncle Charles the benefit of the doubt and you secretly wish Charlie is just making a mistake in her deductions. But eventually, as tension begins to rise, we become pretty darn sure that Uncle Charles is really guilty, what with his very dark opinions about women and humanity.

Seen today, though, the way some scenes are blocked and shot seem quite dated. And nowhere is this more evident than in the ending, which is quite underwhelming. Hitchcock might have been limited by the technical limitations that time, because if this scene were done today by a more bombastic director, the climactic final sequence between uncle and niece as deadly antagonist and protagonist, will definitely be executed in a much more heart-stopping way. The film has been remade twice but we haven’t seen them, so we don’t know if they made any improvements on Hitchcock’s work.

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