The Girl Who Knew Too Much: Shadow of a Doubt (1943) Part Two, Gone Girl

by Elaine Lennon Volume 27, Issue 1-2 / February 2023 78 minutes (19414 words)

The Dark at the Top of the Stair

The Hitchcock oeuvre has regularly been debated as the site of patriarchal ideology. A notable exception is Thomas Hemmeter, who reads Shadow of a Doubt “as a critique of the patriarchal ideology it represents” (Hemmeter: 221). He claims that, “to read the film as a feminist film requires the recognition that in destroying her uncle, [Young] Charlie denies the validity of bother her earlier-held patriarchal visions: man as knightly rescue from family oppression and man as satanic destroyer of transgressing women” (Hemmeter: 228). It has been the subject of many Freudian and Oedipal readings in the context of its predecessor, Rebecca and other paranoid women’s films of the era.

Cohen finds that the film relates to Hitchcock’s exploration of a Victorian family ideal and believes that the director considered himself a Victorian bourgeois (Cohen, 1995: 68). While she doesn’t engage in a dissection of the Hitchcock dynamic, she claims

Because Hitchcock’s family evolved while his career as a filmmaker evolved, he was positioned to give cinematic expression to tensions inherent in the conventional life cycle of the nuclear family.

(Cohen: 70)

Joe is more or less unimportant in Young Charlie’s emotional life and is entirely sidelined by Uncle Charlie, who replaces him in every sense and considers his niece the family figurehead. Cohen examines the significant father-daughter relationship which is a structuring device here, as it would be in Stage Fright (1950) and Strangers on a Train (1951) in which Patricia Hitchcock would play supporting roles. She says,

The opening scenes of Shadow of a Doubt lay out the coordinates of a family plot that plays itself out in subsequent Hitchcock films.

(Cohen: 71)

This may indeed be Hitchcock’s family romance – in the Freudian sense, of course. The figure of the daydreamer is a central component of Freud’s 1909 essay Family Romances:

Precise observation of daydreams shows that their purpose is wish-fulfilment and the correction of real life, and that they have two principal aims, one of them erotic and the other ambitious.

(Phillips: 423)

Incest is insinuated not merely by the parodic progression of ‘engagement’ through ‘marriage’ (and violent divorce) but by the fact that the two Charlies sleep in the same bed, albeit not at the same time. It is also modelled on the childhood sibling relationship tearfully remembered by Emma Newton. As Wood suggests, “In Shadow of a Doubt it is above all sexuality that cracks apart the family façade” (Wood, 1989: 300). Elsaesser refers to the structural and semantic implications of the family melodrama whose aesthetic is distinguished by material aspects: “The world is closed, and the characters are acted upon” (Elsaesser, in Gledhill, 1992: 55). What he describes as the ‘continuous movement’ that defines the dynamic protagonist in American cinema is exemplified here by this implied trans-generational narrative perversion of family life, with the humming of the Merry Widow Waltz by both Emma and Young Charlie underlining the connection. Wood concludes: “The film shows sexual pathology at the heart of the American family, the necessary product of its repressions and sublimations” (Wood: 301).


Because we’re not just an uncle and a niece. It’s something else. I know you. I know you don’t tell people a lot of things. I don’t either. I have a feeling that inside you somewhere there’s something nobody else knows […] Something secret and wonderful and… I’ll find it out.

As Helen Taylor reminds us, much of the recent scholarship on Daphne du Maurier focuses on “the Gothic, the exploration of split subjectivity, and the Freudian uncanny” (Helen Taylor, 2007: 280). It has been placed “within the genre of female Gothic, understanding it as a psychological study of personal insecurity, class and national instability, and female Oedipal crisis” (78) Rebecca may have had literary echoes but as Jancovich points out, and Truffaut and Rohmer & Chabrol noted, it had definite influence on the output of Hitchcock himself. The doppelganger is a hallmark of female Gothic narratives with the second self forming a kind of displacement function for the protagonist. For David Sterritt, Shadow is dominated by Hitchcock’s own more mischievous twin, “Hitchcock the joker, the trickster, the prestidigitator” (Sterritt: 52). We might borrow from Adam Phillips and describe the relationship of Young Charlie to Uncle Charlie as that of the reader to the writer and conclude that “they are not only partners in crime, they are partners in concealing the crime from themselves” (Phillips, 2006: xiii).

Patricia White finds Freud’s schema and thoughts on paranoia “very similar … to film ‘plots’ against the emergence of lesbian desire”:

Consider, for example: ‘I do not love Mrs Danvers, I hate her, because she persecutes me’; ‘It is not I who love Rebecca, Maxim loves her’; and the paranoid accommodation to the demands of heterosexual narrative closure: ‘I do not love her, I love him’ which indeed only becomes conscious as ‘he loves me.’ To be sure, Freud denies that female paranoia involves any but that delusion of jealousy: ‘It is not I who love the women – but he loves them.’ (34)

(White: 227)

And of course the word ‘love’ could here be replaced by ‘hate’ in the context of this particular paranoid plot. Doane’s work on paranoia dismisses homosexuality as a criterion for paranoia, rather locating it in the phallus or paternal signifier. Yet L.E. Ward refers to “the hatred of conventionality” evident in Rebecca, Laura (1945), The Uninvited (1945) and Shadow of a Doubt (1943) (Ward, 2014: unpaginated). It would be excessive to describe Uncle Charlie’s dandyism as a criterion for disguised homosexuality, nor could we claim that Young Charlie is presented as under threat from another woman or that she is concealing sexualised feelings or jealousy. She does not wish to become her mother, however, and has a dread of domesticity despite being a dab hand in the kitchen and therefore finds in her ‘twin’ a range of possibilities otherwise denied her. He calls her the head of household while he takes her father’s place at table. There is no figure really comparable to Rebecca’s Mrs Danvers here. Hitchcock described the nature of Danvers’ presentation to Truffaut:

Mrs Danvers was almost never seen walking and was rarely seen in motion. If she entered a room in which the heroine was, what happened is that the girl suddenly heard a sound and there was the ever-present Mrs Danvers standing perfectly still by her side. In this way the whole situation was projected from the heroine’s point of view; she never knew when Mrs Danvers might turn up, and this, in itself, was terrifying. To have shown Mrs Danvers walking about would have been to humanise her.

(Truffaut: 93)

Danvers is a trope for nostalgia, signifying the ongoing presence of Rebecca herself. And, while there are no direct homosexual implications in Shadow, Uncle Charlie is clearly vain, picking a buttonhole for himself each day (but there are no mirrors to check his presumably non-existent vampiric reflection). This has its echo in Ann’s penchant for flowers in her hair despite her mother’s warning that insects will infest her ears. Uncle Charlie is clearly embarrassed when Young Charlie finds him polishing his shoes. He displays a misogynist’s flair for flattering the kind of women who clearly repel him (not to mention murdering them). If not codified as gay, he perhaps embodies what Waldman was describing as the ‘non-male’. An observation made by Thomas Hemmeter (who, like Modleski, explores the cracks of supposed misogyny in the Hitchcock text) contests certain feminist readings of the film: “Once this feminine side of Uncle Charlie is recognized, it becomes possible to reinterpret images that suggest Hitchcock’s misogyny” (Hemmeter, 2002: 226).

Hitchcock’s use of fetish objects to convey meaning is widely discussed (amongst others, see Gordon, ‘Sometimes a Cigar is Not Just a Cigar,’ 1991, and Barton, ‘Hitchcock’s Hands,’ in Gottlieb, 1995). Uncle Charlie’s arrival on the train belching sulphurous black smoke explicitly links him with his niece in the sexual/incestuous fashion that is not so very far beneath the story’s surface; his death in the climactic scene on the train, in which he finally gets his hands on her to try and render her another Merry Widow, is entirely appropriate as a rhyming event consistent with the doubling scheme (and has its own double in the later Strangers on a Train and of course in the final scene of North by Northwest.) In between are the mealtimes and drinks and eggs and hands and all the personal imagery so familiar from the Hitchcock oeuvre that give the text its rhyming rhythm.

‘I’ and Mrs Danvers (Judith Anderson)

Thomas Schatz says that the film noir and the hardboiled detective combined to create what he terms, ‘American Expressionism.’ Film noir is a style that can be found in melodramas, Westerns, gangster films, and psychological thrillers, a genre proliferating throughout the work of Hitchcock. The author claims that it is a style that can also be located outside traditional genre territory (Schatz, 1981: 112). Film noir (surely now understood as a trans-generic visual and narrative style rather than a pure genre), is analysed variously as a product of socio-political discomfiture, a production methodology and a cultural moment (See Steve Neale, 1999, for a summary of critical writing on the subject: 151-177).

Elana Starr lists Hitchcock’s thematic preoccupations as they might be understood when mapped across Shadow: difficult parent/child relationship (both parents); domineering mother (in terms of her sentimental hold on the home); male/female relationship involve sexual neurosis (we might apply this to the Charlie dyad); sex and violence inextricably linked (in terms of Uncle Charlie’s killing spree); a preoccupation with guilt and exchange of guilt (Young Charlie’s being implicated in her namesake’s crimes); voyeurism (necessary to locate the criminal); a sense of moral ambiguity as to who is really good/bad (we get the sense that Young Charlie might share some of Uncle Charlie’s inclinations); the theme of the doppelganger, so influential in the Hitchcock oeuvre and an element of Expressionism and those great Victorian novels (The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray) 1 , here evident in the split protagonist; the dominance of the past over the present or the power of the dead over the living –a constant harking back to the upbringing of Emma and Uncle Charlie dominates their conversations; a character’s restless boredom acts as prelude to chaos (Young Charlie’s daydreaming and wish for excitement brings Uncle Charlie back from the East – or the dead, if one takes the Dracula model to its logical conclusion); travel, often across a country and frequently by train, emblemised here in the East-West journey that brings Uncle Charlie to town (“East west, home’s best,” he chirps); a smooth likeable villain, embodied in the suave dandy who picks buttonholes for himself each day and is found polishing his shoes; jewellery which generally indicates a character’s shallow concern for outward appearance at cost of true values and is a psychological reference point for relationships between characters, here it’s the emerald ring engraved with the initials of one of Uncle Charlie’s victims and which he presents to Young Charlie in that parody of engagement (Starr: unpaginated).

Truffaut’s analysis of the film (a study of the number 2) holds up when one considers the insistent aural and visual rhyme structuring the film (Rohmer & Chabrol: 72.). Aural and visual doubles in the film include: camera set ups, words and phrases repeated, double letters in characer names, two scenes in specific locations; doubles of several people and objects (e.g. two telegrams, two brooches on young Charlie’s coat, two police detectives, two girls wearing glasses, twin beds in Ann’s bedroom); the dangerous outdoor staircase gives the impression that the house itself is turned inside out: an objective correlative for the canker inhabiting the inside, as it were. (For a detailed list of doubling in the film, see Spoto, 1992: 120). Everything has its Other in Shadow. There can only be one Charlie and the person who knows her uncle’s secret must be given a swift exit from the narrative. Uncle Charlie tries to kill her twice: first in the garage when the engine is turning and the door is mysteriously wedged close; then on the outdoor staircase (mirroring the troublesome one indoors) by damaging a stair so that she loses her footing. Third time lucky? Not so much: on the train, the final, mirroring sequence to echo his entry to Santa Rosa, Young Charlie manages to evade his grip by some fancy footwork, aided with a pair of gloves enabling her to get a grip, and he goes tumbling into the path of an ongoing steam train. Murder runs in this family, even if it’s clearly self-defence

Schatz describes the narrative time scheme of the detective noir as follows:

In this process of investigation and revelation, the detective necessarily is preoccupied with the past, with unravelling the events and motives which led to the crime and his eventual employment.

