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Shadow of a Doubt

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) is widely known as Alfred Hitchcock's own favorite film, and for one reason — it effectively melds the concepts of evil and innocence, the notions of shared consciousness between competing forces, and the theme of menace lurking beneath an idyllic portrait of America. But it also should be noted that Shadow of a Doubt is not one of Hitch's most pulse-pounding efforts. It does not offer the white-knuckle ride of North By Northwest, nor the sordid shocks of Psycho. Scripted by Thornton Wilder (Our Town) and Sally Benson (Meet Me in St. Louis), Shadow of a Doubt is a subtle work with mostly psychological dynamics. And, as Hitchcock once noted, it brings murder "back in the home where it rightfully belongs." Joseph Cotten stars as dapper Charlie Oakley, a murderer who's on the run from the police and thus decides to leave his squalid Philadelphia boarding-house for idyllic Santa Rosa, Calif., where his sister Emma Newton (Patricia Collinge) and her family have set down roots. Along with her husband Joseph (Henry Travers) and two young children is another Charlie, his teenage niece (Teresa Wright), who has always admired her long-lost relative and is grateful for his visit, which she hopes will shake up the family's dull status quo. But before long young Charlie learns that her uncle is hiding something — he refuses to be photographed, and she's seen him secretly tear small things out of the daily paper. It is when a detective (Macdonald Carey) informs Charlie that her uncle may be the "Merry Widow Murderer" — a man with three killings to his credit and a nationwide manhunt on his trail — that Charlie begins to believe the worst. Much has been made of the clever symbolism in Shadow of a Doubt, and just as Uncle Charlie plays a game with his California relatives, Hitch plays one with his viewers. In addition to young Charlie's notion that she and her uncle are psychically connected (a belief that the nefarious elder uses to his advantage), Hitchcock displays numerous doubles, twins, or pairs throughout the film (the motif of dancers twirling to the "Merry Widow Waltz"; the bar where Charlie confronts her uncle, which is called "Til Two," with two clock-faces on double-doors). The paired-identity theme invokes the novels of Dostoyevsky and Conrad (in particular The Secret Sharer), and it has been tackled again and again by later American filmmakers (David Lynch's Blue Velvet is a noteworthy entry), where the road from childhood to maturity comes via a direct confrontation with evil. On a more straightforward note, the subplot involving Mr. Newton and his neighbor Herbie Hawkins (Hume Cronyn), murder-mystery buffs who debate complicated ways to kill each other ("It's his way of relaxing" says Mrs. Newton), is as perfect as Hitchcockian humor comes, and it illustrates The Master's skill at breaking up suspenseful plot arcs with diverting comic bits. Universal's DVD release of Shadow of Doubt offers a clean full-frame transfer (1.33:1) from a print that has noticeable flecking (although the worst of it is in the first two reels), while sharpness and low-contrast details are pleasant. Fans will enjoy the additional documentary "Beyond Doubt: The Making of Hitchcock's Favorite Film," with comments from Cronyn, art director Robert Boyle, filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, and Hitchcock's daughter Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell. Also included is a gallery of Boyle's production drawings, a second gallery of publicity stills, production notes, cast and crew notes, and a re-release trailer. Keep-case.
—JJB



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