****/**** Image A Sound A Extras B-
starring Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey, Henry Travers
screenplay by Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson, Alma Reville, from an original story by Gordon McDonell
directed by Alfred Hitchcock
by Walter Chaw Just by the fact of her, Charlie (Teresa Wright) is dangerous for her Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten), a violent rebuke of the caustic nihilism of his worldview. She's too pure, too loving, too good; her existence is proof there's something wrong with him. Very wrong. She's so rare a thing, the only way to protect her and, by extension, what he believes about our debased, postlapsarian state is to corrupt her. Really, he's doing her a favour. I think that Uncle Charlie knows he's running out of time, that the dragnet around him is tightening at the neck. I think he wants to spend whatever freedom he has left turning his namesake to his way of thinking. Visiting for the first time in too long, he brings gifts for everyone in his sister Emmy's (Patricia Collinge, her character named after Hitch's mother) family: his brother-in-law Joe (Henry Travers), his little niece Ann (Edna May Wonacott), his nephew Roger (Charles Bates), and of course Charlie. But she rejects even the notion of receiving a present from her beloved uncle. His presence is good enough, she says.
He, of all people, knows that's not true. He's brought her a valuable emerald ring and puts it on her finger as a groom would his bride. She smiles beatifically and refuses to look at it. The struggle in Shadow of a Doubt is between cold, angry experience and warm, grateful innocence: a love letter from Alfred Hitchcock to his adopted home in the New World, as well as a warning, delivered with the help of "Our Town" author Thornton Wilder, about how the optimism of youth, for nations or otherwise, is always supplanted by the bitterness of age. Hitchcock's sainted mother died back in England during production of this film. (Hitch, unable to convince her to flee the country during the Blitz, had at least managed to move her out of the direct line of nightly fire.) Shadow of a Doubt is also a guilt-riddled eulogy for her, a shrine to motherhood Hitch would immediately begin to dismantle with Notorious, Strangers on a Train, and, of course, Psycho. Uncle Charlie is the prodigal son, a failed human being despite his trappings of wealth and sophistication. I believe we all identify with that feeling of insufficiency and failure when we can't keep our mothers from dying.
Uncle Charlie wants to contaminate his niece with a purloined ring he's taken from one of his victims, whom we infer was more easily swayed by material things. Charlie accepts the present because it's forced upon her, and then only as a symbolic token of his affection. Earlier, Ann, who is right about everything (as little girls with glasses often were in Hitchcock films), correctly diagnoses Charlie as "putting on"--that is, pretending, or at least magnifying her virtue. Uncle Charlie wants Charlie to be greedy for it, to coo over it like a magpie discovering something shiny, and insists she admire its splendour. When Charlie does glance at it, she notices it's engraved--not from her uncle to her, but from one stranger to another. "Well, Charlie, I've been rooked," says Uncle Charlie. It's a line that carries an incredible amount of weight, one of many times Uncle Charlie will try to gaslight Charlie like one of his gullible widow marks in telling her a tale of an unscrupulous jeweller selling him used goods.
It could also refer to his disappointment that Charlie is unwilling to be properly seduced by his expansive generosity, his worldliness, his wealth and the cavalier way he goes about flaunting it. His antiestablishmentarianism and how it manifests in humiliating his brother-in-law in front of his boss and co-workers at the bank, where the brother-in-law works. Uncle Charlie says shocking things to get a rise out of Charlie. We recognize these tactics for what they are: an older man leaning heavily on his "wisdom" and a devil-may-care attitude towards social conventions and politesse. We recognize these behaviours as dangerous. Charlie eventually will, too, but it's going to take a while, because she loves her uncle and the relatives of monsters are often the last to recognize their monstrosity. Certainly the last to do anything about it. Charlie is in danger, but she's a part of him. They're bound together. A little bit of Uncle Charlie's ability to get away with multiple murders is because of the cover Charlie and her family's nature of utter normality provide him. In many ways, Shadow of a Doubt is about how a monoculture, blandly and without intention, provides cover for its own. When your people design the "system," it takes a lot for the guardians of that system, hired by your people, to identify you as a threat.