(Schatz, 1983: 144)

This certainly has a clear function within the construction of Shadow. According to Paul Schrader, “film noir’s techniques emphasize loss, nostalgia, lack of clear priorities, insecurity; then submerge these self-doubts in mannerism and style. In such a world style becomes paramount; it is all that separates one from meaninglessness.” If meaninglessness is the alternative to grim reality, then noir must be defined by its innate pessimism: Schrader says its over-riding theme is “a passion for the past and present, but also a fear of the future. The noir hero dreads to look ahead, but instead tries to survive by the day, and if unsuccessful at that, he retreats to the past” (Schrader, 1972: 8-13). Thus, noir could be appreciated as a response to a particular set of social conditions, principally those associated with a nation in the aftermath of World War II, but also those accumulated tensions from the years of the Depression, i.e. a ‘Social Moment’ or stressline in the graph of the United States’ well-being. B. Ruby Rich refers to it as etching “a metaphor of light and shadow into the popular psyche; rain-slicked streets, feelings of loss, fear, and betrayal; male bonding, femmes fatales, post-war malaise, atomic pressures, Communist threats, melodrama and gangsters all coalesced under its banner. Capone met Mabuse in the darkness… Americans flocked to noir to pacify themselves with its equally tangled narratives and unreliable narrators” (Rich, 1995: 6-10). (Tom Stempel disagrees – he states that films noirs were outgrossed by virtually every other genre, as can be seen in his figures on moviegoing in the period. Stempel, 2001: 108)

Ryan and Kellner state of Seventies noir: “it is difficult to sort out good from evil in a clearly boundaried way. Normal institutions like motherhood are corrupt; and the trust usually associated with family relations is betrayed. The supposedly innocent delve into incest, but their death is not in any way justified as moral retribution.

“The moral dilemma is often due to the incursion of the past, the return of the repressed. Noir flashbacks often highlight the power of past guilt in determining the present, and this abreactive form undermines the ‘eternal present’ of Hollywood film, the appearance that everything occurs in a nonhistorical space. The narrative turns in these films are part of a general moral rhetoric which confuses simplistic conservative moral judgments by overturning the logic of moral responsibility” (Ryan and Kellner, 1988: 83). The authors may be commenting on Seventies noir but their remarks are entirely consistent with the strategies deployed in Shadow. (In a neat conceptual loop, Stempel finds that one reason for this revival was nostalgia. Stempel, as before.)

Dancyger and Rush sum up their writing on film noir by stating that it “symbolizes our nightmares” (Dancyger and Rush, 1991: 49). They provide a list of the genre’s characteristics for screenwriters which provides a useful grid against which to measure consideration of what can be thought of as film noir. “The desperate central character lives on the edge; he merely exists… the personal behavior of the central character in the film noir is anything but heroic.” Their second point is that “the central character thinks that his chance at a better, richer more vital life can only be found in another character – usually a woman.” For Dancyger and Rush, typically in film noir, “”the by-product of this [central, sexual] relationship is violence.” All of this contributes to what the authors describe as the palpable “sense of aloneness in the central character.” They argue that “the relationship between the central character and his savior is a highly charged, sexual relationship.” Dancyger and Rush also stipulate that “the key root of the problem with the relationship is the city, the stand-in symbol for modern life” (Ibid.). We can see how this holds true for Uncle Charlie in Shadow. Sterritt finds that Young Charlie’s character is reminiscent of the ‘spider woman’ figure in the sense that she traps her uncle, the impostor in the community (Sterritt: 59, 60).

The devil is in the details

Dancyger and Rush continue that “the city saps the generosity out of the relationship. All that is left is deception and betrayal.” The relationship at the narrative’s core is bound up with both Charlies and place them in a double spiral of lies expressed in generically opposed structures. This is part of its ingenuity and craft. The authors point out that there are usually no children in film noir not true of Shadow). Their rule, that “sexuality and violence coexist, and seem to be cause-and-effect” might be echoed in the linking of Young Charlie with her uncle in a series of vignettes that suggest marriage – the presentation in private of an emerald ring that has a personal engraving of which he is unaware but she spots immediately (demonstrating their different value systems); the staging of a version of an engagement; the close up of the ring on Young Charlie’s finger as she descends the staircase. Her younger brother, Roger, is likened to Uncle Charlie by Emma. He might just fulfil the family legacy of overbearing nostalgia and serial killing.

Gates finds that Shadow does not completely conform to the tenets of film noir because

the film differs from the established pattern in three important ways and likely due to the age of its protagonist: first, Charlie does not investigate to save the innocent man that she loves (he is guilty); second, she does not masquerade as a femme fatale or have to make the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ (ie have sexual relations with another man) to save him; and third, the moments of melodramatic excess are used to create tension rather than disrupt the conservative ending.

(Gates, 2011: 172-3)

We might however dispute her assertions by stating in the first case she hopes he’s not guilty; the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ is continuously parodied and comes to mean death by strangulation; and that the film’s ending is conservative. On the other hand, C. Jerry Kutner states that there are two basic types of noir; and in the second

… something happens, and the protagonist finds him or herself in the fallen world.

(Kutner, 2013: unpaginated)

The wrong side of the tracks

This certainly conforms to the story pattern here and is clarified with Young Charlie’s enforced visit to the Til Two Bar, her uncle’s domain. With Shadow, Kutner states that “Hitchcock virtually invents the small town noir, setting the template for most of the small town noirs that follow.” Indeed, he concludes that:

Shadow of a Doubt could easily be considered Our Town ‘s noir twin. (Shadow of a Doubt’s young Charlie is more or less the same character as Our Town’s Emily.) As in Our Town, the teenaged protagonist of Shadow of a Doubt is the embodiment of everything positive in life, balancing Uncle Charlie’s innate evil. But she cannot combat that evil without a loss of innocence, i.e., until her eyes are opened and she recognizes the evil for what it is.


In summary, Rebecca is the perfect intersection of the Gothic with what would become known as film noir and as such exemplifies factors in the creation of Shadow. The effects would be felt throughout Forties cinema, for, as Andrea Walsh has it, “Gothic melodrama merged with film noir to produce uniquely feminine cine-dramas of suspicion and distrust” (Walsh, 1984: 176).

Let me not to the marriage of true minds. Admit impediments.

(Shakespeare, Sonnet # 116)

We should bear in mind those things that Linda Cowgill states are necessary to screenplay structure:

A screenwriter uses the answers to the questions of want, why and need to define the protagonist, antagonist and other main characters as well as to build a plot. The other main characters’ wants and needs should conflict to various degrees with the protagonists’ wants and needs; they should become obstacles and complications for the protagonist to deal with and overcome.

(Cowgill, 1999: 46)

A key device for analysing narrative – and indeed for analysing a screenplay – is the relationship of character to structure. Andrew Horton offers us the following definition of the classical Hollywood narrative as follows:

The classical Hollywood narrative is a very specific plot-driven, cause-and-effect-organized narrative centering on a central protagonist with a successful (‘happy’) resolution, a pattern that has not changed since 1917 for most Hollywood films.

(Horton, 1999: 117)

David Trottier puts it another way:

Plot grows from character because everything starts with a character who has a goal.

(Trottier, 2005: 29)

Charlie and Uncle Charlie are not just doubles, they are protagonist-antagonist to each other. Rohmer & Chabrol write:

The tie uniting Charlie and her uncle is clearly indicated all during the film. The criminal and his niece not only have the same name, but they understand each other by a type of telepathy. In addition, their characters are antithetical Charlie is innocence and Uncle Charlie, duplicity. She has the radiance of purity, he exercises an almost Mephistophelian charm over people. Charlie can therefore be seen as a single being in two different persons: the uncle, a man who is damned; the niece, an angel. It is almost impossible to see this work as only an ingenious example of a psychological thriller. The very structure of the scenario, the deliberate versification of the direction, preclude this. Everything in this film depends on the principle of rhyme.

(R&C: 72)

For the authors the success of the material resides in its “moral concept of ‘exchange,’ without which is the main support of this construction and without which it would collapse like a house of cards… In this case… the presence of a true ‘transfer of guilt’ initially escapes us: the young girl does not feel guilty and does not behave like a guilty person.”

(R&C: 73)

It is imperative for Young Charlie to have her uncle in her own environment so that she can see herself in her entirety. The accretion of knowledge is central both to the film narrative and the antagonistic hues of their relationship force her to confront her own murderous desires and how they might be sated. Killing her other, dark half, her shadow (a Jungian archetype) is perhaps just the start, a rite of passage to a future yet unwritten.


Charlie’s coming! Your Uncle Charlie! And Charlie’s gone to send him a telegram — now what made her think to do a thing like that at the same time? (SoD: 18)

The parallel opening montages – of Philadelphia as Charlie and her family believe Uncle Charlie to be in Philadelphia (actually shot around the Pulaski Skyway in Northern New Jersey) – and of Santa Rosa ironically link these supposedly dissimilar characters who are somehow complementary, two halves of the same whole.

Some of the best dual journeys have protagonists who are each other’s adversaries.

(Karel Segers, 2013: unpaginated)

Young Charlie and her uncle complete each other. In scriptwriting parlance, they comprise the split protagonist. We observe the same phenomenon in certain literary fiction – Humboldt’s Gift (Bellow), for instance. This is Hitchcock’s deeply cynical take on morality and it forces the viewer to constantly question their own relationship to the text. Even when Young Charlie is determined to get her uncle out of town she doesn’t have the same telepathic relationship with Jack Graham – she can’t even get him on the telephone despite calling all the locations he gave her before leaving town.

The split protagonist is described as “where two characters have equal weight and equal claim on our affections, but are operating at cross-purposes with each other” (Gotham Writers’ Workshop, 2006: 58). To extend the idea of Hitchcock’s formalist inclinations, we can see that the film noir/Gothic represents Uncle Charlie’s strand of the narrative while Young Charlie belongs in the small town melodrama aspect (or woman’s picture) in which she gets to play girl detective.

For Young Charlie to survive this stultifying small-town existence, betrayal is inevitable as her knowledge of Uncle Charlie’s deeds grows from hunch to confirmation. The inexorable dread that accompanies her realisation builds towards a necessarily violent catharsis. Hitchcock has long been acknowledged as a formalist filmmaker – in other words, he manipulates the narrative. In Shadow, he does this by first focalizing on Uncle Charlie and then on Young Charlie, and gradually shifting our allegiance from one to the other. This is one of the distinguishing aspects of the American phase of his career – his increasing focus on character.

Linda Cowgill explains:

What a character needs is often the psychological key to understanding his inner obstacles; it therefore deepens the levels and meaning of the story. How the character copes with these inner obstacles forms the basis of his development through the film because the psychological or emotional problems force the character into corners which demand new and different responses if he is to conquer the outer obstacles and attain his goal.

(Cowgill: 47)

Story analyst Jeff Flattum says that as exciting as the psychopath’s fall may be,

What happens to the victims of a psychopath is equally dramatic.

