Shadow of a Doubt (1943) Poster

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One of Cotten's triumphs; Hitchcock's film is not unconventional, but unabashedly gripping
Quinoa198420 December 2004
Warning: Spoilers
One thing that strikes many who come upon Shadow of a Doubt, one of this filmmaker's triumphs, is the knowledge that it was Hitchcock's favorite among his own films- and many watch it with very high expectations, getting shot down as well, making it one of his more under-rated efforts. True, it doesn't go for the immense macabre that lay in Psycho, The Birds, and Frenzy, but it is very effective in telling its stories, and giving us character to either love, or love to hate.

The whole concept to the story is very appealing- a (painfully) normal suburban family gets a calling from a relative- Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten)- who wants to come by for a little while. The oldest daughter, also named Charlie (Teresa Wright), almost feels like a kindred spirit to her uncle, happy as can be that he's come to visit. Things start to unravel, however, when two detectives on his trail come into town, bringing to young Charlie to light what could be going down, or what might not be, or what is as clear as psychopathic day.

It's actually of interest to compare this film to Psycho, I think, in how it's so akin to to how Hitchcock tells the story of the ordinary people of the world getting involved with a certifiable gentlemen. And, perhaps, one could argue (I might, up to a point) that Cotten's performance rivals that of a Perkins' Norman Bates leading male in the sense of subtleties of the suspense in the film. He seems so... calm so much in the film, and even when he shows his hand as to who he really is, there's a lot of depth to his personality. We may hate him, but he is an understandable, frighteningly recognizable monster.

And it solidifies in my book that Cotten had a wonderful range in his work, when he could go from playing a Jed Leland in Citizen Kane to this film, and then on to The Third Man's Holly Martins. Here, he digs into the character and you'll either find it unconvincing in the 40's sense, or a knock-out. As for Teresa Wright, she finds some good notes as well in playing off of Cotten, even in the earlier scenes. And those kids are just the right icing to the cake the film cooks up.

It may take a couple of viewings to really warm up to this film, or you may like it right away. But Shadow of a Doubt contains not only fine acting, but also some trademark Hitchcock camera stylizing. My favorites included a particular shot closing in from medium close-up to extreme close-up on Uncle Charlie when he's in a memorable monologue at the dinner table. Another is the use of the dark value on the characters when they talk outside. And, of course, a climax that is genuine in theatricality. A+
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Dark and brooding thriller from the master of suspense
The_Void3 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
It is well known that this film is Alfred Hitchcock's favourite of his own oeuvre, and it's a big favourite of mine also. It is also well documented that for this film, Hitchcock stated that he "wants to bring violence back into the home, where it belongs" and he has certainly succeeded at doing that. Hitchcock spends much of the early screen time building up the family at the centre of the tale, and then allowing the violence to come to them, which shows Hitchcock's mastery of the medium as showing the story develop in this way makes the tale much more frightening than if we hadn't got to know the family at the centre of the story first. Joseph Cotten stars as uncle Charlie; a man fleeing Philadelphia to escape the law after marrying and then murdering several rich widows. He goes to stay with his sister and her family, which includes a husband, two young children and the eldest daughter; his niece and namesake; also called 'Charlie'.

Hitchcock puts the focus of the story on young Charlie and her relationship with her uncle. This gives the story a frightening angle as it follows the classic tale of the strange uncle. It's also well done as young Charlie is shown to be the sweetest of characters, and when the dark uncle Charlie enters the fray, her sweet world is infected by nightmares, which also gives way to elements of the classic 'coming of age' tale to enter the proceedings. As if that wasn't enough, Shadow of a Doubt also exposes the trust we put in our loved ones, and how any person is likely to try and shift the blame, or ignore it completely, if their loved one has done wrong. This is shown by the way that young Charlie still attempts to cover for her beloved uncle even when all the evidence is pointing to him being guilty. Hitchcock has turned this thriller, which could easily have been routine, into a complex study of a family that retains it's interest throughout due to the multiple themes on display.

Joseph Cotten was the absolute perfect choice to play uncle Charlie. His portrayal is picture perfect; he carries with him an atmosphere of dread and morbidity throughout, even when he's not doing anything wrong. A role of this sort is difficult to get right, as it's all to easy to underplay it so it isn't effective, or to overstate it so it becomes ridiculous; but Cotten gets the performance spot on. Teresa Wright, who stars alongside Cotten in the role of the other Charlie also does well and delivers a mature and assured performance that fits her character brilliantly. Some of the supporting roles look a little suspect at times, but on the whole the acting from the support is good enough.

The ending of the film comes somewhat against the run of play and is maybe a little bit too over the top after the rest of the film, which is largely down to earth. However, it does work and a big ending isn't something I am in the habit of complaining about. This is up there with Hitchcock's best work and therefore is highly recommended.
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"Average families are the best"
Steffi_P22 February 2009
Alfred Hitchcock's style as a director was a bit like a train – it ran perfectly well, but only along its own lines. He wasn't comfortable adapting his style to suit the material, but when the material suited his style he could do incredible things.

