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Shadow of a Doubt

Essay by review  •  September 6, 2010  •  Essay  •  3,265 Words (14 Pages)  •  1,642 Views

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Shadow of a Doubt

Shadow of a Doubt is an Alfred Hitchcock film that was shot on location in the 1940\\\'s town of Santa Rosa, California. The town itself is representative of the ideal of American society. However, hidden within this picturesque community dark corruption threatens to engulf a family. The tale revolves around Uncle Charlie, a psychotic killer whose namesake niece, a teenager girl named Charlie, is emotionally thrilled by her Uncles arrival. However her opinion slowly changes as she probes into her mysterious uncle. In the film, director/producer Alfred Hitchcock blends conventions of film noir with those of a small town domestic comedy as a means of commenting on the contradictions in American values.

In the beginning the film is immediately set up in the film noir style. Under the opening credits a shadowy backround image is shown kaleidoscopically. Couples dressed in elegant ballroom gowns and suits waltz together dizzyingly as the \\\"Merry Widow Waltz\\\" plays. The scene has nothing to do with the drama to follow (until Charlie\\\'s crimes are revealed.) The titles dissolve in to a panoramic view of a bridge, further dissolves take us first to junkyard and then to a scene of children playing in the street. The city is shown as a dirty, dark place. We are taken to a Philadelphia rooming house (shown with a number 13 on the door.) Inside we are introduced to \\\"Uncle Charlie\\\" (Joseph Cotten). He is reclining stiffly in bed during the day in a seedy room. . He plays with the phallic cigar that he is smoking, seemingly bitter and cynical. On the bedside table next to seemingly indifferent and fatigued man is and an open billfold with a carelessly strewn pile of bills on top (some of the bills have fallen to the floor and lie strewn around). The overweight, middle-aged landlady knocks on the door and enters, identifying him as Mr. Spencer and informing him that two men have been asking for him. As per his instructions to not disturb him, she didn\\\'t let them in, however, they have not left, instead they retreated to the street corner to stake out the boarding house. Noticing that he looks exhausted and depressed (he passively remains on his bed during their entire conversation), she suggests that he should get some rest. Then she notices his money cluttered all about and hurries forward to straighten it up and scolds him to be more careful with his belongings. Although all indications reveal her boarder\\\'s underworld connections, she naively ignores them. To allow him to continue his nap, the landlady lowers the blind before leaving and its shadow is drawn down over Charlie\\\'s face. Rather than inducing sleep, the darkness causes him to sit up alertly. Charlie snuffs out his cigar, finishes his drink, rises and angrily hurls his glass against floor. He raises the blind and observes the two visitors waiting outside for him and speaks: \\\"What do you know? You\\\'re bluffing. You\\\'ve nothing on me.\\\"

Charles leaves the room, and intentionally walks toward and past the two men as a challenge. They ignore him, but chase after their suspect (filmed from high above) in a desolate, abandoned lot, quickly losing his track and appearing astonished by his abrupt disappearance. The camera turns up and to the left, discovering the cigar-smoking character in profile on a rooftop. From a cinematography point of view this is the most Film Noir portion of the film. In a dark and dirty setting it introduces us to the good guys and the bad guy, culminating in a chase scene.

We dissolve to see Charles in a dingy poolroom talking on a telephone. He is sending a telegram to his sister in Santa Rosa, California. He has invited himself to take sanctuary there and will arrive on Thursday. Santa Rosa, California is introduced as Charlie repeats the words \\\"Santa Rosa, California\\\" to the operator - we are shown a beautiful, sunny and clean, traditional town with tree-lined streets with no children playing on them. A smiling traffic policeman directs downtown traffic in an orderly fashion. A series of dissolves lead from outside the Newton family home into the upstairs bedroom of \\\"Young\\\" Charlie (Teresa Wright), paralleling her introduction with the one of her Uncle in the rooming house - to stress their close affinity and link to each other.

Charlie is lying fully dressed in a very similar position on her bed as her Uncle Charlie in the first scene, meditating or deep in thought - her arms cradling her head on a pillow. In his article Ideology, Genre, Auteur (Hitchococh\\\'s Films Revisited, 1988, Columbia University Press, pgs. 288-302) Robin Wood argues that this image is part of the incest theme that runs through the film. The ringing of the downstairs telephone introduces Charlie\\\'s younger, bookwormish, precocious, and bespectacled sister Ann (Edna May Wonacott) with her nose buried in Ivanhoe. She answers the phone call from Mrs. Henderson at the Postal Union office, but doesn\\\'t write down the message for lack of a pencil, explaining:

\\\"I\\\'m trying to keep my mind free of things that don\\\'t matter because I have so much to keep on my mind - innumerable things.\\\"

She promises to tell her mother to call back. Her father, Joseph Newton (Henry Travers) arrives home from work. Anne teasingly compares her own dignified and sophisticated literature choices with the pulp mysteries that her elderly father reads:

Ann: Here I am, practically a child, and I wouldn\\\'t read the things you read.

Father: Well, I guess they\\\'d give ya bad dreams.

Ann: Bad dreams? You don\\\'t understand, Papa

Here we see an excellent example of the contrast that the film sets up. The family as the audience sees it at this point could have been picked right off the set of early situational comedies like Leave it to Beaver or The Donna Reed Show. We have the young girl dazing dreamily off to space on an afternoon; her brainiac sister Anne offers easy comic relief, as the young \\\"know-it-all\\\"; and the pleasant father who always has time for his children. Often in comedy (especially early American Situational comedy based in a small town) there is a problem that needs to be resolved. Here, the stage is set for our first problem.

Upstairs, we learn that Charlie is not so happy, she has been lying \\\"thinking for hours,\\\" psychologically restless and despairing to her calm, bank-teller father of her family\\\'s entrapment in a passion-less, middle-class life where \\\"nothing happens\\\". In particular, she grieves the fate of her unfulfilled, hard-working

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