(Flattum, 2013: unpaginated)

Donald Spoto praises the depths of Wright’s performance opposite such a charismatic villain: “Opposite the pliant lure of Joseph Cotten – with whom another ingénue might have seemed diminished because his role is so strongly idiosyncratic – Teresa Wright allows the maturing of a young woman to emerge without forcing the issue. This is a lesson in nuanced, exquisitely rendered characterization. Present in almost every sequence, she gives this masterwork very much of its coherence, force and complexity” (Spoto, 2008: 82). Young Charlie’s lie-in unnerves her uncle, who wants to know where she is. “She’s asleep and I don’t want to wake her” (98). In a line added to the script, Emma adds, “She just woke up.” We are constantly reminded that Young Charlie’s perception is that of a sleepwalker or daydreamer. She enters the kitchen unnoticed by the back door. “Now I’m rested and ready for anything.” Her mother unnerves her by humming the Merry Widow Waltz preparing the evening meal. “I’ve almost got it out of my head and I don’t want to get it started again” (100). This is the music that conjures the links to the past driving her uncle. Young Charlie alters the place settings so that Ann no longer has to sit beside Uncle Charlie. The youngster distinguishes herself throughout the film by her disdain. Young Charlie tells him that she slept all night. “And I kept dreaming. Perfect nightmares. About you, Uncle Charlie.”

(sweet and determined)

About you. I’ll tell them to you if you like. You were on a train, and I had a feeling you were running away from something. And when I saw you on
the train, I felt terribly happy and ….

(SoD: 104)

His suggestion that Ann read the funnies is met with derision; Young Charlie instructs him to throw the newspaper away because her father’s already read it “and I’m sure we don’t need it to play games with tonight” (105). Mrs. Newton tells him he’s going to kill her because she’s promised he will give a talk to her ladies’ club (107). Young Charlie watches him with “mounting horror” as he pulls the cork from his bottle of wine (108). There follows that part of the scene which is probably the film’s most famous study extract because it breaks the fourth wall:

The ladies’ man: pure hatred, pure misogyny

Cotten has one of the best scenes of his career, in a dinner table conversation. His dark side takes over, and he finds himself saying these extraordinary words:

“The cities are full of women, middle-aged widows, husbands dead, husbands who’ve spent their lives making fortunes, working and working. And 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… Are they human or are they fat, wheezing animals, hmm? And what happens to animals when they get too fat and too old?” I think that may be the most eloquence Hitchcock ever allowed a killer.

(Ebert, 2011: unpaginated)

And it was to be Cotten’s last performance as a villain. When he addresses the camera, it reminds us that Wilder’s famed metatheatrical Our Town also broke the fourth wall and its first radio production featured another Wisconsin native, Orson Welles as Stage Manager. (We might suggest that Welles’ famous self-penned speech in The Third Man has its origins here.) Wilder in fact had ripped off his own work, this being a variation of Malachi’s disquisition on thieving in The Matchmaker (later to become _Hello, Dolly! _ as Conrad reminds us. (Conrad, 2000: 33)


But they’re alive! They’re human beings!

He looks up across at her, as though awakened.


Are they? Are they, Charlie? Are they human or are they fat wheezing animals? And what happens to animals when they get too fat and too old? (he suddenly calms down)
I seem to be making my speech here.

(SoD: 110)

Once again the idea of waking/dreaming/sleepwalking/fantasy is invoked. The direct mode of address also implicates the viewer in what amounts to a misogynist’s manifesto, delivered with the cunning charm that distinguishes Cotten’s presence here. For Modleski, “misogyny and … sympathy actually entail one another” in Hitchcock’s work (Modleski, 1988: 5). The sympathetic villain was a figure of 1940s Gothic, as Hanson reminds us (Hanson, 2007: 128). Herbie appears and has the usual conversation with Mr Newton which gives rise to Young Charlie’s quasi hysterical plaint, “You’re just two ghouls, that’s what you are. Why do you have to keep talking about killing people? … Can’t we have a little peace and quiet without dragging in poisons all the time?” Uncle Charlie watches her closely (112).

The best screen actor is the man who can do nothing extremely well.

- Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock had an unerring knack of casting the perfect actors. James Mason, who featured in North by Northwest (1959) as the marvellously suave saturnine villain Van Damm, considered of Hitchcock’s choices,

He did not require his actors to be creative nor to extend to him the benefit of their choices. He had cast them because their records had shown that they were capable of playing the roles which had been unambiguously delineated in his script. He also had a very clear view of the value of the stars he employed … he knew precisely how much those names could add to the box office gross. He succeeded by cold calculation. Correction. He succeeded because he had an enormous theatrical talent and cold calculation was the manner in which his skills were applied.

(James Mason, 1981: 407)

Joan Fontaine commented Hitchcock’s pragmatism when she played the first of his Gothic heroines in Rebecca:

He had absolutely no nonsense about mood or meaning or any of that. He was telling a story, expected you to tell it with him, in absolutely common terms. No theories like the Actors’ Studio, any of that. Made it terribly clear. And I remember finally I had to cry one day – quite a lot – and I said, “Hitch, I just can’t cry an more.” And he said, “Well, kid, what are we going to do?” And I said, “Slap me in the face,” and he said, “Fine,” and off he went, slapped me in the face and went back and the tears came down. Partly pain. But a great deal of gratitude – for his understanding. It was wonderful of him…
I think that if you’re playing an insignificant little girl that has a terrible inferiority complex that it’s better not to praise her too much and tell her she’s marvellous or you undo what she wants. He was a little difficult.

(Talking Pictures: Joan Fontaine)

It is worth recalling that she gave the only Academy Award-winning performance of any actress under his direction for Suspicion (1941). Hitchcock rationalised his choice of heroines in an article he wrote in 1931: “I believe that the vast majority of women, in all ranks of life, are idealists. They may not live up to their own ideals, often they cannot do so, but they do like to see them personified by their favourite film heroines… The reign of the purely pictorial heroine is over” (Gottlieb, 1995: 74). This is an especially interesting comment given the array of femininity explored in Shadow. In 1948, the year Rope was released, he would state, “I do not believe that it is necessary for a director to change his style in order to develop new characters and a different story in each film. Through the ages in literature, acting, directing, and the dance, style has been the mark of the man, the element of his work which has tended to set it apart from the work of others” (Gottlieb, 1995: 115).

Joseph Cotten, better known for his work with Welles in Citizen Kane and The Third Man (Reed, 1949) but also the following year as the romantic lead in Gaslight (Cukor, 1944) is accurately described as “tall and courtly” by Donald Spoto (2008: 79) and elsewhere as possessed of an “intelligent face, resonant voice, and low-keyed presence” (Katz and Nolen, 2008: 314). A former drama critic, he left Welles’ Mercury Theatre to play opposite Katharine Hepburn on Broadway in The Philadelphia Story. Here, Hitchcock is playing with his ‘type,’ and having fun at the audience’s expense. David Thomson says of him that “he was never quite the romantic star Selznick took him for. His grace and attentiveness were also detached and dreamy, and Hitchcock saw how easily the crinkled face might be made morose. His best performances are in parts outside Hollywood conventions” (Thomson, 1995: 153). That is certainly case here, where a kind of wildness and smooth nonchalance co-exist in a sensually attractive killer.

By the time you’re three quarters of the way through the film, you’re extremely anxious about the outcome. You really want to know what’s going to happen. How did he do that?

(Hanif Kureishi, 2015: unpaginated)

Cotten recalled of his time on the film, “No director was ever easier to work with.” He told the actor to find his own costumes and instructed him, “I should dress as if I were a rich man going to a resort for a vacation (Spoto, 1981: 271). Apparently Hitchcock told Cotton, “Uncle Charlie feels no guilt at all. To him, the elimination of his widows is a dedication, an important sociological contribution to civilization. Remember, when John Wilkes Booth jumped to the stage in Ford’s Theater after firing that fatal shot, he was enormously disappointed not to receive a standing ovation.” He continued, “I think our secret is to achieve an effect of contrapuntal emotion. Forget trying to intellectualize about Uncle Charlie. Just be yourself” (McGilligan: 316).

Young Charlie is one of Hitchcock’s best protagonists and another example of his decision to make a film partly from the perspective of a teenage girl (Young and Innocent was the other.) The scale of emotion in Shadow is demonstrated by Young Charlie’s creeping realization what she has invited into her midst; but also by the knowledge that her connection with her uncle is on a deep level – and that he represents something inside her. Perhaps the most astonishing part of the film is its constant building towards dreadful knowledge as Young Charlie moves from feelings of delight, to wariness, to suspicion, to absolute conviction, and thereafter, to intention. It is the cinematic equivalent of a bildungsroman as she enacts the stage between her younger sister and her mother, steeped in middle age. Modleski states that Young Charlie “is a typical Hitchcock female, both because her close relationship to her mother arouses in her a longing for a different kind of life than the one her father offers them and because she seems to possess special, incriminating knowledge about men” (Modleski: 13).

As played by Wright she is an immensely affecting teenage girl, unaware of what her wish fulfilment brings until it’s too late and then has to evade her own murder and prevent others without dragging her giddily good-natured mother into her confidence. When they first met, Hitchcock simply related to her the story of the film. When she finally saw the finished film, she said, “I thought, ‘I’ve already seen this film before.’ I saw it in his office that day.” (McGilligan: 317) Spoto describes the demands made on the young actress, “who created a portrait of a girl enduring a kind of moral education…. she demonstrated in every sequence a natural suppleness of understanding, so that the character’s ordeal seems both shocking and inevitable. Her appeal, her credulity and her authentic sweetness are never cloying, her charm never artificial.” (Spoto, 2008: 82) He quotes critic Stephen Talty, who in 1990 stated of Wright, “She had a genius for decency and a gentleness of spirit that has gone out of style. Hitchcock often ravished his actresses with horrified open-mouthed reaction shots, but here he was satisfied to let Wright play almost the entire progression of niece Charlie’s tragedy in her eyes and face.” (82-83) David Thomson states in his appraisal of the performer, with not a little cavil, that “she beautifully caught the small-town adolescent unable to comprehend the complicity she feels for her murdering uncle. It showed just how subtly Hitchcock could work up anguish in a relatively plain-faced actress.” (Thomson, 1995: 822)

Wright was an acclaimed Broadway performer beloved of playwrights whose first three film appearances garnered nominations for the Academy Award (The Little Foxes, Mrs Miniver, The Pride of the Yankees), winning for Mrs Miniver (Wyler, 1942). Her connection with Shadow predated its production: she had been an understudy on Broadway and then starred in the touring production of Our Town. She had befriended Patricia Collinge in Foxes and now the older woman was writing some of her dialogue. Spoto says that “she demonstrated in every scene a natural suppleness of understanding, so that the character’s ordeal seems both shocking and inevitable” (Spoto, 1992: 125). It was on Wilder’s advice that Hitchcock selected her to play Young Charlie. Her growing up is signified by her changing costume (designed by Adrian), as is customary for Hitchcock’s women: she starts the film in the kind of dresses one would expect a teenage girl of the time to wear; by the film’s conclusion she is wearing a suit more usual in an adult, demonstrating her education in the ways of the world, mirroring the formal wear of Nancy Drew, whose books probably lined her bookshelf until she thought she had grown out of them. She also wears a stylish hat and is carrying gloves – a fetish object – presumably the pair that helped her save herself on that fatal train trip.