Three years and five pictures into his Hollywood career, Hitch had been having some trouble finding projects he was comfortable with. He had made a couple of adventure thrillers in the vein of his late 30s British films, but the old magic wasn't there. Finally, with Shadow of a Doubt he came upon a project that was right up his street. It represents a welcome return to the domestic murder dramas that had given him his earliest successes (The Lodger, Blackmail), with a storyline ideal for Hitchcock. It is the purest example of murder in a "normal" setting, bringing the audience uncomfortably close to the killer, helped along with plenty of the grisly gallows humour that the Master loved.

Hitch's British pictures had great charm and character, but they were often technically a little haphazard. By now though he knows exactly how to use the camera to manipulate the audience. He begins by carrying us into the story, sweeping in over the city through scenery both pretty and ugly, to home in on an average looking neighbourhood. From then on, every shot, move and edit is calculated to keep up the suspense and unfold the plot. Whereas those early films were swamped and sometimes spoiled by showy camera tricks, Hitch now uses those techniques sparingly, like playing a trump card. For example, he has Joseph Cotton look directly into the camera for a brief moment as he snatches the newspaper back from Theresa Wright. Another trick is to have the camera dolly back as a character advances, only at a faster speed than the actor is moving, which gives a very dizzying effect.

Special mention should also be made of Dimitri Tiomkin's score. Tiomkin was the best composer Hitch worked with before Bernard Hermann, and one of the few who really understood how a Hitchcock film needs to be scored. His sparse string arrangements really capture that sense of spiralling terror without overpowering the scene and turning it into melodrama. He interpolates Franz Lehar's Merry Widow waltz at just the right level, making it noticeable but never overstated– throwing in just a bar or two at an opportune moment, sometimes disguising it in a minor key.

We also have a great cast lined up here. This is among Joseph Cotton's finest performances, which is unusual because Hitch was not a brilliant director of actors. I believe the reason is that, although his soft, honest features meant he usually played clean-cut good guys (as well as making him the perfect choice for the friendly uncle no-one would suspect), he was actually at his best when playing villains. That air of affected friendliness, which gives way to a deadpan monotone, is ironically far more convincing than when he attempted to play genuine niceness. Theresa Wright also does a brilliant job of handling her character's transition from childlike innocence to knowing cynicism. The icing on the cake is a couple of spot-on comic relief supporting parts from Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn.

It's quite appropriate that in his cameo for Shadow of a Doubt, Hitchcock is shown holding all the cards, because here he really did have all the elements working in his favour. It marks the beginning of his golden age and lays down the blueprint for such classics as Rear Window, Vertigo and Psycho. This is about as close to perfect as Hitchcock's pictures get.
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One of his very best - I've loved it since I was a child!
MovieAddict20165 November 2005
"Shadow of a Doubt" may only be listed as #181 on IMDb's "Top 250" list, but in my opinion it far outweighs some of the films higher up on that list and is one of Hitch's very best films.

Joseph Cotten plays Charlie, a crook on the run from the police. Left stranded and pursued, he decides to move in with his brother's family. His niece - who loves him and sees him as a sort of perfect role model - at first is excited that her Uncle Charlie is coming...but then things start to get strange. Charlie acts oddly and, at times, violent. She begins to become suspicious of her uncle as he becomes more suspicious of her own awareness.

The ending of "Shadow of a Doubt" is classic Hitchcock and some of the best stuff he's done. The entire film is taut and suspenseful, well-filmed and realistic. It manages to focus on family ties and the struggles within the family itself while it also juggles the whole theme of an outcast family member.

In the end, however, it's just a nail-biting thriller that - now over sixty years old - still reigns as one of the absolute best of its genre.
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Brilliance From Hitchcock & Cotten
Snow Leopard14 May 2001
Warning: Spoilers
"Shadow of a Doubt" is one of Alfred Hitchcock's most brilliant and most carefully-constructed films, and is further notable as one of the very finest performances of Joseph Cotten, in his role as "Uncle Charlie". Both the movie and the central character are thought-provoking and rich in detail.

The film has an intriguing form that Hitchcock used a number of times (for example, in "Strangers on a Train" and "Frenzy"), that of setting up carefully constructed contrasts between two main characters, contrasts that in turn reflect a further complex of themes in the movie's broader setting and story. Here, the central contrast comes from the relationship between Uncle Charlie and his niece "young Charlie" (Teresa Wright). Their unusually close relationship creates tension and intrigue that go beyond the basic concern of the main story-line (which is, namely, whether Uncle Charlie is the elusive serial killer sought by the police). The uncle-niece relationship also mirrors a great many other topics explored by the film: most obviously the contrast between the small-town atmosphere of Santa Rosa, where Uncle Charlie has come to hide out with his sister's family, but also the complicated nature of the other relationships that we see. A fine supporting cast led by Henry Travers, Patricia Collinge, and Hume Cronyn help us focus in on hidden aspects of small-town family and neighborhood life.

"Shadow of a Doubt" is less known and celebrated than Hitchcock's 50's and early 60's work, and even than some of his 30's British films, most probably because it does not contain any of the director's famous set pieces, which were already a part of his pictures well before "Shadow of a Doubt" was made. After all, it is a movie about a suspected serial killer, and not only do we never see him kill anyone, he never even tries anything violent until much later in the film. But what "Shadow of a Doubt" lacks in the spectacular it makes up in tension and characterization, especially in Cotten's brilliant performance. He is by turns charming, calculating, suspicious, and menacing, a balance very difficult to maintain with credibility for an entire film. Cotten's skill and Hitchcock's direction make Uncle Charlie one of Hitchcock's most memorable characters.

