Noir-vember Day Six: Shadow of a Doubt (1943) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Noir-vember Day Six: Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

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Shadow of a Doubt starring Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotton was directed by Alfred Hitchcock is not only a great noir film but took a very different twist on the relationships of the leads. Charlotte 'Charlie' Newton is bored with her quiet life and she wishes something exciting would happen. Imagine her delight when, out of the blue, they receive a telegram from her mother’s brother, whom she is named for, announcing that he is coming to visit. Young Charlie begins to notice some odd behavior on her uncle Charlie’s part and wonders what kind of man he really is. When two strangers appear asking questions about him, she begins to imagine the worst about her beloved uncle Charlie.

One of the more interesting things the movie does is change the gender roles. Instead of the femme fatale you have an older, slick and cunning man, and in the place of the private eye/police officer/just normal guy, there is a young woman from a small town and just out of high school. For a movie from the early 1940's this could not have been done if it wasn’t done by someone with such a presence such as Hitchcock. In fact, at the start of the movie, you may believe that Joseph Cotton’s character Charlie is going to be the protagonist. You know that he is in some type of jam even if you are not sure whom he is avoiding or why. It is then you meet his eighteen-year-old niece Charlie, who worships him and just wants him to be near. After a lot of sexual tension-- and, yes that is between the uncle and the niece-- the movie progresses and young Charlie starts to realize that her uncle has a darker side and that not everything is what as she thinks they should be.


As young Charlie starts to piece together the mystery of who her uncle really is, the film travels down a darker road then was typically seen in this time. Her father and his friend Herb, played by Hume Cronyn, who was later in “Batteries Not Included”, “12 Angry Men” and “Cocoon” to name a few, spend all their free time planning and talking about the perfect ways that they could kill each other and get away with it. Although this is first seen as a humorous character piece, the discussions start to take more of an ominous tone when Charlie learns more about her Uncle.

Yet, this is not as disturbing as a subplot I just picked up after the latest viewing of the film. The sexula undercurrent is not only between Uncle Charles and Charlie, but also with many members of the family. Not only is the mother unhealthily attached to her brother, but the youngest sister Anne, after spending time alone with the uncle, no longer wants him around her and goes as far as begging the mother not to make her sit next to him anymore. As the subplots merge with young Charlie’s quest to discover the truth it is revealed that Uncle Charlie is into more then simple "boys will be boys" trouble.


This is an amazing movie that once you look under what appears to be humor you find that everything connects into a darker theme of what happens when you trust and love someone that isn’t who he or she seems to be. The only part that seems a little tacked on is the romance between young Charlie and a man that it is hinted is really with the FBI. But even this part of the story helps to move along the sense of betrayal and helps magnify the wrongness of the feelings between her and her uncle. This isn’t one of Hitchcock’s better-known movies, but it is one of the best when it comes to layering subtext and the ever-changing perception that can have you discovering new dynamics every time you watch it.

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Posted by Melissa

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