Hitchcock had originally thought of Joan Fontaine, his previous Gothic heroine (in both Rebecca and Suspicion) for the role. Then he became interested in her sister, Olivia de Havilland, who became unavailable. According to Spoto, after less than a year in Hollywood, Wright “was receiving more than ten thousand fan letters a week and was (thus the Associated Press) ‘the best actress Hollywood has stolen from Broadway in a good many years’.” Spoto does not refer to Fontaine, but rather claims, “Precisely because she projected a rare, unsentimental sincerity and suggested a credible core of strength and purpose, Hitchcock considered … no other actress” (Spoto, 2008: 80-81). For the author, the film “offers a virtual textbook in extraordinary film acting” (82). Wright was acutely conscious of the importance of sound in the production and commented to Spoto, “He used sound like no-one else I’ve ever known … He really scored the sound effects the way a musician writes for instruments” (Spoto, 1983: 271). Indeed the film is notable for the overlapping dialogue during the family scenes that remind us of Citizen Kane and that deepens the doubling theme at its centre. Wood comments that “the most striking characteristic of the Spencers [sic] is the separateness of each member; the recurring point of the celebrated overlapping dialogue is that no one ever listens to what the other is saying. Each is locked in a separate fantasy world…” (Wood, 1989: 299-300). Michie claims that Wood’s mistake in the family’s name is symptomatic of his inability to distance himself from the domestic ideology espoused by Uncle Charlie. Michie: 39-40). Wright said of her experience with Hitchcock, “His direction never came across as instruction. We felt we could trust him, and he gave us guidance and sense of freedom. He was very calm, as if we were just making a contribution to something that had been completely foreseen” (Spoto, 1983: 270).

Wright and Cotten would be re-teamed a decade later in another noir, The Steel Trap (Stone, 1952) and Cotten would make an impression in other noir roles, and was cast once again by Hitchcock in Under Capricorn (1949), opposite Hitchcock favourite Ingrid Bergman, but that is another story.

In the script, Mrs Newton expresses disquiet to her husband after the uncomfortable dinner. “It’s as though something strange were going on… You and Herb are so clever solving things, can’t you find out what’s the matter now?” (116) This doesn’t make it into the film. Meanwhile, Uncle Charlie follows his niece through the town in a duplication of her earlier daytime excursions and a second take on a nocturnal exploration that has led her to the newspaper story about the Merry Widow murderer. Once again she runs into the traffic cop and almost gets knocked down at the pedestrian crossing in her rush to get away. She introduces him to Uncle Charlie as he jokes he’ll give her a speeding ticket. They are followed by a frontal tracking shot, replicating those shots that introduced us to Uncle Charlie in Philadelphia. He grabs Young Charlie by the arm, hurting her, dragging her to the Til Two Bar (the Have-One in the script).

The scalpel is applied with cruel precision to the small town. The drab empty streets of noir are there in the New Jersey/Philadelphia scenes; while Uncle Charles introduces Young Charlie to the seamy side of town at the bar where a careworn classmate (Louise) has worked – for two weeks (and serves double brandies) and becomes the location where he reveals his true self.)


Why do you make me come in here?


What does it matter where you are? (SoD: 119)

The city is his milieu; the small town so clearly hers. This incursion to the other side of the tracks demonstrates the real distance between the worlds they inhabit and perfectly illustrates the way in which the generic structure of the film works: he represents the dark and night, she the light and day. It is horribly apt that the locus of confrontation take place in his habitat, dark, smoky, enclosed, with her alter ego, former classmate Louise, who has crossed over into this world of sleaze. Young Charlie looks down at her uncle’s hands “with a fixed stare” and there is a close up of them “clenching and unclenching” while he appeals to her common sense about the situation.


… You’re the head of your family, really. Anybody can see that.


Staring transfixed at his hands.


He becomes aware that she is gazing at his hands. He slowly withdraws them from the table and hides them. (SoD: 122)

When he asks her what she knows, “she fumbles in her handbag.”


Draws the ring from her handbag and places it on the table between them. CAMERA PANS UP to her face – for the first time she looks at him steadily. His eyes flicker down to the ring, and he looks back at her.

(SoD: 123)

They are interrupted by Louise with her tray of drinks and she recognises the jewel’s worth immediately. However she does not understand its significance. She is given the deathless line – “I’d die for a ring like that” in a wonderful instance of foreshadowing (just not her own, at least as far we can tell). “Someone will,” remarks Young Charlie (SoD: 124).


You think you know something, don’t you? You think you’re the clever little girl that knows something. But there’s so much you don’t know. So much. (he takes the ring and puts it in his pocket) What do you know, really? You’re just an ordinary little girl living in an ordinary little town. You get up every day of your life, and you know there’s not going to be a thing in the world to trouble you. You go through your ordinary little day, and at night you sleep your untroubled, ordinary little sleep filled with pleasant, stupid dreams. I brought you the nightmares? Or did I? Or was it a silly unexpert little lie? You live in a dream. You’re a sleepwalker… blind. What do you know about the world? Do you know that it’s a foul sty? Do you know that if you rip away the fronts of houses you’ll find swine? The world is a hell. What does it matter what happens in it? You’re afraid to wake up. Afraid to learn. Are you silly enough to imagine that what I’ve done is important to anyone? Wake up. Use your wits. Learn something.

(SoD: 124-5)

This incredible monologue delivered in a sinister monotone invokes all the symbolism we are accustomed to encountering in German Expressionism as well as exposing Uncle Charlie’s own demented hatred for everything and everyone he encounters in his path. And of course he is warning his niece to Wake Up. We recall our introduction to Young Charlie, prone on her bed, staring at the ceiling, pondering her situation, and could easily replay her uncle’s words. We are also conscious of du Maurier’s dreamy heroine, confined to domestic oblivion, wishing for adventure. And we flash forward to Bruno, lying in wait for Guy on his father’s bed in Strangers on a Train, and how easy it is for a weak or vulnerable character to be manipulated into a killer’s plans. Charlie is the daydreamer who needs to awaken as we are reminded so regularly throughout the text.

He reasons with her:


Charlie, the same blood flows through our veins.

And she agrees to give him a headstart because otherwise it would kill her mother (her Achilles heel in this narrative).


I count on you. Don’t forget. You said it yourself. We’re not any ordinary uncle and niece. No matter what I’ve done … we’re twins.
(the last phrase is not in the film).

Young Charlie takes a swift look at him. She stops, frightened.

(SoD: 127)

Set shot

In the script Mrs Newton tells her brother about his niece, “She’s like you. Like you when you were little.” Charlie’s quiet. “You’ve changed, Charles, but I love you anyway.” His expression changes and he comments, “Yes, I’ve changed.” (SoD: 129) This does not appear in the film. Young Charlie is sobbing on the porch. A two-page on-the-nose scene between Jack and Saunders planning their next action is excised in the film in favour of simply showing the action: in front of the church (another bastion of community) they approach Ann as they wait for Young Charlie to appear. Jack directs Ann to stop being “literary” when she asks if he and her father are in a feud. While Saunders commands Young Charlie’s attention, Jack asks Ann to tell him the plot of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (133) but in the film he says, “Tell Catherine the story of Dracula.” Once again we are reminded of the roots of the story in the Gothic tradition, literary and cinematic. Saunders tells Young Charlie they saved the photographic film and her uncle can be identified back East if it’s him they’re after. They’ve wired the photo and are now waiting for a response. “Funny if he turned out to be the wrong man,” says Saunders. He gives her the option to tell Uncle Charlie to get out of town fast: two hours, to be precise. Ann is playing on the sidewalk, chanting, “Step on a crack, you’ll break your mother’s back” (134A). This reminds us that, above all, this is a family matter with Emma’s sensitivities the main concern of her older daughter. Saunders has made friends with Ann: “we play games. I ask questions and Ann knows all the answers. The only thing is, I can’t make out what she knows and what she’s making up.” And this recalls Uncle Charlie’s introduction to the family and Ann’s immediate dislike of a relation she barely remembers but instinctively dislikes. Now as she affects the manner of a Southern lady, she casts aspersions on her neighbours: “You know, I don’t think people here have much charm” (135). It is her instincts and her inclination towards the written word that help solve the mystery.

Back at the house Mr Newton and Herbie are having their customary exchange, this time on a familiar subject: the whereabouts of the Merry Widow Murderer. Young Charlie and Uncle Charlie overhear them and discover that a radio newscast has revealed that the supposed culprit met a grisly end courtesy of an airplane propeller running from the police in Portland, Maine. “I never cared much for that case,” declares Mr Newton. (137) Whereas Uncle Charlie is living out his fantasy as a nightmare version of a ladies’ man, these two smalltown gentlemen simply cannot cope with the visceral reality of the serial killer who unbeknownst to them is actually in their midst: projecting their murderous dreams into the everyday simply doesn’t sit with their lived experience. Uncle Charlie merely straightens his tie and says he could eat a good dinner. In the house, he pauses at the top of the stairs and looks back down.

Young Charlie Empowered


Standing at the foot of the stairs – looking up at him – a tiny accusing figure.


His expression changes – his eyes waver for a moment then turn away self-consciously and he slowly resumes his journey upstairs.

(SoD: 138)

The images are simple but packed with dread of what is to come. This is the film’s second turning point.

Staircases, hallways, rooftops are the liminal spaces and areas of transition that convey information about Uncle Charlie’s perspective. In Philadelphia he adopts a bird’s eye view of the detectives from the top of a building, which indicates his superiority (and hints at the supernatural): he embodies the predatory male gaze. When he arrives in Santa Rosa he checks the view from Young Charlie’s bedroom that secures his vantage point over the street below (SoD: 32). When Uncle Charlie recognises that Young Charlie might not play along with his scheme, they remain separated in low angle shots, he staring down from the top of the stair, she remaining at the front door. For Elsaesser, the use of staircases in mise-en-scène is a reminder of German Jessnertreppe:

This letting-the-emotions-rise and then cringing them suddenly down with a thump is an extreme example of dramatic discontinuity, and a similar vertiginous drop in the emotional temperature punctuates a good many melodramas – almost invariably played out against the vertical axis of a staircase.

(Elsaesser, 1987: 60)

Doane says that “the staircase in the paranoid woman’s film also (and sometimes simultaneously); becomes the passageway to the ‘image of the worst’ or ‘screen of the worst’, in Bonitzer’s terms” (Doane in Gledhill, 1987: 288). For Yacowar, “stairs compel movement and with it, fear …” (Yacowar, 2008: 205). The outdoor staircase at the Newton family home turns the house dangerously inside out and might be read as an objective correlative of the canker that lurks within. It is notable that Uncle Charlie doesn’t make an attempt on Young Charlie’s life within the home: it is in structures adjacent – on the outdoor staircase and the garage, until the final, ghastly failure. For Yacowar, “Hitchcock’s stairs take his characters and his audience to the fears, dangers and rewards of self-discovery” (Yacowar,: 204). This gains further traction when considered here. When Young Charlie trips down the broken step – carefully arranged by her uncle – she enacts a scene straight out of Nancy Drew and examines the stair late at night with the aid of a torch replicating the iconic image from the publications’ endpapers and spine. Yacowar extends the metaphor: “The two-staired house works as an image of the human psyche and as an image of a societal ideal, both of which project a front that is more attractive and safer than their hidden natures” (Yacowar: 205).

The staircase scenes here replicate the many scenes of mis/recognition that populate the woman’s film, one of the era’s most popular melodramatic genres. Doane says it is this space “which articulates the connection between the familiar and the unfamiliar, or between neurosis and psychosis” (Doane, 1987: 135-6). Here, the protagonist frequently meets her mirror image – the bad seed – in a form of cliffhanging confrontation on a staircase. In Hitchcock, the heroine frequently takes a staircase to somewhere she doesn’t want to go. This occurs many times in Shadow and would of course be taken to its ne plus ultra in Psycho as well as The Birds (1963). This is of course a reminder of what Hitchcock took from German Expressionism and we are given a familiarity with the internal presentation of the house which is a major component of the Gothic paradigm. For Kim Newman, “the key to the Gothic is that a rambling old house is a complex map: to the state of a madman’s mind, to the intricacies of a mystery of conspiracy, to the condition (usually in decay ) of a family or a society … the broken mind of whoever made it and whoever wants to live there” (Newman, 2015: 17).