Though more slow-paced than most of the famous director's works, this is still one of his greatest, and should be very satisfying to any fan of Hitchcock, of Cotten, or of noirish/crime thrillers.
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this captivates from the very beginning
christopher-underwood8 February 2017
With the rousing score of Dimitri Tiomkin and the wonderful camera work, this captivates from the very beginning. We switch from the tight, small lodging out into wide open and view a chase on foot from above, runners and shadows racing before us as we wonder just what is afoot. As it happens we are to find out that Joseph Cotton's character is guilty almost straight away yet spend the rest of the film in suspense as we doubt ourselves. This partly because of the tale of his personal history and partly because of the love and affection of his niece, a wonderful performance from Teresa Wright. Shot largely on location and using a lovely old property in which the large family tumble this way and that in marvellous abandon while the lady of the house tries to maintain control. I learn from the extras that in the end, more shots were required by Hitch and so a set had to be built anyway replicating the building. A very fine, involving, moving and suspenseful film.
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This is one of Hitch's best with images full of suspense , drama and tension
ma-cortes30 January 2010
Handsome and uncomplicated uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten)has come to visit his family in Santa Rosa, returning to home town after longer absence. Although he seems a good man, his young niece (Teresa Wright)slowly comes to aware he is a wanted merry widow killer and he comes to recognize her malignant suspicions. The suspicious uncle Charlie gradually becoming stronger and mysterious. Meantime two detectives (Mcdonald Carey and Wallace Ford) are investigating. Further developments ensure an exciting climax on train.

From the story by Gordon McConnell, the picture gets unlimited suspense in crescendo, tense, full of lingering frames and with the typical touches Hitchcock. Besides a literately and thoughtful dialog signed by Thornton Wilder and Alma Reville (Hitchcock's usual screenwriter and wife) though lacking humor . After his successful British films as ¨39 steps¨ and ¨Jamaica Inn¨ , Hitch was encouraged to go to America and promptly shot his first work in Hollywood hired by the great producer David O'Selznick ; later on he directed this excellent picture . Fine performance by Joseph Cotten as sunny and cynic uncle Charlie . Teresa Wright as shy and glad young is superb and enjoyable . Likable couple formed by Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn in his film debut , booth of whom speaking continuously about murders. And of course cameo role by Alfred Hitchcock , this time as a man on train playing cards. Atmospheric and perceptible music by the maestro Dimitri Tiomkin, including piano sounds . Sensational visual style in black and white cinematography by the cameraman by Joseph Valentine . This interesting movie is brilliantly directed by the Master Hitchcock, resulting to be his favorite personal. It's remade in 1958 in quite inferior remake titled ¨Step down to terror¨ by Harry Keller with Charles Drake, Rod Taylor,Jocelyn Brando and Josephine Hutchinson, furthermore a lousy Television movie. The motion picture is indispensable watching for Hithcock lovers achieving the maximum impact on his audience. Rating : Very good, engrossing and essential viewing.
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Hitchcock does it again
mjneu591 January 2011
In one of his most chilling and memorable intrigues Alfred Hitchcock lays bare the myth of small town virtue with a perverse piece of Americana about a wholesome family unaware of the gruesome skeleton lurking in its closet. The arrival of everyone's much loved Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton, in his favorite role) is the catalyst to disaster, with eldest daughter Charlie in particular welcoming the arrival of her affectionate namesake as a relief from the humdrum routine of suburban life. But evidence soon begins to suggest the elder Charles might actually be a cold-blooded serial killer, and a lethal game of charades begins between uncle and niece: she knows the truth, and he knows that she knows the truth. The tension builds to an alarming climax, in a trademark sequence (another one for the Hitchcock highlight reel) showing the Master of Suspense at the top of his form. The film was shot in sunny Santa Rosa, California, where the shadows are darker because the sunlight is so much brighter.
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My least favourite Hitchcock movie so far.
BA_Harrison26 March 2014
Pursued by the police, shifty Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) skips town to stay with his sister's family in tranquil Santa Rosa, but it's not long before his beautiful niece, Young Charlie (Teresa Wright), begins to suspect that the new house-guest is a right wrong'un.

Shadow of a Doubt was apparently Hitchcock's favourite of all his own films, which I fail to understand: while many of the director's movies grab hold and don't let go till the end credits, this one took me several evenings to get through, which is indicative of just how mundane I found it. Certain potentially interesting themes—the sexual tension between Charlie and her uncle and the notion of evil lurking unsuspected in American suburbia—amount to very little and the manner in which the film unfolds is surprisingly dull, the whole affair lacking Hitch's usual excellent pacing, masterful storytelling and visual flair.

Wright is a delight to behold and Cotten makes for a genuinely creepy villain but overall I found the film to be far from Hitchcock's best work.
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Joseph Cotten in One of His Finest Performances
gavin69428 February 2011
A young woman (Teresa Wright) discovers her visiting "Uncle Charlie" (Joseph Cotten) may not be the man he seems to be.

