In his interview with François Truffaut on "Shadow" (first published in 1967), Alfred Hitchcock said the dense, black smoke belching from the train that brings Charles Oakley to Santa Rosa was a deliberate symbol of imminent evil.
Edna May Wonacott, who plays young Ann Newton, and Estelle Jewell, who plays Charlie's friend, Catherine, were both locals of Santa Rosa, where the film was shot on location. Many of the film's extras were also locals of the town, which was too far away from Hollywood to be affected by Actors Guild guidelines demanding the use of professional actors.
The producers assigned scouts to find an appropriate house to serve as a setting for the film in Santa Rosa, where the film was to be shot on location. Alfred Hitchcock had provided specific instructions that the house was to be nice, but somewhat worn-down to emphasize the Newton family's middle class background. The scouts selected the house which appears in the film, and Hitchcock was delighted by the photographs of their selection. The house was well-built with both a charming interior and exterior; however, it was an older house that was slightly out of fashion at the time, needed a few cosmetic repairs, had a bit of an overgrown lawn and garage area, and the exterior painting was faded and chipped. Hitchcock believed that the expensive and sturdy, but weathered and worn, look to the house would give the suggestion that the Newton family could be anyone, just the average American family in any average American town. Hitchcock gave the scouts the authority to rent the house from its owners as a temporary filming location, much to the owners' pride and delight. He was horrified, however, when he appeared at the house to begin filming. The owners, excited by the prospect of a major film being shot at their house, had freshly painted the entire house, manicured the lawn, and made a few repairs to the exterior. Hitchcock had to have his effects team artificially age the wear to the house and shoot around the owners' most-effective recent renovations.
Although the year was 1942-43, World War II is never mentioned. However, when Young Charlie goes to the library to find out which article her uncle ripped out of the family's newspaper, the first paper she looks at has a headline that begins, "Tojo Speaks for..." (Tojo Hideki was Japan's Prime Minister for most of the war.)
The project began when the head of David Selznick's story department, Margaret McDonell, told Hitchcock that her husband Gordon had an interesting idea for a novel that she thought would make a good movie. His idea, called "Uncle Charlie," was based on the true story of Earle Leonard Nelson, a mass murderer of the 1920s known as the Merry Widow Murderer.
Uncle Charlie is connected to all three children (Young Charlie, Ann, and Roger) in the family. Uncle Charlie is closest to Young Charlie. Like Ann, Uncle Charlie was always reading when he was young. Like Roger, Uncle Charlie is the youngest in the family.
The Italian dubbing of the movie was made in Spain during World War 2. Since no young Italian actors were available, the two younger members of the Newton family ended up with a very noticeable Spanish accent.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
In an interview with François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock said this was his favourite film. Truffaut discusses with Hitchcock about the use of "two" in this film. Two Charlies (Uncle Charlie and Young Charlie), Two scenes at the railway station (the arrival of uncle charlie and the leaving of Uncle Charlie), Two men on the run (One man in the east and Uncle Charlie in the west), Two men on the run are killed (one by the plane and other by the train), Two policemen, and the two visits of police into the house.
Alfred Hitchcock used the idea of "You destroy the thing you love" in this film. In an interview with Peter Bogdanovich, Hitchcock mentions the idea of "You destroy the thing you love" through Oscar Wilde. Young Charlie loved Uncle Charlie. But she ended up destroying him at the end of the film. In an Interview with François Truffaut, Hitchcock mentions that it is implied at the ending (Young Charlie with Jack Graham in front of church) that Young Charlie will be in love with her Uncle Charlie for the rest of her life.
There are several vampire references throughout the film, including: - Jack Graham asks Ann to tell Catherine the story of Dracula. - Uncle Charlie comes from Philadelphia, "Pennsylvania." Dracula comes from "Transylvania." - Uncle Charlie's line 'The same blood runs through our veins' is from Dracula (1931), were Dracula says the exact same line in reference to Mina when he and Van Helsing have their "battle of wills" to prove he now has power over her. - Telephathic communication between Young Charlie and Uncle Charlie is also connected to the relationship between Mina Harker and Dracula. - Uncle Charlie is also killed on the train "returning" to the east, much like how Dracula dies returning to the east. - As the landlady lowers the blind and the light disappears from his face, Uncle Charlie rises. This image is also interesting to note, as the blinds are traditionally drawn where there is a dead man in the room.
Alfred Hitchcock puts lots of personal elements in this film. For example, Hitchcock's middle name is Joseph. Young Charlie's father's name is "Joseph" Newton. Like Roger, Hitchcock was the third and youngest child in the family. Hitchcock's mother name was Emma Hitchcock. Young Charlie's mother's name is Emma Newton. Uncle Charlie's bicycle accident in the film happened to Hitchcock when he was young. Ann Newton reads the book "Ivanhoe" in the beginning of the film. Hitchcock knew the story of Ivanhoe by heart when he was young. Young Charlie drives the car in the family. Hitchcock's wife Alma Reville loved driving. Like Hitchcock, Herbie Hawkins is obsessed about the subject of the murder and he is also mother dominated.
Other vampire references: When the audience is first introduced to Uncle Charlie, he is lying on his bed, arms folded across his chest, suggestive of a vampire lying in his coffin. Uncle Charlie's remaining unseen on the train (traveling to Santa Rosa) is a lot like Dracula's trip from Transylvania to London. Unlike Dracula who drains the blood from a living being, Uncle Charlie corrupts the minds of the young ones by taking their innocence from them.