According to Roger Ebert

Not many directors were fonder of staircases than Sir Alfred. They impose a hierarchy of power and weakness. A character at the top of the stairs can seem to loom or be in danger of toppling, depending on whether the POV is high and low. The flow at the house goes up the sidewalk, onto the porch, through the door and directly up the stairs. There are outside stairs in the back, and both staircases are used for tight little sequences of threat and escape. Notice how many variations of camera angles and lighting Hitchcock uses with the stairs. He considered them an ideal device for introducing imbalance into otherwise horizontal interiors. So important were they to him, so memorably used, that I can name some of his titles and if you’ve seen them you will instantly recall the stairs: Notorious, Psycho, Strangers on a Train, Frenzy and of course Vertigo.

(Ebert, 2011: unpaginated)

As Uncle Charlie paces his bedroom, underscored by stressfully high-pitched music, he drops his cigar and his hands imply that he wants to strangle the object of his gaze – Young Charlie: he notices Jack arrive to pay her a visit. For Barton, “images of involuntary hand movements comment on his mental instability” (Gottlieb, 1995: 171). Conrad remarks that “Hitchcock characters can look through their windows with impunity” (Conrad: 345). When the couple disappears from his view annoyance is etched in his face. Jack announces to Young Charlie what she already knows (the police are definitely not the object of affection here). “I want to pretend that nothing ever happened,” she responds. They enter the garage where she looks for her mother’s gloves – she’s lost them. This again is an instance of clever foreshadowing. The door is banged shut. McLaughlin suggests this is an “indictment of the family as a trap, if not a tomb” (McLaughlin: 149). They agree to get involved romantically but Young Charlie rejects talk of marriage. “I just don’t know yet.” She is young, we agree, but is this an instance of Hitchcock’s evocation of female frigidity? When they open the door, Uncle Charlie is outside, smoking and pacing back and forth in the garden. He is visibly relieved when he realises that his niece is the reason for Jack’s proposed return. However he grabs Young Charlie’s chin in one very odd gesture: “I can understand you coming back. Charlie’s a fine girl. She’s the thing I love most in the world.” Jack promises him they will one day talk about freedom when Uncle Charlie says he wants to discuss the Rights of Man. (In the script this is followed by a diversion to the house where Jack returns the glove to Mrs Newton. She tells Jack that when they were children Uncle Charlie “ played a dreadful joke on a whole town full of people. Just like a bad boy” (147). When Jack calls goodbye, he says “Take good care of her!” and Uncle Charlie retorts, “I will! I certainly will!” This would prove too on-the-nose for inclusion in the film.

In the next scene, she trips down the outside stairs while going through a shopping list for her mother. Uncle Charlie is watching the incident, unobserved, from the upper verandah.


Charlie, you might have broken your neck.


Yes, I might have broken my neck.

A shadow of fear crosses her face as she looks up again toward the top of the stairs.

(SoD: 150)

In the film Emma simply says, “Oh darling you might have been killed.” The next scene is excised, in which the family play games in the sitting room, Emma quizzes Roger if he took a screw out of the staircase and Uncle Charlie wishes for electric eyes that could see straight into houses and promises his sister a brand new home with all the new gadgets; instead we cut straight to Young Charlie examining the stair. Uncle Charlie is watching, as ever. She advances upstairs and the frame is split evenly between them, shadows enveloping them both. She asks him when he’s leaving town. He’s not. He wants to be a part of the family. (157) He chides her for believing her suspicions about him.


… And what have you to tell? Who’d believe you? A waltz runs through your head. You don’t like the initials in a ring. You connect it all up with a newspaper clipping. And now you haven’t the ring. I don’t know what became of it.


You have it.


Have I? Oh, no, my dear. I gave it to you.


I don’t want you here, Uncle Charlie. I don’t want you to touch my mother. I don’t want to live with a lie. So … go away. I’m warning you. Go away. Or I’ll kill myself. You see, that’s the way I feel about you.

She stares at him a moment, then plunges out of the room. Uncle Charlie smiles coolly, then has his belated reaction of rage.

(SoD: 158)

Death of a Ladies’ Man

Uncle Charlie exits the garage, where the car engine is running and there’s a close up of the exhaust pipe. The door is pushed shut. He smokes a cigar whilst strolling about the garden. The garage has been established as Young Charlie’s domain – she is the driver in the family; it is there that she comes to an agreement about a future romance with Jack Graham. The family descends the stairs to the hallway as Uncle Charlie enters through the front door. We hear again that Joe Newton “can’t drive.” It’s time for Uncle Charlie to give his lecture to the local women and the family gathers in the lounge and transportation arrangements are being made – Uncle Charlie wants the family to take a taxi while Young Charlie and he are to take the family car. She insists that he go in the taxi but he directs her to get the car from the garage: she can listen to his speech en route, “my severest critic”. (It’s never made clear on what subject he might speak.) Young Charlie pleads with her mother to ride with her. She enters the fume-filled garage and can’t find the key for the ignition. The garage door shuts. She can’t open it and begins to choke.

Back in the house, Uncle Charlie walks down the staircase and shuts the window in the lounge. In the script his sister says she will tell the gathering that he changed his name to ‘Chapman O’Halloran’ ten years ago (tallying with the conversation Joe and Herbie had about the presumed Merry Widows murderer killed by the airplane propeller back East.) Uncle Charlie’s response is to turn off the news on the radio and tuning into music, playing it at ear-splitting volume. Herbie rushes in announcing that someone is caught in the garage and the door is blocked. (In the script he says it is ‘Charlie’.) Uncle Charlie gets out there first and kicks a stick away from the base of the door and enters the garage, returning the key to the car’s ignition (we do not see where he has obtained it) He carries Young Charlie outside. He presides over her prone body and instructs Joe to get whisky from his bureau. Ann flings herself at her sister’s feet, crying.


What is it, Charlie? What are you trying to say?

(faintly, but with unmistakeable hatred)

Go away. Go away.


She wants you, Emmy.

Young Charlie is metaphorically raised from the dead in her mother’s care.


You had a wonderful escape, Charlie. Someone must have left the engine running. Or did you start the car yourself and try to warm the engine up? They say this sort of accident is most common.

(SoD: 168)

The last three lines of this dialogue are cut in the scene. In the film, Young Charlie says, “I couldn’t find the key to turn it off.” He retorts, “The key was there when I went in.” Herbie interjects, “Lucky thing I passed by.” Mrs Newton ignores him and tells her brother, “You saved her. You kept your head. You knew just what to do” (169). Uncle Charlie is an example perhaps of the dislocation that occurs when the external world no longer supports the internal – his world appears to have altered irrevocably when as a young boy he suffered that accident and no longer read books. Ann believes that everything in books is true. Mr Newton and Herbie’s lives revolve around solving crimes but in truth the Merry Widow case horrifies them. Herbie does not have the emotional investment in the crime even if he is the one who saves Charlie in her uncle’s second murder attempt, as he blithely comments, “Don’t know why I happened to come around that way” (he does it every evening at the same time) (169); Mr Newton acknowledges what he has done. Young Charlie has dark desires of her own, even if she can’t quite taxonomise them. (With the later girl detective in To Catch a Thief we know that deep in her heart, Grace Kelly is larcenous with desire.) This is where they have led her: the ultimate family reunion.

Her mother wants her to see a doctor but Young Charlie insists that they all take the taxi while she remains at home. Mrs Newton expresses her puzzlement on the edge of the car seat.


I just don’t understand it. First the stairs …

(SoD: 171)

Young Charlie enters the hallway and tries to track down Jack Graham on the numbers he left: she makes three unsuccessful attempts. The camera is close on the first call. The second is in a long shot, while the third is an overhead, through the banisters on the staircase. Young Charlie can’t make contact with him – a negative bookend to the call when she and Uncle Charlie had a ‘telepathic’ connection. Jack can never save her – she must save herself. In the script the calls are broken up with excerpts of Uncle Charlie’s lecture, and he declares that “American women … are the most unspoiled women on earth…” Young Charlie hurries upstairs to the accompaniment of a rushing musical crescendo and enters her bedroom. She searches through her uncle’s things until she locates – the emerald ring. In the script Uncle Charlie then announces to his rapt female audience, “I guess I don’t have to tell you, that there isn’t a man in the world who could live without women? Can you imagine a world without women? What a place it would be!” (172)

The stage is set for a showdown. From an angle at the top of the stairs the family open the front door with their guests. Young Charlie leaves her bedroom, ring in hand, and calls down to them. (In the script her mother comes upstairs to ask if she’s alright.) The minister addresses the gathering in the lounge and Mrs Newton brings in a tray of sandwiches. Uncle Charlie pours the delighted guests some champagne. The bank manager proposes a toast to him. He appears to be hovering in on Mrs Potter, the wealthy widow. Just as he is proposing his own toast – Young Charlie makes her entrance, pausing mid-descent so that he can get a clear view of the emerald ring on her right hand, poised on the banister. (We are removed to remember the horrible staircase scene in Rebecca when Joan Fontaine is costumed in her predecessor’s outfit as Lady Caroline de Winter. Now the tables are turned in favour of the Gothic heroine.) In the script there is an aside when Dr Phillips remarks about carbon monoxide poisoning and Mrs Newton attributes her daughter’s survival to the ‘miracle’ of her brother’s presence.(175/175A) This is excluded from the film. The camera moves in to a close up on the ring. It is a startling moment. We flash back at ‘I’ playing at Lady Caroline de Winter in her predecessor’s costume in Rebecca: now the heroine turns the tables. Uncle Charlie gets the message. He raises his glass to his niece and announces his departure. Mrs Newton gasps.


I didn’t want to spoil your fun tonight, Emmy darling. But I got a letter today. Have to leave on the early morning train to San Francisco. I’m going to miss you, Emmy but (raising his voice as though he were again speaking from the platform) I want you all to know that I will always think of this lovely town as a place of hospitality, kindness and homes. Homes.

His eyes go to Young Charlie again.


Her expression changes to one of hope and relief. CAMERA PANS DOWN – she takes the ring from her finger and slips it into a small bag.

(SoD: 177)

Mrs Newton’s response is one of devastation. “… it’s been just the idea that we were together again.” There is a close up of Young Charlie: “a look of pity on her face.” For Michie, this film, along with The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), “this extreme pressure [to function as an emblem or voice of family unity] is shown to elicit not the reinforcement of domestic ideals but the expression of maternal desires those ideals are meant to suppress” (Michie: 48). Nostalgia is combined with the suggestion of an incestuous roleplay that is the family legacy. Her mother explains to the guests that they were separated for such a long time “and when he came back, he was so exactly as I prayed he might be….” (178) By the oddest and happiest of coincidences, Mrs Potter happens to be travelling on the same train to San Francisco. Young Charlie is stricken with horror.

We assume a degree of safety now. The mad bad serial killer is leaving the cosy town and normal service will resume.

Hitchcock’s Haunted House is Filled with Stuffed Birds

The assembly of pieces of film to create fright is the essential part of my job, just as a painter would, by putting certain colours together,
create evil on canvas.