On the contrary, Uncle Charlie is the talk of Santa Rosa when he arrives one beautiful day on a train belching black smoke. In America, trains are hope; in Britain, trains are the Industrial Revolution spreading into the last of untouched nature. Hitchcock, British-now-American, takes particular pleasure in turning America's love against itself. When the train stops at the station, it swallows little Roger in shadow, and when Uncle Charlie disembarks, it's in the guise of a sick man, his disguise to rebuff interest in him on the trip out. A doctor on the train has been asked to check on him, but he complains he's on vacation and engaged in a hand of bridge with, among others, Hitchcock, who, Hitchcock is careful to show, is holding an impossible bridge hand of every card in the spade suit. You see, he holds "all" the cards, and when he lays them down, the game is over. Hitchcock likes to remind audiences that he's in charge. Of his 40 cameos, this is among the most substantive in terms of wit and statement of authorial intent. Possibly only the double-bass cameo in Strangers on a Train or the walking two dogs cameo in Vertigo are more explicitly on thematic point. In this brief moment, Hitch validates Uncle Charlie's rancour. He's probably cheating; the doctor he's playing with isn't interested in helping a sick man; and in the end, no matter how sure Uncle Charlie is of his control over every situation, he's not actually in control. Uncle Charlie's world is one where doctors ignore their oath on holiday, gambling with questionable strangers. His world is one where the people are made of disappointment and self-interest. It's a foul sty. Later will come the suggestion that his misanthropy has to do with a bike accident he had when he was a kid that cracked his skull and landed him in the hospital. I think it has more to do with the other part of the story, where a father gave him a bike he couldn't handle, didn't teach him how to handle it, and didn't return to the store after the gift almost killed his son. People don't always recover from physical trauma, but they seldom fully recover from emotional trauma.
Uncle Charlie has announced his arrival via a telegram Young Charlie receives at the exact moment she's composing a telegram to him, asking him to visit her in the hopes of breaking up the quotidian sameness of her Rockwellian Eden. "Do you believe in telepathy?" Young Charlie asks, the first of several instances in which it's suggested she's supernaturally linked to her uncle. The next comes when she hears the "Merry Widow Waltz" at dinner and declares her belief in how songs jump from person to person, even if no one is singing it out loud. The suggestion makes Uncle Charlie nervous. He spills wine to change the subject, but later, when Young Charlie figures out he's hidden the evening edition because there's a story about him inside, he has to hurt her--just a little--to make her stop reading his mind. Watch her reaction in the scene when she tells him he's hurting her: he tries to make it right, and she smiles to indicate all is well, but she's lost some of her innocence as she floats away back to her room, where she, crossly, tells Ann to hurry through her prayers and go to bed. Ritual, religion, family--all of it is beginning to fall apart, and Uncle Charlie is the widening gyre. He's not as smart as he thinks; and Young Charlie isn't as innocent as she seems.
Hitchcock loved eroding moral bedrocks, most gaudily in the form of desecrating national monuments and more stealthily in the form of ineffectual cops, bumbling clergy, and psycho mothers. I love how the "Merry Widow Waltz" is used to illustrate Uncle Charlie's murderous fugues but doesn't call back to any scene per se. There's no sequence where the waltz is playing while Uncle Charlie does his dark business. Instead, the musical theme refers to the film's opening credits and the endless music-box image beneath them of couples spinning mindlessly as the tune plays. Young Charlie doesn't just read Uncle Charlie's mind: she's reading Hitchcock's mind--and ours--because Uncle Charlie is our avatar and Young Charlie is our ideal. Consider how Young Charlie is the only one inside of this film privy to the opening credits of...well, this film. It would be as if Chief Brody started quietly humming the Jaws theme whenever the shark approached. Shadow of a Doubt is not a supernatural thriller but an archetypal one: the Oedipus story in which the hero is simultaneously the villain; the quarry is the detective. There's only one Charlie here, at least in the Jungian sense. (Remember when she knocks on her own door to find it empty? Of course it's empty, you can't both knock on your door and answer it.) The real and only question is what will be left of her joy when she's finally grown.
