SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943) B/W 108m

w/Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey, Patricia Collinge, Henry Travers, Hume Cronyn, Wallace Ford, Edna May Wonacott, Charles Bates, Irving Bacon, Clarence Muse, Janet Shaw, Estelle Jewell

Gripping suspense film in the grand Hitchcock tradition. A niece (Wright) suspects her uncle (Cotten) of having a deep, dark secret. This thriller, the director's personal favorite of all his films, beautifully captures the small town WWII atmosphere. (Exteriors were filmed in Santa Rosa, California, which is the same part of the country Hitchcock returned to for VERTIGO and THE BIRDS). Screenplay co-written by Thornton Wilder, with Sally Benson and Alma Reville (Hitchcock's wife), from an original story by Gordon McDonnell. Uniformly good performances.

From The Movie Guide: "This is Hitchcock's most penetrating analysis of a murderer --- a masterful profile, aided by Cotten's superb performance, of a subtle killer who cannot escape his dark passions, despite a superior intellect. The film's construction is adroit and perfectly calculated, letting the viewer know early on just what kind of a man Cotten really is, but providing tension through Cotten's devious charade as a gentle, kind man deserving of his family's love --- a tension which fuels the chilling cat-and-mouse game between Cotten and Wright that provides the film's suspenseful center.

"Hitchcock took his time in making SHADOW OF A DOUBT, and the care shows. The director got Thornton Wilder to write the screenplay, assuming that the playwright who created 'Our Town' would be the perfect scenarist to bring the right kind of ambiance and characterization to the film's small, close-knit Santa Rosa. After consulting briefly with Hitchcock, Wilder wandered about Hollywood with a notebook, writing bits and pieces of the screenplay when he could. He and the director took their time developing the inticate story, and Wilder had not finished the screenplay when he enlisted to serve in the Psychological Warfare Division of the Army. To finish the script, Hitchcock boarded a cross-country train to Florida (where Wilder was to begin his training) with the writer, and patiently sat in the next compartment as Wilder periodically emerged to give him another few pages of copy. The great playwright finished the last page of SHADOW OF A DOUBT just as the train was coming to his stop, and he used the train upon which he and Hitchcock traveled as his model in creating the setting for the gripping finale."

Oscar nomination for Best Original Story (McDonnell).

Notes collected for a lecture on the film:

SHADOW OF A DOUBT: Hitchcock's favorite of all his films

after Hitchcock's move to America: the American Hitchcock film: didn't emerge full-blown

            REBECCA: a Selznick film as well as a Hitchcock film: an English film, at heart

            FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT & SABOTEUR: both films: thrillers with America as subject:

                      heroes: quintessentially American types: Joel McCrea, Robert Cummings

                       more "firepower" than in British thrillers:

                                                FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: innocent diplomat shot w/gun hidden in camera

                                                SABOTEUR: starts with scene of horror: fiery death: explosion

                         these kinds of events: not found in British thrillers: but possible with Hollywood production methods

SHADOW OF A DOUBT: 1st American film that's equal of his greatest British films: contains what Hitchcock learned in Hollywood so far:  plus has continuity with body of earlier work: the British films

SHADOW OF A DOUBT: genesis: 1938: novelist Gordon McDonell & wife Margaret:

couple on vacation in CA's High Sierra: had car trouble: in Hanford: Gordon got idea for story:

              fugitive murderer coming home to visit his family: got to be joke in McDonell family:

                             "Uncle Charlie" spoken of as though he existed

4 years later: 1942: Margaret: then head of story department for Selznick:   

           Hitchcock told her he was looking for story: Gordon suggested "Uncle Charlie" to Margaret:     

                6-page treatment delivered to Hitchcock: different from final film                       

            Hitchcock: anxious to avoid conventional small-town American scenes: not stock figures seen in so many films:

                        wanted chars to be very modern: influenced by movies, radio, juke boxes, etc.: "life in a small town lit by neon signs"

                        but didn't want these things to date film

            Hitchcock: realized film would stand or fall by how convincingly it portrayed small town American folks:

offered contract to Thornton Wilder:1897 - 1975: very American playwright & novelist:

Wilder: arrived at studio within days from New York: started work on screenplay at once:

                                    working in mornings with Hitchcock / sumptuous lunches: Hitchcock's weakness

                                    afternoons: Wilder worked alone

            when screenplay almost complete: Wilder had to report for Army duty in Washington DC:

                         AH went with him on train: screenplay for most part complete

Sally Benson: playwright: hired wrote Junior Miss / her stories the basis for MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944)

           provided additional dialog & realistic touches

            script polished by Alma Reville: adding Hitchcock touches

SHADOW OF A DOUBT: production:

Hitchcock: normally preferred working in studio: he had more control: accustomed to large budget devoted to construction of sets

                        SABOTEUR: over $50,000 spent on sets      

            1942: midway thru US entry into WWII: government's War Production Board: placed $5000 ceiling on money spent on sets

Hitchcock's answer: to make most of film on actual locations: studio sets kept to minimum: location filming: very unusual at the time:

        decided he would film beginning scenes in NJbut most of story would be filmed in real CA town:    

                          Hanford rejected: several other sites checked out: Santa Rosa chosen                  

Santa Rosa: about 13,000 population: built around central square: somewhat in New England manner: 

               city seemed like Norman Rockwell painting come to life

house of Dr. C.M. Carlson & family chosen as principal exterior setting: white 2-story frame house: 904 MacDonald Avenue:       

          Hitchcock: thought it too ostentatious for bank clerk's home: but he was overruled:      

                      house: properly weathered, attractive, old-fashioned:          

                           family had it painted before production began: had to be "dirtied up" for shooting

other locations in Santa Rosa: Bank of America building: both exterior & interior settings               

            telegraph office          

            abandoned church building: then being used as soldier's recreation center:

chosen so as not to hurt any religious feelings

            railroad depot: full-grown oak tree planted: for "some artistic light & shade"          

            streets of Santa Rosa: main street shut down for 3 days         

            Highway 101: rerouted to avoid traffic noise

            Chamber of Commerce used as casting office

            locals used as extras: ministers, lawyers, a banker

locals used in prominent roles: 2 kids:

1. Estelle Jewel: Young Charlie's friend Catherine

2. Edna May Wonacott: age 10: Young Charlie's sister Ann: bookworm: personally coached by AH: her father grocer, too

SHADOW: filmed over late summer 1942: 4 weeks of principal photography


            mother in the film: one of Hitchcock's "good mothers": as opposed to Mrs. Bates             

                        Patricia Collinge: plays part: she wrote some dialog for film:

                                    e.g., conversation between Young Charlie & detective in garage

                        Hitchcock's own mother dying in England when film made: because of war: he couldn't get back to England

WWII America: mother important as figure: keeps household going: maintains both: family & patriotic image of America

            "good mother": anchors set of values associated with home & family

                       also: idealized image of American nation: family emphatically American:

                                 Thornton Wilder

                                  shooting film in SR: using people there: playing parts / advising actors

Robin Wood quote: Hitchcock's Films Revisited: p 297:

"What is in jeopardy is above all the family --- but, given the family's central ideological significance, once that is in jeopardy, everything is. The small town (still rooted in the agrarian dream, in ideals of the virgin land as a garden of innocence) and the united happy family are regarded as the real sound heart of American civilization; the ideological project is to acknowledge the existence of sickness and evil but preserve the family from their contamination."

            family in film: open to & besieged by external threats: doubt enters home: in form of mother's brother: murderer: hiding in home          

at time SHADOW made: Hitchcock: just becoming part of American society: WWII: threat of external invasion of America during wartime

        AH: an outsider: marginalized position: represents American family as locus for 2 things:

                  idealized fantasies of small town / fears re: safety                                                                                                                          

phenomenon of mistaken identity: the double: theme Hitchcock uses:

the double: German: doppelganger : literally “double walker”

            a literary device known since ancient times: refers to a psychological mirror image or split personality

                        twin images usually reflect good & evil

            used from time of Greek playwrights: Plautus: 254? - 184 BC: Roman writer of comic dramas: Amphytrion : double used

                        Shakespeare: used doubles many times: Midsummer Night’s Dream, e.g.

            works of German romantic fiction: Jean Paul Richter’s Siebenkraus (1796): 1st use of “doppelganger

                        E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Die Doppelganger  (1822)

            double: also used in:

                        Edgar Allan Poe’s William Wilson

                        Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

                        Dostoyevsky’s The Double

                        Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Sharer

            complexion of “the double” has changed during this century: throws a darker, larger shadow because of rise of psychoanalysis:

                      Harry Tucker:

            “Psychology as we know it today, had its beginnings at the end of the 18th century and in the 19th.  The quest into the mind is simultaneously the quest into the individuality and integrity of the self, which can exhibit puzzling contradictions and obscurely understood drives and impulses.  It is not surprising, then, that the theme of the double prominently appeared just when introspective German Romanticism was nascent [about to be born] and that it continued to appear along with the development of psychology into an independent discipline.  Major wars and other extensive disturbances of society are among those occasions which cause man to ask himself fundamental questions about his identity --- an identity which he finds existing on various levels or even in fragmentation.”

double: after 1800: chiefly reveals itself in literature in fragmentation: more overt examples: actual duplicates who are physically identical:                 

                        mirror image of Poe’s William Wilson

                        mischievous shadow in Anderson’s fairy tales

                        portrait surrogate in Wilde’s Dorian Gray

            latent doubles: Dostoyevsky & Conrad:

                        similarities are spiritual rather than physical:

                        these doubles: have more or less autonomous existence on level of story:                                  

                                    yet, they are also fragments of one mind on psychological level

            this means: this type of double exists as a defense mechanism for the ego: self is able deal with tensions which it couldn’t handle otherwise:

                                    primarily in moral conflicts

                   Otto Rank: psychoanalyst:

            “... the most prominent symptom of the forms which the double takes is a powerful consciousness of guilt which forces the hero no longer to accept the responsibility for certain actions of his ego, but to place it upon another ego, a double, ... the detached personification of instincts and desires, ... once felt to be unacceptable, but which can be satisfied without responsibility in this indirect way.”

        so: by using the double:

                        authors can externalize & resolve moral tensions and create worlds full of dramatic conflict

world of double: in the realm of the subconscious possesses many characteristics of dream world --- or --- of its perverted mirror image:

            nightmare world of the modern thriller: “normal rules of reason don’t apply”

            obviously: such an environment: world of double: very suitable for cinematic exploration:

films of German expressionists of 1920s & 1930s:

             F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, Carl Mayer, Edgar G. Ulmer: studio where they worked: UFA in Munich:

U.F.A.: same place where Hitchcock directed first films for Michael Balcon: 1925-6

            German expressionism grew up to be film noir: while Hitchcock worked & watched

            clips from his films would make accurate illustrations for a textbook on:

                        themes, lighting, framing techniques of both movements: expressionism & film noir

Hitchcock’s films: 2 overt uses of the double:         

            THE WRONG MAN: Manny Ballestrero: arrested for series of thefts: really committed by man who looks uncannily like him

             VERTIGO: Kim Novak plays 2 women: Madeleine & Judy: they turn out to be the same person

            many, many latent doubles in Hitchcock’s work:

                      where similarities are spiritual rather than physical : among these:


         also: in addition to thematic doubling in these films: Hitchcock relies heavily on technique of doubling:

                   paralleling & reversing of scenes: symmetry seen in BLACKMAIL:

                        symmetry of manslaughter scene, 2 scenes in Scotland Yard

Hitchcock’s use of double: looking at observations he made on nature of good & evil: he recognizes that his films pivot on moral dilemmas

           re: SHADOW OF A DOUBT Hitchcock told Truffaut:

“There is a moral judgment in the film.  He’s [Uncle Charlie] destroyed at the end, isn’t he?  The niece accidentally kills her uncle.  What it boils down to is that villains are not all black and heroes are not all white; there are grays everywhere.”

            so: Hitchcock realizes that his world is not one of clear-cut moral alternatives: rather it’s one where ambiguity rules

                      Richard Schickel:

            “the implication [is] that the protagonist, though he may not be guilty of the crime he has been accused of, is indeed guilty of something.”

       the double manifests this ambiguity: the heroes compromise themselves during the film

Hitchcock purposely makes villains attractive for 2 purposes:

                        1st: realistic: if they weren’t attractive, they couldn’t get near victims

                        2nd: artistic: if they weren’t attractive, audience wouldn’t identify with them

            audience identification: central to Hitchcock’s work:

                        accounts for high proportion of 1st person or subjective shots in films

                        accounts for alternation of subjective & objective shots: characterizes structure of his films

            Hitchcock has said: his primary appeal is emotional: his aim is control over audiences

                    Leo Braudy:

            “Hitchcock manipulates our desire to sympathize and identify.  He plays malevolently on the audience assumption that the character we sympathize with most, whose point of view we share, is the same character who is morally right in the story the movie tells.”

         when we see thru a person’s eyes, share that person’s perception: we assume his or her identity

                        if that person is compromised during course of film: we are also compromised

                     Robin Wood:

            “One can point to the disturbing quality of so many Hitchcock films. ... Many refer to this quality in Hitchcock but few try to account for it:  How often has one heard that a certain film is ‘very clever’ but ‘leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.’  This ‘nasty taste’ phenomenon has, I believe, two main causes.  One is Hitchcock’s complex and disconcerting moral sense, in which good and evil are seen to be so interwoven as to be virtually inseparable, and which insists on the existence of evil impulses in all of us.  The other is his ability to make us aware, perhaps not quite at a conscious level (it depends on the spectator), of the impurity of our desires.  The two usually operate, of course, in conjunction.”

            as a result, we in audience also become doubles of chars we see

Hitchcock’s characters: fragmented: world they inhabit seen as essentially chaotic: overlaid w/veneer of stability: mirror image of chaotic world

            Hitchcock to Richard Schickel: “evil is complete disorder”: in his films: evil invades lives randomly: when least expected

Lindsay Anderson: on typical Hitchcock plot:

            “These films gain a particular excitement from their concern with ordinary people (or ordinary-looking people) who are plunged into extraordinary happenings in the most ordinary places.”

         Hitchcock himself has remarked:

                        we’re all afraid of dark streets & sinister locales:

                        but who would be threatened in an empty rural cornfield or spotless white motel bathroom?

            ironically: in these innocuous settings: true danger lurks:

                        Lawrence Kane: “the terror of the familiar turned lethal”

            icons of stability: church in THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH: both 1934 & 1956 versions

                                        state in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN & NORTH BY NORTHWEST

                        not only insufficient to prevail vs. chaos: but often identify locales where chaos abounds

along with characters with whom we identify:

            audience plunged into world of mirrors where nothing is what it seems: nothing to hold on to:

                        alternation of subjective & objective shots: only further disorients viewer

            order appears to be restored by end of film: but we’re not really reassured: because we’ve seen it so easily disrupted

          in final analysis: John Frayne:

            “Hitchcock does not offer any solution to the anarchical madness presented in many of his films.  How does one defend oneself against the protagonist of Psycho --- by locking the bathroom door?”

            Hitchcock himself: defends himself vs. chaotic world by:

                       careful pre-planning of every shot

                       shooting most of his films in the studio

                       relying heavily on process shots

             that way he can depend on environment remaining orderly & controlled

Hitchcock’s vision of world: exemplified by way he uses physical objects in his films:

            amid chaos: innocent items can assume sinister significance:

                                    emerald ring: SHADOW OF A DOUBT

                                    cigarette lighter: STRANGERS ON A TRAIN

                                    locket: VERTIGO

                        they can assume a seemingly malevolent life of their own

            Hitchcock: often resorts to trickery with objects: to establish their importance:

                        magnifier props: gun in SPELLBOUND / gimmicks: light bulb in glass of milk: SUSPICION

             Sarris: says these objects acquire weight of their visual correlatives in film:                                        

                        they represent more complex realities beneath film’s surface:

                                    struggle for power between characters

                                    pervasiveness of evil in their world

            Hitchcock’s use of editing: often isolates & emphasizes these objects: close ups:

                        thereby illustrating & reinforcing fragmentation of chaos world

            in final analysis: this fragmentation: makes doubling both possible & plausible

SHADOW OF A DOUBT: Hitchcock’s special dedication to Thornton Wilder: measure of how critical his help was

            Wilder: b. 1897 - d.1975: The Bridge of San Luis Rey, The Skin of Our Teeth, The Matchmaker: made into musical: 1964: Hello, Dolly!

            Our Town: Wilder won Pulitzer Prize: may be the most frequently performed American play:

                        depicts everyday routines in pre-WWI New Hampshire village: Grovers Corners: represents center of creation

                        3 periods shown in play: 1901 / 1904 / 1913: sketchy episodes (Hitchcock) reaffirm simple values:

                                    but Wilder elevates them to cosmic proportions

                        stage manager: narrates & periodically participates  in action

                        plot: focuses on neighboring Webb & Gibbs families: also: traces romance of Emily Webb & George Gibbs:

                                    from childhood thru his proposal & their marriage to her early death

                        final scene in graveyard: the dead comment on the living & on meaning of life

            Our Town: made into film in 1940: director: Sam Wood; cast: William Holden, Martha Scott

                        5 Oscar nominations: including: Best Picture / Best Actress (Scott) / Best Score: Aaron Copland

           SHADOW OF A DOUBT: shot on location in Santa Rosa to assure “realism”:

                        perverse “mirror image” of Our Town: middle-class staircases & innocent garages: become locations for murder attempts


doubles in film: Uncle Charlie: Joseph Cotten / Young Charlie: Teresa Wright

                        linked by:        family relationship

                                                identical names

                                                telepathy: sending each other wires @ same time

                        Young Charlie: often stresses their similarities

                                    fact that they react to things alike

                                    that they think same way

                                    can almost read one another’s thoughts

                        as she finds out more about her uncle: learns he’s a murderer: telepathic quality: takes on more threatening aspect:

                                      because she can’t hide anything from him

          Young Charlie: seems innocent: she’s horrified about her uncle:

                        tries to protect family: especially mother: from truth about him: progressively reveals her moral grayness to us:

Raymond Durgnat: “even if evil doesn’t seek out the innocent, the innocent, being dissatisfied, will call evil to themselves"

          Young Charlie: she sends for him: after Uncle Charlie arrives: Young Charlie: monopolizes his attention:

                                    plays game of one-up-manship w/family & friends

                        Hitchcock: hints at repressed incestuous relationship between them: emerald “betrothal” ring belonging to 1 of his victims

            climactic confrontation: at top of back steps: staircase she’s been using since she found out about Uncle Charlie:

                        Uncle Charlie: visually controls house’s front staircase

                        she threatens him: “Go away or I’ll kill you myself”:

            she’s made spiritual compromise:

                        stooping to Uncle Charlie’s methods to achieve her goal: she steps from light into shadow

            Young Charlie: further compromises herself by agreeing to let him leave town:

                        freeing him to kill more widows: 1st one: might be family friend she sees on train

            question: how guilty is she? also implicates us: because we’ve been identifying with her thruout film

            Uncle Charlie: 1 of Hitchcock’s “charming villains”: strangler of rich widows who’s extremely likeable

                        we’re given reasons to “excuse” his behavior:

                                    childhood head injury produced personality change

                                    implication that widows were worthless anyway

                        implication: Uncle Charlie has been smothered & dominated by women all his life

                                    shot: Young Charlie & mother: loom over him as he lies passively in bed

                        killing of widows: may be attempt to get some of his own back


            contains some of Hitchcock’s best examples of technical doubling:

                        symmetry: use term for arrangement of scenes, etc, but not for characters

            2 establishing sequences: practically identical:

                                    introducing Uncle Charlie in city, Young Charlie in Santa Rosa

                        both cases: progression from farthest to closest / largest to smallest

                                    camera comes in thru bedroom windows: both: revealed lying passively on their beds

                        only difference: beds face opposite directions: which really makes all the difference:

                                    since Uncle Charlie & Young Charlie become mirror images of each other

            structural doubling continues thruout film:

                        2 scenes in church

                        2 scenes in garage

                        2 visits by police to house

                        2 meals

                        2 attempted murders

                        2 scenes @ railroad station                 

                        2 scenes in kitchen

                        2 scenes in a bar: 2nd one: introduces Young Charlie into her uncle’s corrupt world:

                                    also reverses earlier scene in kitchen when she gets ring

                        bar scene: he demands ring back: in between: she’s found out re: him          

             minor doubling:

Young Charlie & waitress in bar: her classmate

           Louise contrasted to Young Charlie: comes from poor family:  works to support herself

                     but she reacts to Uncle Charlie in same way as Young Charlie: impressed by ring:

                                    “playback” feeling to this scene: reminder of earlier scene when we were more innocent: difference we see causes discomfort

Jack Graham: acts as minor double for Uncle Charlie: both competing for Young Charlie’s attentions

            seems as though Young Charlie will have to choose bet. them: choosing between private interest & public duty               

             doubling reinforced: by 2 scenes in garage: Jack proposes to Young Charlie / Uncle tries to kill her

Hitchcock’s use of doubling:

            obviously linked to technical influences from German studios: German expressionism:

            more importantly: serves as vehicle for Hitchcock to express his views on modern world as both: morally ambiguous & chaotic in nature

            result of doubling: disorienting to viewer: keeps us off balance

                      Albert LaValley:

            “Hitchcock is not organizing our experience into structural systems, but rather using structures to release a kind of absurdist logic in life. ... He makes life seem dreamlike, its surface a thin crust over a substratum of fear, insecurity, unconscious anxiety, and guilt.  In this dream world one character evokes another, one experience pulls together threads of many past ones.”