-Alfred Hitchcock

Conrad refers to Hitchcock’s view of editing as surgical, like a form of vivisection.

Films assembled the stories they told in a new and non-consecutive way. The world is chopped into fragment, then pieced back together. Having learned the technique of editing, Hitchcock discovered that it was a rehearsal for murder. (Conrad, 2000: 142)

His habit of shooting only what he wanted seen in the final cut onscreen frustrated David Selznick, who nonetheless supervised the editing of Rebecca. As much as German Expressionism had fed Hitchcock, he was equally indebted to the lessons of Soviet montage. Durgnat contends:

Hitchcock remembered Kuleshov, of whom hardly any American directors had ever heard, and whose theories they would have dismissed as precious and airy-fairy if they had, and knew that to juxtapose is enough to create a connection. To cut between two unconnected people is enough to set the riddle. How can these disparate people be connected? Thereafter, of course, the connection must gradually be expounded, in terms of audience philosophy and expectation. But Hitchcock
always retained immense freedom to make connections without, or alongside, narrative and verbal constructions. But in Shadow of a Doubt, Hitchcock shows himself a real belts-and-braces man, using a dense verbo-narrative mesh (the synchronous telegrams) to establish connections and affinities with which his aesthetic preferences would incline him to dispense.

(Durgnat: 187)

It is fundamental to our knowledge of Hitchcock that we would see the offstage backstory of Uncle Charlie created expressed in an editing motif, in this case the lap dissolve, a technique famously used to introduce Xanadu in Citizen Kane. Bordwell and Thompson define the dissolve as “a transition between two shots during which the first image gradually disappears while the second image gradually appears; for a moment the two images blend in superimposition” (Bordwell and Thompson, 1997: 478). Hitchcock’s method of assembling small pieces of films and ignoring the Hollywood methodology of master shots and coverage was a means of self-protection that integrated his storytelling style with his editing technique, frequently cutting from long shots to close ups and placing particular emphasis on physical details. Therefore it is easier for us to understand Uncle Charlie as a projection of Young Charlie’s repressed character, her desire for escape, for the expression of something she cannot yet understand. And for Uncle Charlie, Young Charlie comes to represent a version of the Merry Widows.

Gates theorizes the situation in terms of genre:

The gender of the female detective complicates the traditionally male noir detective narrative, resulting in a hybridization of generic conventions. The narrative is driven forward as much by the female protagonist’s personal desires (as in the woman’s film) as by her investigation (as in the detective film); however, at the same time, the heroine’s independence as a detective poses an undesirable challenge to the masculinity of her husband as does the femme fatale in film noir). Just as the woman’s film dubbed a ‘maternal melodrama’ by scholars demands a woman make personal sacrifices to facilitate her daughter’s success in the world, so too do these noir films with female detectives demand the sacrifice on the part of the female protagonist to see the man she loves returned to his ‘proper’ place as head of the household.

(Gates, 2011: 164)

In Menard’s analysis, our interest in Hitchcock stems from

those narratives that involve ironic inversion, and often such narratives function with the subversion of morality. In both Psycho and Frenzy, which are two ironically inverted narratives, the inversions of the moral coordinates take place in situations where the possibility of romance is extinguished by the killing off of the heroines. In Psycho, we root for the villainous hero, Norman Bates, when he tries to sink the car containing the heroine’s corpse to the bottom of the swamp. The same is true in _Frenzy_…

(Menard, 2008, part 2)

Daniel Arijon defines a dissolve as “a combination of a fade out and a fade in, superimposed on the same strip of film” (Arijon, 1986: 579). He continues: “A rapid dissolve gives a fairly sharp transition from one scene to another. Slow dissolves can relate the mood of two scenes to one another. If the overlapping portion is extended the dissolve is prolonged, perhaps to stress an intense nostalgic or poetic mood. The combination of a fade out and a fade in is used to obtain apparitions on a screen” (Arijon: 580).


In the paranoid woman’s genre, “the ‘crimes’ investigated by the films in many cases, tend not to have occurred but to be about to be committed. This serves to intensify the paranoia, locating the crime in the (woman’s) imagination” (Krutnik, 1991: 195). The conjunction between the past and Young Charlie’s growing suspicion and developing investigation forms the bedrock of the entire narrative. Our perception of both Charlie and her uncle and our sympathy for both characters is masterfully achieved. The offstage backstory summoned up in the regular lap dissolves to the Merry Widow waltz constitutes the crucial familial links that govern Young Charlie’s decision to remain implicated in her uncle’s life of crime. (They occur four times: during the title sequence when the dancers dissolve to the bridge that suggests the East-West connection; at twenty-four minutes when Young Charlie is humming the waltz at dinner; at fifty-eight minutes during the library sequence, when Young Charlie’s suspicions are confirmed by the newspaper story; and finally at one hundred and one minutes, during Uncle Charlie’s attempt to murder Young Charlie on the train that is supposed to take him away from Santa Rosa. The erupting of dancers in Victorian dress into the narrative summons up several ideas at once: Uncle Charlie’s guilt; Young Charlie’s intuitiveness and her connectedness (‘telepathy’) with her uncle; Hitchcock’s own preoccupation with the Victorian; and the editing process itself and its role in eliding, negating, joining, reconstructing nostalgia, facts, history and story elements, all at once. Thomson criticises it, declaring that it “becomes intolerable” (Thomson, 2008: 774). That same intolerability is described as “a disturbance of the narrative flow that is very unusual in a film of the forties,” by author James McLaughlin (Deutelbaum and Poague, 1986: 149-150). It is a suggestion of Young Charlie’s untapped instinct for murder. If we are to offer a descriptor we might say that this device is a measure of the angle of incidence between Charlie and her uncle, between innocence and experience, an insistent rhythmic reminder of the distance between this seemingly similar pair conjoined in a dance of death rhymed with the dissonance of past and present, nostalgia and realism.

In a great film, theme declares itself in the climax. It is the sum of all the dramatic elements, of characterization, mood, action and, most importantly, transformation, which come together in the shape and end result of a particular climactic movement.

(Linda Cowgill: 68)

If we accept that the protagonist or their world alters over the course of the story then ultimately the antagonist must stage a physical encounter to halt their battle of wills. So, we exit where Uncle Charlie entered Santa Rosa.

Uncle Charlie’s handiwork

In describing how to create a great antagonist, analyst Jeff Flattum advises:

… in creating a character, what could be more dramatic than unraveling the psychopath, watching them become undone, so to speak. And once the psychopath implodes, the character usually ends up dead.

(Flattum, 2013: unpaginated)

There’s only room for one Charlie in this story. It is clear that Uncle Charlie has to kill his niece. It is also clear that Young Charlie has to kill her uncle: there can be no doubt of it – it’s her or him between those train carriages and her use of her ankle and then her gloved hands to save herself and trip him up in his third murder attempt (three time’s the charm!) is the key to her survival. As story analyst Karel Segers cautions in dual protagonist stories, “The most important way to distinguish characters from each other is by their objectives” (Segers: unpaginated). The change from the script – in which it was clarified that the detectives have boarded the train with the intention of making an arrest – heightens our suspicion that this pair are very much two halves of the same complementary whole whose ultimate aim is the destruction of the other in order that they can survive. Neither of this story’s Charlies is in concert with their environment. Both must ultimately seek their thrills elsewhere. And one has pushed the other to a particularly grisly death, sawn in two by a train. It just wasn’t the Charlie that we expected. In basic psychological terms, set up in the screenplay in the faux stages of ‘courtship’ and ‘marriage,’ it is necessary to dispose of Uncle Charlie in order that Young Charlie may attain completion and become her real self. This is the arc of the female Gothic narrative and it is one to which Hitchcock was again returning for the first time since Rebecca, exposing an interest in psychoanalysis further explored in Spellbound (1945), in this discourse on identity and misrecognition of the self.

As far as being the primary investigator, Philippa Gates finds

Unlike Nancy Drew, the adolescent detective in the 1940s is changed by her experiences of investigating murder and of questioning her seemingly stable world. And, once the mystery is solved and the transition to adulthood is complete, it is assumed that – unlike Nancy Drew – the young women will give up detecting for marriage. Charlie’s last step in growing up is to give up her childish notion of Uncle Charles as her ideal man and accept the reality of Jack as her future husband.

(Gates, 2011: 173)

In the script the scene at the railway station the following morning has the detectives watching proceedings from a safe distance: “There he is all right – the great Chapman O’Higgins,” as Saunders has it (179). This is a symmetrical echo of the stakeout that introduces the film but is not included. Instead we go straight to the first parting outside the house where the great and the good bid their esteemed visitor farewell and thank him for his large donation to the children’s hospital. “The children will bless you, too, in all the years to come” (180). Herbie alerts them to the train’s arrival and the shot fades into the railway platform where the final departure occurs. Uncle Charlie says goodbye to Mr and Mrs Newton and urges the children board to see a private compartment for the first time. He keeps Young Charlie with him after ushering them off the train. It starts out of the station and in a change to much of the remaining dialogue, Uncle Charlie tells her she is right to make him leave; it’s best for her mother. Young Charlie says she wants to forget. She looks at his hands and cries out, “Let me go Uncle Charlie!” He says “I’ve got to do this, Charlie. So long as you know what you do about me.” They struggle and the train goes faster and faster as there is a lap dissolve to the Edwardian dancers reinforces the past’s influence on the present. In the script Young Charlie screams, “You’re mad. You’re a madman!” (193) In another corridor, Saunders and Graham are looking out the window. This is not in the film.


with the swiftly passing rails beyond. With a tremendous effort she manages to force herself round and get a hold of the iron rail.


She twists herself round until she is in a crouching position.

(SoD: 193/194)

In the script, Saunders and Graham see the struggle just as Uncle Charlie’s grip loosens and he falls through the opening in the path of an oncoming train. The lap dissolve to the Victorian dancers occurs here on page 194.

A funeral procession curls around the town square. The close ups of the family in the limousines and their entry to the church are not in the film.

Segers continues: “The different roles of the protagonists makes the Hero Team work well in film. They work together and each have [sic] different skills…” (Ibid.). As Jack talks to Young Charlie after the funeral, his hand in hers, looking up to her, standing on a step above him (morally, we presume) we see in her furrowed brow her growing dissatisfaction, with life, with her home town and its limitations, and we somehow begin to understand the rage that might have driven her uncle with the skull injury to seek a different kind of life, if not the resultant notoriety (or inglorious ending). The space in which Young Charlie can find her own level with Jack Graham is determined by this paradoxical killing of his prey, while wearing gloves that enable her to secure a grip on the train carriage. Hitchcock therefore undermines the patriarchy by unleashing the teen sleuth’s inner killer instinct, a situation that expresses Tania Modleski’s assertions of his perverting of the conventional male-female order (Modleski, 1988: 13-15). Young Charlie is probably more Judy Bolton than Nancy Drew. Like all of Hitchcock’s women, she learns that marriage is murder. Richard H. Millington classifies it amongst those of Hitchcock’s “richest American movies, which attempt to arrive at an account of the distinctive American middle-class culture by examining the forms and emotions of behaviour that give shape to character… explore the varieties of middle-class entrapment, following their troubled protagonists as they negotiate a terrain configured by the interlinked authority structures – psychic, familial, social, sexual – that endanger pleasure and freedom” (Freedman and Millington, 1999: 135).