This is classic Hitchcock, and one of Joseph Cotten's finest roles, which is quite a compliment considering how great Cotten is/was. He is dark, misanthropic, misogynistic, and keeps you guessing. That is the beauty of this film: you will debate with yourself Charlie's true identity (maybe he really is who he says he is).

The film has a good deal of suspense, and solid performances from everyone involved. I do not think this is one of Hitchcock's most well-known films, and I am sorry about that. For me, it ranks above "Rebecca" in his catalog. Really a fine film and worth seeing again.
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Good Old Uncle Charlie
bkoganbing29 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I don't believe Shadow of a Doubt will rank as one of Alfred Hitchcock's best film. But second rank Hitchcock is better than most people's best efforts.

Joseph Cotten has come for a visit to Santa Rosa, California to see his sister Patricia Collinge and her family. They welcome him as the prodigal brother. But his very perceptive niece named after him played by Teresa Wright suspects something is wrong with this picture.

Uncle Charlie is suspected of being a serial killer with the monniker of The Merry Widow Killer. He strangles rich old widows and robs them. I guess it's a living, albeit one with risks.

Those risks are getting to him and on some levels you see Cotten almost wants to be caught. In fact Teresa starts to suspect him over a trivial incident involving her dad's paper. Cotten goes to great lengths to hide a feature story about The Merry Widow Murders. When she goes to the library to see what was in the paper that he didn't want the family to see, this is when she starts figuring it out.

Really all Cotten had to do is nothing. But he really did want it to end.

I'm not sure any player ever had such an auspicious beginning in such top rated films as Teresa Wright. In the space of three years she appeared in The Little Foxes, Mrs. Miniver, Pride of the Yankees and now Shadow of a Doubt. She's a Nancy Drew if Nancy had ever discovered there was a criminal who was a close relative.

Patricia Collinge essentially repeats her role from The Little Foxes. If she's not quite as daft as Miss Birdie, she's still kind of operating within her own world. Henry Travers does fine as her husband as does Hume Cronyn as his partner in their own make believe world of crime.

Of course giving a big assist to Ms. Wright's suspicions is the presence of detectives MacDonald Carey and Wallace Ford. They are a team chasing Cotten as one of two men they think is the Merry Widow Killer.

One thing with this film is that unlike Suspicion, Hitchcock stood firm and did not bow to pressure to exonerate Cotten like he did with Cary Grant in the previous film. Of course Cotten was fairly new to the cinema so he could be cast as a villain. And Hitchcock does what he does best, toy with the audiences emotions. Like Suspicion when a whole lot of things happen to Teresa Wright they can be explained away and there is that red herring of that other suspect across the continent.

Of course the other part of Shadow of a Doubt is how the thing is resolved in regard to Cotten's family. The ending might be a bit too pat, but still it does tie up the loose ends in the best way for all concerned.
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Not the standard Hitchcock stuff * MILD SPOILER*
mstomaso22 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Shadow of a Doubt is classified as a Film Noir thriller. While I can see elements of film noir and elements of the thriller genre in this film, I think this film is more of a character study. It's a story about what happens when a soul-mate turns out to be somebody unexpected.

The cast is excellent, and the lead characters - played by Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright - are very well imagined, written and portrayed. Both characters called for sweeping and dramatic personality changes which Wright and Cotten pulled off convincingly. Wright plays a very young woman (19-ish) living with her family and sort of depressed and aimless, while Cotten is her namesake and favorite uncle, Charlie. Uncle Charlie has come to visit and brought good cheer to the entire family, but shortly after his arrival, young Charlie begins to discover that Uncle Charlie has some sinister secrets. As the clues begin to add up to a coherent conclusion, Wright's character is forced to decide what to do about her growing, troublesome, understanding.

In typical Hitchcockian fashion, the film toys with its audience for the first 3/4ths and does not reveal itself until its almost too late - playing on paranoia, misleading and ambiguous dialog, and terrific acting to create equivocation. However, as you will see, this is not the standard Hitchcock stuff - in the end it has more to do with the characters and what they do than the action and resolution of the ingenious plot.

The Hitch' blows me away almost every time, and Shadow of a Doubt is one of his best. If you haven't seen it, you should. It's a very thoughtful and exquisitely executed character study about a very young and very bright woman, encountering the heavy side of life for the first time, and the choices she makes. Worth seeing for Wright's performance alone (easily Oscar-worthy), Shadow of a Doubt is a timeless piece of noir-esquire originality.
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When Hitchcock Comes to Middle America
evanston_dad2 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
It's been reported that the primary appeal of doing "Shadow of a Doubt" for Alfred Hitchcock was the idea of bringing a sense of menace to a small, every day American town. In that, this movie brilliantly succeeds. It doesn't join "Rear Window" or "Psycho" as one of my favorite Hitchcock films, but it has much to recommend it.

Joseph Cotten didn't get many chances to play a sinister villain, but he's very good at it. His natural ease and charm work to his advantage in creating a smarmy character who you're never completely sure about. He has a lot of chemistry with Teresa Wright, who plays his niece and supposedly has a closer than normal connection with him. In fact, in typical Hitchcock fashion, their relationship in the early scenes of this film takes on a sort of creepy romantic quality that's never overtly addressed but is always there as subtext.