The shark in Shadow of a Doubt declares, with hostility, how he lives assiduously in the present. He has no use for the past and makes no plans for the future. He suggests others are stupid for doing otherwise. He likes speeches and the sound of his own voice. He likes to be told he's right, so he mixes in society so polite it will not tell him he is wrong. He likes, especially, talking to widows, I think because they're wounded. That they've recently inherited money is a happy expedience. I know all of this because Hitchcock has told me so by opening Shadow of a Doubt with the "Merry Widow Waltz." It's a secret I'm sharing with Hitch and with Young Charlie. Uncle Charlie is invited to speak at the women's auxiliary in humble Santa Rosa; Emmy is a charter member. He tries out a topic at the dinner table once it's become clear that Young Charlie has figured a few things out. She says, "[Charlie] has to leave sometime, we all have to face the facts," and he says, looking at her with a mixture of barely-suppressed rage and admiration-unto-hunger, "I like people to face facts." He is an evangelist of the world as he knows it.
The trouble with Uncle Charlie is how he's right more often than he's wrong. Consider how Emmy immediately tells a funny story about how she can't hold her liquor, to Joe's dismay; how Joe and his best friend Herb (Hume Cronyn) have as their favourite pastime workshopping the best way to get away with murdering each other; how even angelic Young Charlie has lied to her friend to go out on a date with handsome detective Jack Graham (Macdonald Carey)--a lie she's caught in later outside the soda shop when they all run into one another. She laughs about it, and about the uncomfortable moment where it's revealed that this beautiful young woman has other suitors she's entertaining, and Hitchcock cuts from her laughter to her shocked dismay when she learns how her beau, Graham, is in town to take her uncle away in shackles. In a frenzy of detection, Young Charlie sneaks out of the house at night, jaywalks, and is almost killed by a car before the crossing guard admonishes her. Then she's given another tongue-lashing by the town librarian, who doesn't appreciate her routine being disrupted. Young Charlie, wearing the ring of a psychopath, is now on the wrong side of the looking glass.
The centrepiece of an essentially action-less film--Shadow of a Doubt is the very definition of a slow burn--is Uncle Charlie's dinnertime speech about the uselessness of women. Hitch performs a slow push-in towards Uncle Charlie in profile--an unbroken, 19-second take that ends with Uncle Charlie's response to Young Charlie's protest that what he's talking about are human beings. "Are they?" he says. Here's that monologue is in its entirety:
The cities are full of women, middle-aged widows, husbands dead, husbands who've spent their lives making fortunes, working and working, then they die and leave their money to their wives. Their silly wives. And what do the wives do, these useless women? You see them in the hotels, the best hotels every day by the thousands. Drinking the money, eating the money, losing the money at bridge, playing all day and all night, smelling of money. Proud of their jewelry but of nothing else. Horrible, faded, fat, greedy women.
Uncle Charlie asks if these women he describes are human or "fat, wheezing animals," then wonders, rhetorically, what one does with animals that are too fat and too old? He's espousing an Aristotlean philosophy of value as a function of usefulness to justify his role as the culler of sheep. (Crucially, Aristotle didn't apply this standard to people.) What's inseparable for me in this monologue is the image of Hitchcock, the self-loathing fat kid who's just lost his mother, shooting this dialogue in which an alpha-predator describes...Hitchcock: eating, drinking, losing money, smelling of money, and opening this film, it can't be an accident, playing bridge. He has recently had his usefulness to his country questioned by former producer and friend Michael Balcon, and for all his wealth and power in the United States, he couldn't convince his mother to leave England. Nor could he, in the end, prevent her from dying a world away from him. Shadow of a Doubt is despair told through the fall of a young woman whose values and sense of self are consumed by the black smoke creeping across the eternity of our adult lives. No one gets away clean. No one gets out alive.