Kevin Jack Hagopian locates the significance of the film, describing it as

Hitchcock’s first fully realized cinema masterpiece, a grim, sad picture of American docility and Babbittry. The film moved Hitchcock out of the category of mere genre director and into the realm of the essayist on the universal fears and discontents of his species. In the process, Shadow of a Doubt slanders that most cherished of American landscapes, the small town. That such a thorough critique of American mores appeared when other directors were enshrining rather than embalming these standards, seems nothing short of incredible.

(Hagopian: unpaginated)

Critic Bosley Crowther’s New York Times review both praises and criticises, as one might expect:

Yes, the way Mr. Hitchcock folds suggestions very casually into the furrows of his film, the way he can make a torn newspaper or the sharpened inflection of a person’s voice send ticklish roots down to the subsoil of a customer’s anxiety, is a wondrous, invariable accomplishment. And the mental anguish he can thereby create, apparently in the minds of his characters but actually in the psyche of you, is of championship proportions and—being hokum, anyhow— a sheer delight.

But when Mr. Hitchcock and/or his writers start weaving allegories in his films or, worse still, neglect to spring surprises after the ground has apparently been prepared, the consequence is something less than cheering. And that is the principal fault—or rather, the sole disappointment—in Shadow of a Doubt. (Crowther, 1943: 18)

He continues: “It also becomes a bit too specious in making a moralistic show of the warmth of an American community toward an unsuspected rascal in its midst. We won’t violate tradition to tell you how the story ends, but we will say that the moral is either anti-social or, at best, obscure.” As Daniel Garrett notes, the critic “sensed some vaguely anti-social message” (Garrett, 2015: unpaginated). We find ourselves at some distance from the world of Andy Hardy. Biographer John Russell Taylor reports that composer Dimitri Tiomkin was disturbed following a preview of the film “because the audience giggled in one or two unexpected places. Not Hitch: he was delighted because it showed they were really tense and uncomfortable” (Taylor: 320). As he told Truffaut, “the girl will be in love with her Uncle Charlie for the rest of her life” (Truffaut: 155).

Leff locates the film’s significance in the changing role of Hitchcock himself:

The slow evolution of the screenplay and the unhurried pace of principal photography stretched Hitchcock’s time with Skirball from eighteen to twenty-six weeks. Yet Shadow of a Doubt demonstrated that Hitchcock could produce: his control over story, performance, cinematography, and post-production resulted in triumphant success.

(Leff: 107)

We could interpret the ending in meta-cinematic fashion: having been forced to change the climax of Suspicion for the censor (despite Spoto’s contention that the director had lied) –Joan Fontaine wasn’t mad after all, Cary Grant really was going to murder her!)– and disproving Laura Mulvey’s claims about the film’s patriarchal ideology, Uncle Charlie’s predatory gaze dominates the first part of the film, but this is structurally altered and our sympathies move to Young Charlie. Nothing is quite what it seems. The intertwining halves have not been completely severed, perhaps they never can. Hitchcock was making amends to his newest female investigator and reclaiming the guts of the nineteenth century Gothic narrative, privileging her with the ultimate act in decisions concerning mortality. The Gothic paradigm is to free the heroine from her entrapment. Rebecca ends with the trumping of the female by the masculine point of view, so there’s another wrong righted. It is a refutation of the patriarchal, a statement about what women want, an epistle of the feminine.

The whole point is to kill off the star.

-Alfred Hitchcock

The suggestion of ambivalence; the pessimism; the troubling family; the allegorical twists; the misogyny; the overt critique of patriarchy; the skewed Americana; this patchwork of elements was first mooted here in a coherent sense, linked with a tone of anxiety and suspicion to form a complex basis from which Hitchcock’s future work would be viewed. It is within this context that we understand Shadow as not just a transitional but a transformative work in the canon. His signature was altering yet again from the comic thriller and the cinema of sensation and moving towards something like a cinema of emotion. We can also see clearly the expression of the doubling component that is such a feature of the Nouvelle Vague, that first (distinctly apolitical) movement of filmmakers developed under Hitchcock’s own long shadow, and some of whose auteurist avocations would lead him to doubt his own abilities as well as forcing him to strike out again in more, new and experimental styles, with mixed results.

Gordon McDonell wrote to the director expressing his delight with the finished film, complimenting him particularly on the close-up on Cotten until he looks into the camera, the staircase and library scenes. “Everything about it was so utterly right. Script, dialogue, acting, casting — and as for the music and the way you handled the camera: — that was everything” (Auiler: 96). He continues: “you had there a story which you, being an artist, would see in your own way and in nobody else’s way” (Auiler: 97).

In the mid-1950s Hitchcock began a different phase of his career: the Film Director as Superstar 2 . He inhabited every American living room with the success of his weekly TV suspense series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, in an extraordinarily profitable deal negotiated by superagent Lew Wasserman. (Wasserman’s role in shaping Hollywood output is traced in two notable publications, Connie Bruck’s When Hollywood had a King: The Reign of Lew Wasserman, Who Leveraged Talent into Power and Influence, 2004; and Denis McDougal’s The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA and the Hidden History of Hollywood, 1998. McDougal claims: “Under Wasserman, Hitchcock became a grotesque caricature of his former glory”: 347. These volumes give the auteurist much pause for thought.) The director commented that “the invention of television can be compared to the introduction of indoor plumbing. Fundamentally it brought no change to the public’s habits. It simply eliminated the necessity of leaving the house” (Gottlieb, 1995: 57).

Now everybody’s home was subject to a weekly fright night. Or, as Conrad puts it, “Hitchcock brought fear home to us” (Conrad: 331). The director was fast becoming the world’s most recognisable filmmaker by virtue of that and a succession of lucrative publishing deals. For those of us too young to see his films, we first came to know him via his imprimatur on The Three Investigators book series (1964-87), covering the adventures of juveniles solving mysteries usually originating in a Los Angeles scrapyard, with the director’s bookending cameo appearances replicating those pleasingly familiar shots of him we would come to anticipate in his films. 3 In Shadow, he makes his appearance during a game of rummy on the train, holding all the cards. Which is more or less where we came in. As Menard clarifies about Hitchcock’s work in its entirety,

… classical suspense is not important, though it certainly contains some of it; what gives the so-called distinctiveness to Hitchcock’s suspense is the way that it hooks up with conventional morality, and more particularly, into the morality of melodrama in the broader sense.


Hitchcock subverts the normal coordinates to classically omniscient suspense, doing so by drawing a wedge between the spectator’s sense of morality and his/her expected response.

(Menard, 2008, part 2: unpaginated)

It is in the aftermath of the film’s essayistic approach to the imprisoning nature of small town life and the ghastly reckoning imparted to Uncle Charlie that we recognise the death of something. In this hymning of Victorian stultification and masquerade we observe the true end of Hitchcock’s English period and the beginning of something far more ambiguous, dark and American. He was dipping his fingers into a moral murk and liked the idea. Some years later, Hitchcock’s granddaughter Mary was taking classes in cinema at UCLA when she was given an assignment on Shadow. She asked Hitchcock to tell her everything he could about making the film. She was awarded a mere grade of C for both their trouble – the lecturer pointed out several errors in her essay. Her grandfather apologised: “I’m sorry,” the legendary filmmaker said, “but it’s the best I could do” (_To Catch a Thief _ DVD).

As Keith Phipps states,

Hitchcock is fully Hitchcock here, plunging deeply into his characters’ psyches, and remaining in full control of every cinematic effect. He invests a trip to the library with nightmarish qualities, builds mounting tension into the exchanges between the two Charlies, and treats the placid setting with warmth, while also recognizing the opportunity it allows him to play against that placidity. Like Uncle Charlie, Hitchcock understood there was an opportunity to be seized by dropping the devil into an American paradise.

(Phipps, 2013: unpaginated)

Hitchcock would exploit the notion of the split protagonist further and to ever more devastating effect, in Strangers on a Train (1951) and Vertigo (1958) which were adapted from neo-Gothic novels. (We might also include Frenzy, 1972). And, in what is perhaps the ultimate noir tale, Psycho (1960), another troubled offspring internalises a perplexing matriarch and compulsively stuffs birds in an attempt at a kind of female individuation. It is of course the blackest of comedies. 4 And the girl detective would grow up to become one of cinema’s legendary women with Grace Kelly incarnating Lisa Carol Freemont (“reading from top to bottom”), in that paean to looking and desire, Rear Window (1954), an acknowledged masterpiece of onanism and voyeurism. The same crucial female accessory –a wedding ring– serves once again as the crucible of narrative discovery and it is another film in which troubling marriages and hands play crucial roles. In 1946 the director had stated, “The psychological film is quite a different thing from the psychoanalytical … If, by psychological film, you mean a particular way of telling a story, by trying to get at the characters, then I think it is inevitable that the psychological approach to story will be employed more and more frequently as the screen comes of age” (Quoted in Spoto, 2008: 97).

A new kind of Alfred Hitchcock film was slowly beginning to emerge: Hitchcock’s Haunted House. As Jack Graham says about the world in Shadow’s closing line, “Some times it needs a lot of watching; seems to go crazy, every now and then, like your Uncle Charlie.” On the other hand, what we finally hear on the soundtrack are the offscreen words of the minister inside the church concluding his thoroughly inappropriate eulogy to a mass killer: “… the beauty of their souls and the sweetness of their characters live on with us forever.” And there stands Young Charlie, all gussied up in her grown up’s suit, the keeper of Uncle Charlie’s secret, implicated in his murderousness in order not to upset a mother afloat in the nostalgic delusion of childhood. She is separated from her family, within the church, a building her beloved uncle did not deign to attend. McLaughlin describes this scene as “maliciously ambiguous” (McLaughlin: 148). Hemmeter concludes, “As her uncle did before her, Young Charlie finds herself in a conflicted position, sharing traits of both sexes, a patriarchal identity divided by conflicts born of the efforts of the ideology to protect itself” (Hemmeter: 227).

The array of influences that contributed to Shadow of a Doubt has been described. Theorists, critics and biographers alike have found a plethora of Hitchcocks to satisfy their every desire, cinematic and otherwise in a growing body of work on the director. Indeed, Hitchcock has become a genre unto himself, a man for all seasons. 5 Thomas Elsaesser remarks:

To each his own … writers have identified a misogynist Hitchcock and feminist Hitchcock, an Oedipal Hitchcock, a homophobe Hitchcock and a ‘queer’ Hitchcock. There is the Cold-War anti-communist Hitchcock … and the ‘hot war’ anti-fascist Hitchcock not only of Saboteur (1942), Foreign Correspondent (1940) and Notorious (1946), but also present in Shadow of a Doubt (1943)… He has made fun of psychoanalysis … but he is Jacques Lacan’s best interpreter. There is the Gothic-Romantic, a Victorian, and Edwardian Hitchcock … and a modernist Hitchcock.

(Elsaesser, 2007: unpaginated)

As we have seen, most of those Hitchcocks, and more, can be identified in Shadow of a Doubt. Spoto appraises it as “a perfectly realized film because its method and its matter coincide perfectly” (Spoto, 1992: 119). It is a warning to women to awaken from the daydream of marriage and the hallucination of happiness. It tells us that we may all have our own Uncle Charlie, that smooth criminal, lurking deep within. Hitchcock is a true moralist, reminding us to acknowledge our capacity for evil. We might adopt an ecclesiastical attitude, and deem the film a palimpsest, a conjoining of past and present to embody an evolving Hitchcock scripture. There are fifty-three reasons to take Hitchcock seriously and this is just one of them.