As Wright begins to suspect that her Uncle Charlie might not be such a great guy after all--and may in fact be much worse than simply not a great guy--the balance of power shifts and she begins to play against him. One of the things I liked most about this movie was how strong a character Wright's Charlie is allowed to be. She's not a ninny, like a character in her situation would be in any number of other films. She doesn't swoon, cry and squeal helplessly. After Uncle Charlie tries to kill her by locking her in a garage with a running car, and she comes to looking directly into his face, she doesn't bite her knuckles as you might expect, but rather says with a cold hard determination, "Go away." It's very effective, and the whole movie is like that.

It has a great supporting cast, both well cast and acted. There's not a throwaway character among the bunch, and everyone makes much of varying sized roles. Patricia Collinge is a stand out as Uncle Charlie's sister, whose radar is going off even as she doesn't want to believe anything sinister can be happening. Henry Travers is the father of the family...his attitudes toward Charlie change after he comes to the bank where he works and makes inappropriate jokes. It wasn't until the end credits that I even realized who Hume Cronyn was playing; I've never seen him so young.

"Shadow of a Doubt" isn't as obviously distinguished visually as other Hitchcock films, but it bears his unmistakable mark nonetheless. There aren't as many shots you come away from the film remembering as there are in, say, "Rear Window." But the whole thing has the feeling of being completely controlled from beginning to end. I really liked the way small-town America was portrayed in this film. It's not full of a bunch of rubes who say things like "aw shucks" and do silly things for us to laugh at. Hitchcock is skillful at showing the contrast between the small-town life of young Charlie's family and Uncle Charlie's jaded big-city life of crime. But he doesn't condescend or patronize.

If you want to see higher-tier Hitchcock, you could do much worse than this film. It's got an engaging story, wonderful acting and complex characters, and a few scenes that qualify as genuine nail biters. Very good!

Grade: A
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Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten are excellent in slow-paced Hitch thriller...
Doylenf23 April 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Using the small town of Santa Rosa, California as his backdrop, Hitch takes his time in unwinding a tale about a serial killer (Joseph Cotten) who comes to town on a family visit. Slowly the suspense builds as his niece (Teresa Wright) begins to suspect that he may be the Merry Widow killer who courts wealthy women for financial gain. Against the everyday small town life of its participants, the story unfolds in a leisurely way--perhaps too slow for today's taste. Admittedly, there are some dull stretches--but midway through the story the relationship between Cotten and Wright gets us caught in the story and we have to follow it to conclusion. Macdonald Carey, Hume Cronyn, Patricia Collinge and Henry Travers are all splendid in supporting roles. Hitch uses Agatha Christie's favorite device--telling a story of murder against a mundane setting. Tighter editing might have made this more watchable, but still highly recommended as one of his best earlier works.
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When the cheers of Idealization meets the shock of Deception, you get the thrills of the "Shadow of a Doubt'...
ElMaruecan8220 June 2016
"Shadow of a Doubt" was pivotal in Hitchcock's career as the first movie set in directors' Promised Land: America. And if I'm not sure that he held the film in higher regards than some later classics, I'm pretty sure though that the film was a sentimental favorite. And the word 'sentimental' is crucial as the underlying theme of "Shadow of a Doubt", is "when idealization meets deception" and we idealize a big deal in the name of sentimentality.

So sentimentality was a prevalent element of Hitch' premiere in America, he wanted the most American-looking location, one you couldn't tell in which state it was. The privilege went to Santa Rosa, a postcard little town of old fashion charm, with an obligatory library, train station, bank, all in one copy. Townspeople know each other by first name, from the priest to the brave overweight traffic cop. The town also neighbored some famous Californian vineyards, which made the shooting all the more interesting for Hitch and all.

If the sleepy little town could appeal to any outsider in quest of peace, some insiders would have a much different opinion. Charlotte, played by the sweet and talented Teresa Wright, nicknamed Charlie after her mother's brother but will be called Charlotte in this review for clarity's sake, doesn't feel exactly like a fish in water. When we first see her, she's lying on her bed, wondering how she can get off this unbearable heaviness of boredom. And she can't find any supports from her parents played by former co-stars, from "Mrs. Miniver", Henry Travers, a banker, and from "The Little Foxes", Patricia Collinge as the devoted housewife.

All these faces fit together and the actors are so natural we really believe this is a family, but there are many hints suggesting that each member tries to escape from a suffocating routine The mother is mentally rooted in the past and mourns her brother, Charlie whose absence had a profound effect on her well-being. The father shares a strange hobby with his friend Herb (Hume Cronyn in his debut) imagining the perfect crime as if they were about to write a crime novel. The precocious little sister Ann, is a bookworm, as indicated by her glasses, and doesn't indulge to child's activities, and the youngest child Roger enjoys counting steps between places. Unrealistic? I used to do the same thing as a child.