Shadow of a Doubt finds Hitchcock at a crossroads in his life--the same one in which we all find ourselves at some point if everything goes well and time makes orphans of us. Accordingly, Hitchcock touches on this crossroads through doubles. Note the long, wordless prologue that speaks in pairs: the dancers engaged in spinning maniacally to the "Merry Widow" waltz, the two vagabonds back-to-back beneath a bridge as the music decays, the two pairs of boys playing stickball, and the cut from canted angles on an apartment building to Uncle Charlie lying in bed, his head at screen left. Two cops can be glimpsed from his window. On the street below, they compositionally flank Uncle Charlie until he successfully eludes them in one of Hitchcock's favoured God's-eye views. When Uncle Charlie sends the telegram announcing his visit to Santa Rosa, the only number we see him dial on the rotary payphone is "2." A second, nearly identical montage finds Young Charlie lying in bed at home, her head, yes, screen left. They're paired, Yin and Yang, the self and the Jungian shadow, which represents not so much the bad things as things unexamined, unhealthily repressed and allowed to become monstrous.
Though in a pouty mood as the movie begins, Young Charlie has an infectious sunniness that is consequently unsustainable. She's pushing any kind of dark thought down, deep down. Her optimism has created Uncle Charlie. (The larger the white portion of a Yin/Yang, the larger the black component must be.) When Charlie and Uncle Charlie finally have a showdown, it's at the "Til Two" lounge with an image of a clock face pointing to two minutes before two o'clock. Their waitress is showstopper Louise (Janet Shaw), who expresses surprise for some reason to see Young Charlie in a joint like this. What's Charlie's deal, really? Her friends live in the real world, so what world is Charlie living in? Does she work? Charlie watches her uncle twist and throttle a piece of trash as he talks. "Oh Charlie, now, don't start imagining things." Charlie mourns the death of her naivete as Louise fawns over the Emerald ring--the smoking gun, as it were. "I can tell it's real just by looking at it." This is the response Uncle Charlie was looking for from his niece: the call of the spiritually broken who equate cost with value. "Do you know the world is a foul sty?" Uncle Charlie asks Young Charlie. This is his best attempt to cajole her into letting some of her dark out. He gets more than he bargained for.
The last 30 minutes of this gem of a picture kick into gear with a fight between Ann and Roger at church. The apparently-incriminating suicide/death of the other suspect in the Merry Widow killings has exonerated Uncle Charlie, though it's clear to him that his niece won't let it go. He tries to kill her. More than once. Ultimately, in a perverse imitation of a couple waltzing, it's Young Charlie who murders her uncle. Look at how Young Charlie's face is shrouded in shadow when Graham continues his courtship of her in the garage, where she'll soon narrowly avoid being asphyxiated. Their looming marriage is clouded in secrets and lies, ill portents to the longevity of their relationship. Teased here, Hitchcock's opinion of the toll of marriage on a woman's freedom and individuality achieves fuller fruition in Notorious, Rear Window, The Wrong Man, The Birds, Marnie--easier to list the rest of his output from 1946 on. At that aforementioned speech for Emmy's club, one guest cracks a joke about champagne before declining a glass for himself and, he's sure, for his wife as well. Emmy, dear Emmy, cries at the thought of her brother leaving. Through her tears, she says, "It isn't any of the things you've done. It's just the idea that we were together again... We were so close growing up... Oh, but you know how it is, you sort of forget you're you and not your husband's wife." Emmy mourns this loss of herself. Emmy, who is Hitchcock's tribute to his beloved mother.
Young Charlie's the murderer now, here at the close of Shadow of a Doubt: blood fresh on her hands, her thoughts steeped in how life is a nightmare parade of atrocity leavened only, and then only briefly, by moments of grace. She has learned how precious life is, hanging as it does by a thread of misadventure and unlucky happenstance. She almost falls down a flight of stairs she suspects were sabotaged, but how unusual is it to be hurt or killed in a household accident? Everything can change in an instant. She hasn't exorcised her shadow, she's embraced him. And the train rockets along insensible to her suffering. Detective Graham gets the last word on the world: "It's not quite as bad as that, but sometimes it needs a lot of watching. It seems to go crazy every now and then." Another "good," wholesome American boy in a Hitchcock film, split down the middle like poor Charlie, sick and swollen with knowledge, will later echo Graham in observing how we all go a little mad sometimes. The only good news for Charlie is that even though she's scared, at least she's no longer bored.
