[Film Review] Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Shadow of a Doubt poster

Title: Shadow of a Doubt
Year: 1943
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Thriller, Film-Noir
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Thornton Wilder
Sally Benson
Alma Reville
from an original story by Gordon McDonell
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography: Joseph A. Valentine
Teresa Wright
Joseph Cotten
Patricia Collinge
Macdonald Carey
Wallace Ford
Henry Travers
Hume Cronyn
Edna May Wonacott
Charles Bates
Eily Malyon
Rating: 7.3/10

Shadow of a Doubt 1943

An average family in Santa Rosa, California, being encroached by a man of vice in this intriguing Hitchcock thriller, a young teenager Charlotte Newton (Wright), aka. Charlie, grumbles about her family’s stuck-in-inertia status quo: her father Joseph (Travers) is an ordinary bank clerk, who is only fond of prattling about morbid murder strategy with their neighbor Herbie (Cronyn in his film debut); her mother Emma (Collinge), a tireless housewife who has three children to attend to, Charlie, Ann (Wonacott, a bespectacled bookish kid) and Roger (Bates), the youngest boy.

So Charlie is expectant a miracle to happen, to at least bring some excitement, that’s when her namesake uncle Charlie (Cotten) from her mother side, announces his visit from New York, where the picture’s noir-ish prelude ominously manifests that uncle Charlie is on the run from some unspecified party. Though Charlie claims her intrinsic affinity towards her uncle, gets all hyped-up by an improbable telepathy between them (well, it is just a sheer coincidence), to viewers, her desperation of seizing anything can break the ennui patently overwhelms their real emotional bond. However the plot doesn’t pad out their past stories since the narrative steers directly to that suspicion-arousing development right after the first family dinner after uncle Charlie’s arrival, his gift to niece Charlie is a ring engraved with other person’s initials, a way-too-obvious act of hiding a newspaper article doesn’t make much sense in the first place, but the tension has been aptly built, so we are all absorbed to see how young Charlie will step by step edge near the dark secret, which will entirely shatter the shallow idolatry for her worldly uncle and perniciously subject her to consecutive murderous attempts.

That is a typical Hitchcockian premise, the fuse is ignited, let’s all wait for the explosion with bated breath. But what jars this is the unfortunately outdated persona of our heroine (it is made in 1943, time changes, so is the ethos), young Charlie is an innocuous gal, safely protected from the adult seediness penetrating the society by provinciality and her “average” upbringing, which indeed ricochet to dampen her spirit. During her rude awakening, Charlie is never proactive to be gauged as smart, or intrepid enough to match her rival, the only reason she can narrowly survive all the deathtraps is just because she cannot die, she is the protagonist, a symbol of innocence and purity, which prompts Hitchcock to really jump the shark in the rash ending to dispatch the villain. Throughout the whole process, Charlie hardly does anything effectively admirable, hobbled by her own sentimentality, she has the key evidence in her hand, but it never occurs to her that a sensible act is to give it to the detective Jack Graham (Carey), who is unmistakably besotted with her, even when she is completely convinced that uncle Charlie is a wrongdoer at large.

Nevertheless, viewers can tell, Hitchcock is more resolute in pinpointing uncle Charlie’s sociopathic reckoning, especially his misogynous rant during the dinner, which is plain execrable, what makes him a more deserving recipient of the fortune than those rich widows? It certainly hurts when no one dares to refute back, it is a missed opportunity for Charlie to speak volumes for herself, pitifully it is not in the minds of Hitchcock and co.. Moreover, a big chunk of the information about uncle Charlie’s crime has been decidedly undisclosed, what is the deal with another suspect? And since the detectives have a picture of uncle Charlie, what happens to the assuming witness who could identify the perpetrator? These blank bullets leave the film a bit less compact as a top-tier Hitchcock production, albeit the sporadically scintillating luster (magnificent chiaroscuro galore) manufactured by the technique department.

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