As usual, Hitch manages to create eccentric yet realistic characters, and Charlotte, the one person who had her feet on the ground decides to invite her Uncle. She learns that Uncle Charlie is coming to pay a visit after many years of absence. And it's not much the news that delights Charlotte, but the fact that she and her uncle had the same idea, she calls it telepathy, we call it idealization. We all feel a deep connection with the people we love and will find signs everywhere. And sneaky Hitch provides us the same signs, so we can also feel that bond. Narrative-wise, it's excellent because in a film where the bad guy is the main protagonist, Hitch knows we have to root for him a little, he manages to create the empathy by giving similar feelings to the good characters.

So Hitchcock (who's all about signs) give us the ultimate sign of a deep bond between Charlie and Charlotte. When we first see Uncle Charlie, played by the great Joseph Cotton, he's also lying in a bed in some lousy place in New Jersey, just like his niece. But obviously, he has darker motives as suggested by the cops who try to arrest him. Uncle Charlie is a fugitive, a criminal whose record will be revealed progressively, but we're already ahead of Charlotte and her family. And the first visual sings of the titular shadow seem to be conveyed by the heavy cloud of gray smokes coming from the train, when Uncle Charlie arrives. Hitchcock, loved contrasts and the idea of sleazy evil coming to disturb the quiet peaceful town, something so impossible that no one would accept it, not even Charlotte, maybe not even us.

It's a strange feeling because as soon as he comes, Uncle Charlie is like the touchstone of the family, such a natural charismatic character that we somewhat want the happiness to be maintained to this status quo. However, Uncle Charlie constantly throws hints to the face of Charlotte, and her resistance to face the truth takes its source from her admiration toward uncle. Before being a psychological battle, it's an internal one, and the whole first act is your typical Hitchcockian quest of a mysterious identity. The film gets actually more interesting once Charlotte knows, and has to digest the contrast between her idealization of her Uncle and what he really is, and it's such a startling contrast that she knows her mother mustn't know the secret, because it would kill her, it becomes a life-and-death situation.

It also allows to cops not to arrest him in the house and so begins a psychological battle between the man-who-wants-to-stay and the girl-who-wants-him-to-leave and it naturally culminates with murder impulses from both sides. And while the story leads us to its thrilling resolution, we discover deeper and darker aspects of the protagonists' personalities, confronting two visions of life: cheerful and optimistic and twisted and misanthropist, and Teresa Wright is as convincing in the positive as in the negative emotions. And while the good triumphs over the evil, she's slightly contaminated by her Uncle's spirit, and might have her own shadow of a doubt regarding the goodness of human nature.

While a masterpiece in its own terms, the film has a few little flaws but Hitch, and even us, viewers, keep on idealizing "Shadow of a Doubt", just like the family idealized Uncle Charlie, ignoring his darkest side. It's part of human nature. The question is, do we idealize the film better for its good or for its dark side?
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Uncle Hitch
abelardo6423 January 2005
Uncle Charlie did it for me. I mistrusted the uncle thing as a term of endearment ever since. Joseph Cotten is the perfect charming monster. Uncle Charlie's urbanity becomes his most frightening feature. So plausible. So real. Thornton Wilder was Hitchcock's partner in crime this time and it shows. The structure is Our Townish, the characters, deliciously rich. Patricia Collinge's performance is so spot on that you're longing for more. The scenes between Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn are how I imagine the story meetings between Thornton Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock. Teresa Wright's eyes tell the whole story from the audience's point of view, even if the audience is one step ahead of her. Brilliant, because in Joseph Cotten's eyes we find his need for redemption or are we falling in the trap of this master manipulator? We are torn, just like Teresa Wright. I've seen "Shadow of a Doubt" 3 or 4 times but every time you're forced to take the trip with the same amount of commitment. I've been toying with the thought of a remake, I've been doing this lately, although I hate the idea of remakes of great movies, this one is one of those that in the right hands could have a real impact. Using Thornton Wilder's original script as the Bible, Steven Sodebergh could do scrumptious remake for the new millennium. Tim Robbins as uncle Charlie, can you imagine? Natalie Portman as his niece. Joan Cusak and William H Macy as her parents. Wouldn't you go to see that?
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Family Feud
BumpyRide17 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I sometimes think that people who don't like this film, don't like it because you aren't bonked over the head by fancy special effects or being shown a bloody knife stuck in someone's back. Psychological thrillers take place in the mind, not splashed across the screen so you don't have to think but sit in your seat and watch all the pretty colors flash by!

The acting is superb. Theresa Wright is a gem, and holds her own quite nicely against veteran actor, Joseph Cotton. What you need to look for in this film are the subtle cues given that build until Charlie suspects her beloved uncle is a murderer, and eventually even tries to kill her, not once but several times.

Made when the world was at war, I find it especially disturbing to realize that evil could and can be anywhere. Even sitting around your own dining room table.
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The Master at his best.
Exploding Penguin7 January 2004
I own the Hitchcock collection (14 films in toto), and while this isn't my favourite of the bunch ('Psycho' is one of my favourite movies of all time, and 'Birds' never gets old), I like to watch it every now and again to remind myself what it means to make a "suspense film", and why Hitchcock was and always will be the master of this craft.

To give away even the slightest story detail would ruin it for new viewers, because it is essential that everyone begin with the wrong impressions of the major characters. This allows Hitch to pull off his famous 'twists' throughout the course of the movie, hitting you every now and then with something you simply weren't expecting.