THE 4K UHD DISC
Universal brings Shadow of a Doubt to physical 4K UHD in a standalone release or as part of a new five-film box set of Hitchcock titles. The 1.33:1, 2160p transfer, complete with HDR10 encoding, is fairly revelatory when compared directly to the 2012 Blu-ray, which is littered with print defects that have been almost completely eradicated here. Having said that, the presentation begins unpromisingly with main titles that are heavily denoised, probably to reduce the appearance of artifacts introduced during the optical printing process. Following Hitchcock's director credit, a fine layer of film grain surfaces in the image along with a good deal more clarity. While the overall presentation isn't quite as contrasty as Saboteur's, the highlights are notably luminous and contribute an illusion of warmth to the sunlight streaming into the family's home, enhancing the coziness that Uncle Charlie imperils. (I also like how his tie clip glints when it catches the light now, another gleaming distraction on a man who's all gleaming distractions.) Facial close-ups and surface textures gain visual interest from the increased sharpness; the '40s fashions reward a pause, but so does the climactic shot of Young Charlie with Uncle Charlie's hand over her mouth: there's a newly startling soulfulness in Wright's eyes, and the hair on Cotten's mitt takes on a quality I can only describe as bestial. The 2.0 DTS-HD MA track is spectacularly clear, with any noise reduction inaudibly applied. There isn't a lot of high- or low-end but the mid-range delivers a full-sounding mix redolent of the period.
Extras dating back to 2000 launch with Laurent Bouzereau's "Beyond Doubt: The Making of Hitchcock's Favorite Film" (35 mins.), which opens with Hitchcock's daughter Patricia declaring this to be her father's favourite film because he loved the idea of "bringing menace to a small town." I'm more fascinated by the photo of Alma Hitchcock sitting at the table with Thornton Wilder and Hitch, crafting the script. Wright remembers Alma being on set constantly, with Hitch deferring to her often during the shoot. The presence/absence of Alma is a smoking gun throughout Hitchcock's body of work proving her importance to his legacy, but few are as smoking to me as the qualitative leap from Saboteur to Shadow of a Doubt. Notably, the late Peter Bogdonavich appears as a talking head calling Shadow of a Doubt Hitch's first "truly American" film when, in truth, that was Saboteur. I don't blame him for skipping over it, though--I've suppressed the memory of Saboteur, too.
Hume Cronyn recalls getting cast despite being too young for the role (I think he's perfect: he comes off as a bit of a sad, lonesome little creep), and associate art director Robert Boyle talks about shooting on location in the hyper-typical town of Santa Rosa--how that place's sense of openness and welcomeness influenced the design of the house as "an innocent house." I'm most charmed and compelled by Wright's memories of the shoot and her interpretation of the text. She's smart as hell--a quality she was never able to hide, nor should she have, over the course of a long career. This is also the source, by the way, of the classic Cronyn anecdote about Hitchcock's formalism in shot construction: At one point, Cronyn wanted to stand because it would be more natural and Hitchcock told him his head would get cropped out of frame. Hitchcock's rationale for these occasionally unnatural poses? "The camera lies, you know, and when it does you have to learn to accommodate it." "Production Drawings by Robert Boyle" is six minutes of exactly that, starting with the opening sequence and progressing through spotlights on "Santa Rosa," "Train Station," "Library," and "The Newtons' Home." It's for a specific type of Hitch fan. Ditto, to a lesser extent, a "Production Photographs" (8 mins.) gallery containing posters, lobby cards, publicity stills, and a couple of behind-the-scenes shots of limited historical interest. A 90-second "Theatrical Trailer" rounds out the presentation in somewhat typical, unenhanced fashion. Blu-ray and digital copies of Shadow of a Doubt are bundled with the 4K platter.
108 minutes; PG; UHD: 1.33:1 (2160p/MPEG-H), HDR10, BD: 1.33:1 (1080p/MPEG-4); UHD: English 2.0 DTS-HD MA (Mono), French DTS 2.0 (Mono), Italian DTS 2.0 (Mono), German DTS 2.0 (Mono), Japanese DTS 2.0 (Mono), BD: English 2.0 DTS-HD MA, French DTS 2.0; UHD: English SDH, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish subtitles, BD: English SDH, Spanish subtitles; UHD: BD-66, BD: BD-50; Region-free; Universal