SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943)

In our group, we discussed the relationship between niece Charlie and uncle Charlie as being a somewhat incestuous one – if only implied. We deduced that they are much closer than any uncle and niece we’d ever seen, lending their relationship a somewhat creepy vibe. He is constantly calling her the love of his life, and she calling him similar pet names/seeming to revere him in a way that is…odd. We talked a bit (though it seems like some may have missed it till we discussed it) about the supposed psychic connection that the niece feels toward her uncle – how she seems to believe she summoned him over a great distance with her mind/feelings and how he actually just showed up out of the blue because he needed a place to “hide” (even if in plain sight). We weren’t so sure (at least I wasn’t) about the scenes in which Charlie’s true nature is revealed, so we spent more time discussing the hints along the way which lead niece Charlie to suspect her uncle (see below). If there’s a turning point, it’s where he first grabs her by the wrists and she says “You’re hurting me.” She’s been aware this whole time that he was keeping something from her, but didn’t know what. Now she knows what it means to him to keep such a secret.

Hitchcock’s representation of the two Charlies is interesting. Charlie the niece is portrayed as both an idealist and jaded/bored. She wants to believe in some kind of perfect Norman Rockwell (or Thornton Wilder) existence in this small California town and yet she is listless and yearns for more. Uncle Charlie is portrayed as the very ideal in embodiment, but fresh and exciting in the way his niece seems to fawn over, yet he has another side – the cynical, evil and violent man who ultimately loses his life at the hands of his niece (intentionally, unintentionally, consciously or subconsciously).

The ways in which Hitchcock shows Charlie and Uncle Charlie to be similar or alike would include their seeming shared romantic idealism. Charlie’s is, of course, genuine however, and Uncle Charlie’s is a façade. Charlie sees the world as boring, yes, but also wonderful. Uncle Charlie isn’t bored so much as sickened by the world, but he puts up a front of being the same sort of poetic, swooning soul that niece Charlie seems to remember so fondly from her youth – presumably, as she seems attached to him from a time going way back.

I believe the point at which Uncle Charlie shows his true nature is when he first actually tries to kill his niece, although there are hints along the way which she picks up on that suggest the façade is breaking – the newspaper game, grabbing her wrists, the mysterious broken step on the back porch, etc. However, it’s when Charlie ends up locked in the garage and looks at Uncle Charlie so suspiciously as she’s trying to come to and convince everyone she’s alright that Uncle Charlie begins to reveal his true nature (multiple murder attempts follow).

This sheet brings up an interesting point I touched on in the group discussion – I don’t believe Charlie himself changes, but his perspective changes. He truly does seem to love niece Charlie to some degree, but he is a misanthrope through and through and niece Charlie is part of that aforementioned idealistic façade, it seems. Once he realizes that he has been suspected of any wrongdoing by his beloved niece, he doesn’t change (because his true nature was within all along, just beneath the surface – not unlike Norman Bates) but the way he sees her does. He starts to see her as a threat to be eliminated, more out of survival than the malice and forethought that permeated the killings he committed back east before coming to Santa Rosa.

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One response to “SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943)

  1. Note: Written for Sue Brower’s Hitchcock course Winter 2010 at Portland State.

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