One of my favourite elements in the movie is the ongoing dialogue between Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn, avid mystery readers who are constantly discussing the best ways to murder each other. Apart from being a bit of comic relief in an otherwise very dark film, it also demonstrates how lightly people think of murder and murderers...until they encounter them face-to-face.

My advice then, if you want to see this movie, is not to learn anything about it beforehand. Going in with no knowledge will increase the movie's initial impact, and will help you to appreciate why Hitchcock was the 'Master of Suspense'. This is a taut thriller with no gratuitous violence, foul language, or mature situations.

(Hitch considered it 'a family film'.)

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Outstanding Hitchcock
harry-7625 May 2004
Warning: Spoilers
For the kind of thing Hitchcock does, this is one of his best films. Not really a whodunit, for the identity of the [serial] killer's revealed early on.

It therefore becomes a challenge to maintain high interest thereafter. This is done through fine performances, direction, photography and production values.

Cast against type, Joesph Cotton is wonderful--a perfect ironic Hitchcock villain: charming, sweet-talking, and suave. The kind unsuspecting, vulnerable widows might be drawn to. Cotton's own personality works magic in bringing out all the nuances of personality in this role.

One of the most talented of actors, Teresa Wright, is cast in the lead role. Her enormous talent and thespian integrity are put to the test here, and they triumph in a great performance.

Like Cathy O'Donnell, another sweet, girl-next-door type, Wright's persona ran out early in Hollywood, and she was prematurely pushed into matronly roles. A shame, for there was none finer than Wright.

The script and production is clean, concise, sharp and economic, and "Shadow of a Doubt" remains one of Hitch's greatest cinematic achievements.
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Not Just An Unlce And A Niece. There's Something Else
Chrysanthepop4 April 2012
It's no little known fact that Hitchcock was among the pioneers of the suspense thriller genre. With 'Shadow of a Doubt' he creates another suspensefilled chilling drama. I must be very careful with what I reveal of the story for it is important for the viewer to be'deceived' when they first 'meet' the characters.

Starting with the look of the film, well things definitely aren't what they seem. I liked the setting of the town. It really captured that small-town feel. The music was a little over the top at times but then again it does add to the Hitchockian feel. Camera-work is exceptionally good.

The screenplay is solid. I especially liked the dialogues and how toned they were. The comic relief is very well placed and it certainly had me laughing. The performances are remarkable. Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten are superb. Their on screen interaction is intriguing and brilliantly executed. Patricia Collinge is outstanding as the mother and sister. Hume Cronyn is very funny.

I only thought that the portrayal of the two detectives was a little odd. They were quite stupid. In addition, the romance between the detective and young Charley felt rushed.

So there are a couple of little flaws but 'Shadow of a Doubt' still is among Hitchcock's awesome pictures. Hitchock himself said that it's his favourite film and I can see why.
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Considered as the Master of Suspense's personal favourite of the films he did, Shadow of a Doubt is a suspenseful, tense and well made classic thriller
TheLittleSongbird27 April 2010
Shadow of a Doubt mayn't be my personal favourite of Hitchcock's movies, but it is in my opinion one of his most suspenseful and tense films evident from right at the beginning with the cloud of ominous black smoke. In short, it is a brilliant classic thriller. Even after first seeing the movie 7 years ago when I was 11, the film never loses its tension. Some people might say it lacks the show-off set pieces that was Hitch's trademark, but I have to say I don't find that the case. I for one found the climax especially nail-biting. On top of that, the film is very well made, the cinematography once again is faultless and the production values are sumptuous. The music also adds to the suspense and the tension, it is beautiful at times with the mix of Lehar's Merry Widow Overture, which is significant to the story, yet in the more tense scenes, it is powerful, haunting and chilling. The script is also of high-calibre quality, as is Hitch's direction. As are the performances. Teresa Wright is pretty much the epitome of pumpkin-pie innocence, while Joseph Cotton is charming and suave yet somewhat chilling as well as the killer who is wanted in the east for relieving widows of their wealth and their lives. The story is swiftly-told, isn't that complicated and moves along at a reasonable pace if rather slow on occasions. Overall, suspenseful, tense and well made, a must see for fans of the Master of Suspense. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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The Master of Suspense was a sadist!
Coventry29 January 2018
"Shadow of a Doubt" was reputedly Alfred Hitchcock's favorite of his own films, and I guess that really must mean something since he directed more than three dozen of versatile cinematic classics that are all universally considered as brilliant. With all due respect, however, I don't concur with the Master. Even though "Shadow is a Doubt" is an intelligently scripted and highly original thriller, my personal preferences lie with the more visceral horrors that Hitch made, like "Psycho", "Frenzy" and "The Birds". Nevertheless, I like to think it's very significant that Hitchcock names this one as his favorite and, to me, it proves that he also has a predilection for horror and sadism. Rather than choosing for his uptight thrillers ("Read Window", "Vertigo" ...) or his convoluted conspiracy thrillers ("North by Northwest", "The Man Who Knew Too Much" ...), he prefers the dark little tale of a cold-hearted psychopath arriving in a sleepy small town and turning the lives of his unsuspecting family members upside down. Our visionary director clearly finds tremendous joy in unleashing pure evil, in the shape of charming and wealthy self-made man "Uncle" Charlie Oakley, upon the peaceful community of Santa Rosa, California. But even more remarkable is that the naïve and picturesque community, and particularly Charlie's beloved adolescent niece (also named Charlie after her uncle), is subconsciously craving for and warmly welcoming the embodiment of evil! Young Charlie is desperate for some excitement in her mundane life, so imagine the confusion when she slowly realizes that her "special-bond" uncle is the notorious Merry Widow Murderer and the subject of a nationwide police manhunt. It's praiseworthy how Alfred Hitchcock delivers a tense and atmospheric thriller in which the fearsome serial killer isn't even seen committing any of the vile crimes he's wanted for! Young Charlie puts the pieces of the mysterious puzzle together herself, with the help of her love-interest police inspector, and meanwhile Uncle Charlie becomes less lovable and more menacing. I've rarely seen a director playing with the emotions of his lead characters so efficiently, while both Theresa Wright and the genius Joseph Cotton make the most out of their unusual roles. The eye of detail in the script and in Hitchcock's direction is fantastic! For example: as a sort of running game, young Charlie's father and a befriended neighbor (Hume Cronyn) are always debating original and vicious methods for murdering each other, even though they are both normal and slightly dull family men. It's further proof of how the whole of Santa Rosa is unwillingly embracing the coming of evil.

I'm changing my mind, in fact... "Shadow of a Doubt" must be listed in my top five favorite Hitchcock films!
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Every family has their ups and downs....
mark.waltz10 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Charlie and Charles are an extremely close niece and uncle who can read each other's minds, even seemingly across the country. Their ESP between each other is dangerous. Charlie (Teresa Wright) was named after her mother's much younger brother (Joseph Cotten), and even though they haven't seen each other in years, they adore each other. But even though they can read each other like a clock, Charlie can't quite figure out at first what secret her newly arrived uncle is hiding from the family. Charles is obviously on the run, because he has escaped from his New Jersey boarding house to his sister's house in the small city of Santa Rosa, California. Once there, Charles mixes right in with the family even though Charlie and her precocious younger sister Anne sense something is up. Anne is hysterically brainy, as evidenced in her first scene, answering the telephone from the telegraph company. "I'm saving my mind for more important things", she tells the operator. Charlie's father Henry Travers and neighbor Hume Cronyn spend hours plotting to outdo each other with causes, motives and clues concerning murder, an ironic hobby considering Traver's brother-in-law Cotten. But Charles can't keep his secret for long, and Wright begins to figure out why she has strange premonitions, the plot thickens. A trek to the library (with fabulous character actress Eily Maylon as the librarian) reveals all, and from there, Cotten is ripe to be picked.

There is no real mystery, just the exciting revelation of what Cotten's crime is. Like Hitchcock later did in "Strangers on a Train", he turns popular music sinister; in this case, it's the "Merry Widow Waltz", and it ends up a theme for a total sociopath. "Shadow of a Doubt" and "Strangers on a Train" (using "The Strawberry Blonde") were effective enough to lead Hitchcock create the spooky glass-shattering music played over Janet Leigh's stabbing in "Psycho". It is also very ironic that every time Cotten appears that the photography gets darker or in outdoor sequences, dark clouds appear, much like an omen. Like the character of Hannibal Lecter later in "Silence of the Lambs" and its follow-up movies, Cotten plays a charming, educated sophisticate who is deadly dangerous. Everybody in the film shines; Wright, at the top of her game after "Pride of the Yankees" and "Mrs. Miniver", seemed destined for stardom. Her co-star from "The Little Foxes" (Patricia Collinge) is wonderfully lovable as the naive mother, while Edna May Wonacott as Anne steals every moment she is in.
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Okay, but lacks subtlety and suspense
planktonrules22 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Years ago, I watched this film and liked it a lot more than when I just watched it again. I think this is because on second viewing, I noticed some plot problems that hindered me from scoring it higher. I should point out that IMDb users have placed the film in the top 250, so it's quite possible I am nitpicking, but I just thought the film could have been better--especially from a suspense point of view.

Joseph Cotten plays a man who you think is a multiple murderer. Oddly, whether he is or not COULD have been held until the end of the film, but the truth of it was revealed about halfway into the film--and kind of took the wind out of the sails. While the only one who knew that he was a murderer was his niece, Teresa Wright, she kept this to herself--even when it seemed he was trying to kill her!! Now I know that Ms. Wright supposedly didn't want to upset her mother by announcing that he was a murderer, but after two attempts on her life and nothing said by Wright, you just have to assume she's an idiot! In addition, she did a lousy job of hiding it from Cotten--making her an obvious liability. I hate "suspense" movies that rely on the basic stupidity of a character in order to keep the film going! However, apart from these serious problems, the film STILL is pretty exciting--and the ending is very, very memorable. However I still think the film is a bit overrated.

FYI--For those who love to spot Hitchcock, you see the back of his head and a bit of his side profile towards the beginning of the film on the train. He has in his hands one of the most stupendous Bridge hands imaginable--provided he can get control of the table.
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