Read Part One


Thanks to Fiona Rigney, Library and Special Collections Manager at the Irish Film Archive for assistance with sources. Screenplay Shadow of a Doubt retrieved from credited to Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson and Alma Reville, dated ‘Changes – August 10 1942.’



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Rebello, Stephen (1990/2013). Alfred Hitchcock & The Making of Psycho. London: Marion Boyars.

Robson, Eddie (2005). Film Noir. London: Virgin Books.

Rohmer, Eric and Claude Chabrol (1957/1986). Hitchcock: The First Forty-Four Films. New York: Frederick Ungar.

Rothman, William (2012). Hitchcock: The Murderous Gaze (SUNY Series, Horizons of Cinema). New York: State University of New York Press.

Ryan, Michael and Douglas Kellner (1988). Camera Politica: The Politics and Ideology of Contemporary Hollywood Film. Bloomington and Indianapolis, Indiana University Press.

Schatz, Thomas (1981). Hollywood Genres: Formulas, Filmmaking and the Studio System. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

________ (1983). Old Hollywood/New Hollywood: Ritual, Art and Industry. Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press.

Spoto, Donald (1983). Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius. New York: Ballantine Books.

________ (1992). The Art of Alfred Hitchcock: Fifty Years of His Motion Pictures (Revised edition). New York: Doubleday.

________ (2008). Spellbound by Beauty: Hitchcock and his Leading Ladies. London: Hutchinson.

Stempel, Tom (2001). American Audiences on Movies and Moviegoing. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

Sterritt, David (1993). The Films of Alfred Hitchcock (Cambridge Film Classics). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, Helen (ed.) (2007). The Daphne du Maurier Companion. London: Virago Press.

Taylor, John Russell (1978). Hitch. New York: Berkley Books.

Thomson, David (1995). A Biographical Dictionary of Film. London: Andre Deutsch.

________ (1996). Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles. London: Abacus.

________ (2008). _ ‘Have You Seen…?’ _ A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films, including masterpieces, oddities, guilty pleasures and classics (with just a few disasters.) London: Penguin.

________ (2009). The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder. Philadelphia: Basic Books.

Trottier, David (2005). The Screenwriter’s Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script. Los Angeles: Silman-James Press.

Truffaut, François (1983). Hitchcock. Revised Edition. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Walsh, Andrea S. (1984). Women’s Film and Experience 1940-1950. New York: Praeger.

White, Patricia (1999). Uninvited: Classical Hollywood and Lesbian Representability. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Wood, Robin (1989). Hitchcock’s Films Revisited. London: Faber & Faber.

Journals & Articles & Essays

Andrew, Geoff, ‘A family affair,’ Time Out n.1253 (24 August 1994): 63.

Barnett, David, ‘On the Trail of the Three Investigators,’ The Guardian, Books, 23 September 2010. Retrieved 24 October 2015.

Barton, Sabrina, ‘Hitchcock’s Hands,’ in Gottlieb and Brookhouse, 2002: 159- 179.

Beauman, Sally, ‘The Lasting Reputation and Cultural Legacy of Rebecca,’ in Taylor: 2007: 49-67.

Belton, John, ‘Language, Oedipus and Chinatown,’ MLN, 1991 (106): 5.

Cook, Fergus, ‘Questions of Authorship and Audience: A Study of Artefacts Related to the film Rebecca (1940).’ Retrieved 08 June 2015.

Crowther, Bosley. ‘Shadow of a Doubt, a Thriller With Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, at Rivoli,’ The New York Times, 13 January 1943: 18. Retrieved 26 July 2015.

___________‘Mr. Hitchcock Returns to Form,’ The Times (London) (29 March 1943): 8.

Davis, Rhidian, ‘Shadowlands,’ Sight & Sound, November 2013, 23 (11): 24-29.

Elsaesser, Thomas, ‘Casting Around: Hitchcock’s Absence,’ in Jonas Grimonprez (ed.) (2007), Looking for Alfred: The Hitchcock Castings (Ostfieldern: Hatje Cantz). Retrieved 29 August 2015.

di Battista, Maria, ‘Daphne du Maurier and Alfred Hitchcock,’ in Taylor, 2007: 320-329.

Doane, Mary Ann, ‘The “Woman’s Film”: Possession and Address,’ in Gledhill, 1992: 283-298.

Flattum, Jeff, ‘What is a Story?: Psychopath – the Ultimate Antagonist,’, 15 April 2013. Retrieved 03 September 2015.

Fletcher, John, ‘Primal Scenes and the Female Gothic: Rebecca and Gaslight,’ Screen 36(4) Winter 1995: 341-370.

French, Tony, ‘Your Father’s Method of Relaxation: Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt,’ CineAction 50, 01 Sept 1999: 43-45.

Freud, Sigmund (1909) ‘Family Romances,’ in Phillips, 2006: 422-426.

Gallafent, Ed, ‘Black Satin: Fantasy, Murder and the Couple in Gaslight and Rebecca,’ Screen 29 (3) 1988: 84-103.

Garrett, Daniel, ‘Suspense, Shock, and a Horrifying Family; the film Stoker, written by Wentworth Miller, directed by Park Chan-wook, and starring Nicole Kidman,’ Offscreen, 19 (3), 2015. Retrieved 06 July 2015.

Gates, Philippa, ‘The Maritorious Melodrama: Film Noir with a Female Detective,’ Journal of Film and Video, 61 (3), 2009: 24-39.

Gordon, Paul, ‘Sometimes a Cigar is not just a Cigar: A Freudian Analysis of Uncle Charles in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt,’ Literature/Film Quarterly, 1991, 19 (4): 267.

Grant, Catherine, ‘On “Affect” and “Emotion” in Film and Media Studies,’ Retrieved 28 December 2013.

Grogan, Patrick, ‘Between Heads: Thoughts on The Merry Widow tune in Shadow of a Doubt,’ Senses of Cinema, May 2000. Retrieved 25 April 2015.

Hagopian, Kevin Jack, ’10 Shades of Noir: Shadow of a Doubt,’ Images Journal, Issue 2. Accessed 14 September 2015.

Hanson, Helen, ‘Last Night I Dreamt I Read Rebecca Again’: Reading, Watching and Engaging with Rebecca in Fiction and Film,’ in Taylor, 2007: 330-340.

Hemmeter, Thomas, ‘Hitchcock the Feminist: Rereading Shadow of a Doubt,’ in Gottlieb and Brookhouse (2002): 222-233.

Hitchcock, Alfred (1931), ‘How I Choose My Heroines,’ in Gottlieb, 1995: 73-75.

________ (1938), ‘The Censor Wouldn’t Pass It,’ op.cit.: 196-201.

________ (1939), ‘Old Ruts Are New Ruts,’ op.cit.: 202-204.

________ (1948), ‘Let ‘Em Play God,’ op.cit.: 113-115.

________ (1956), ‘The Woman Who Knows Too Much,’ op.cit.: 51-53.

________ (1957), ‘After-Dinner Speech at the Screen Producers Guild Dinner,’ op.cit.: 54-58.

________ (1967), ‘Hitchcock Talks About Lights, Cameras, Action,’ op.cit.: 303-314.

Jancovich, Marc, ‘Rebecca’s Ghost: Horror, the Gothic and the du Maurier Film Adaptations,’ in Taylor 2007: 312-319.

Kerr, Walter, ‘Films Are Made in the Cutting Room,’ New York Times, 17 March 1985. Retrieved 28 February 2015.

Kornhaber, Donna, ‘Hitchcock’s Diegetic Imagination: Thornton Wilder, Shadow of a Doubt and Hitchcock’s mise-en-scène,’ Clues: A Journal of Detection, Vol. 31, No. 1, 01 April 2103: 67.

Kureishi, Hanif, ‘On My Radar: Hanif Kureishi, Cultural Highlights,’ The Guardian 02 August 2014. Retrieved 29 August 2015.

Kutner, C. Jerry, ‘The Foul Sty Underneath: The 5 Greatest Small Town Noirs,’ Bright Lights Film Journal, 25 June 2013. Here Retrieved 07 September 2015.

Light, Alison, ‘The Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories,’ in Taylor, Helen (ed.) The Daphne du Maurier Companion. London: Virago Press, 2007: 295-304

McLaughlin, James ‘All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt,’ Wide Angle, 1980 Vo. 4 No. 1: 12. in A Hitchcock Reader eds. Marshall Deutelbaum and Leland Poague (1986). Ames: Iowa State University Press. 141-150

Menard, David George, ‘Form Inversion in Alfred Hitchcock, Part I: Hitchcock and Romantic Irony,’ Offscreen, 12 (9), September 2008. Retrieved 10 August 2015.

________ , ‘Form Inversion in Alfred Hitchcock, Part 2: Hitchcockian Suspense,’ Offscreen, 12 (9), September 2008. Retrieved 10 August 2015.

Michie, Elsie, ‘Unveiling Maternal Desires: Hitchcock and American Domesticity,’ in Freedman and Millington (eds.) 1999: 29-53.

Moers, Ellen, ‘The Female Gothic,’ in Levine and Knoeflmacher (1976) (eds.) Literary Women: The Great Writers. New York: Doubleday.

Munford, Rebecca, ‘Spectres of Authorship: Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic Legacy,’ in Taylor, 2007: 68-74.

Newman, Kim, ‘The House that Gothic Built,’ The Guardian, Guide, 10 October 2015: 16-17.

Phipps, Keith, ‘Key Note: Shadow of a Doubt,’ The Dissolve, 21 August 2013. Retrieved 28 August 2015.

Poulos, Alex. ‘The Power of the Dark Side: The Intelligence of Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt,’ Retrieved 27 June 2015.

Rich, B. Ruby, ‘Dumb Lugs and Femmes Fatales,’ Sight & Sound, November 1995, Vol.5, No.11: 6-10.

Roberts, Michèle. ‘Embracing her Inner Tomboy,’ The Times, 28 April, 2007, Books: 9.

Scheib, Ronnie. ‘Charlie’s Uncle: Ronnie Scheib on Shadow of a Doubt,’ Film Comment Vol.12 No. 2, 01 March 1976: 55.

Schrader, Paul. ‘Notes on Film Noir,’ Film Comment, Vol.8, No.1, Spring 1972: 8-13.

Segers, Karel. ‘Why You Should Steer Clear of Dual Protagonists,’ The Story Department, 08 April 2013. Retrieved 21 July 2015.

Smerzz, ‘German Expressionism and Its Influence on Alfred Hitchcock,’ Film History Fall 2013, 08 December 2013, Retrieved 24 September 2015.

Starr, Elana, ‘Auteurist … Shadow of a Doubt,’ Retrieved 07 September 2015.

Taylor, Helen, ‘Rebecca’s Afterlife: Sequels and Other Echoes,’ in Taylor, Helen (ed.) The Daphne du Maurier Companion. London: Virago Press, 2007: 75-83.

Thompson, Kristin. ‘Europe’s Avant-Gardes,’ in The Silent Cinema Reader edited by Lee Grieveson and Peter Krämer, London, Routledge, 200 : 349-367.

Thomson, David, ‘Du Maurier, Hitchcock and Holding an Audience,’ in Taylor (ed.) 2007: 305-311.

________, ‘Looking for Mr Hardy,’ Sight & Sound, October 2015 (25) 10: 43-44.

Thornton, Michael, ‘Daphne’s Terrible Secret,’ Daily Mail, 12 May 2007: 42-3.

Turner, George, ‘Hitchcock’s mastery is beyond doubt in Shadow,’ American Cinematographer 74.5 (May 1993): 62-67.

Waldman, Diane, “‘At last I can tell it to someone!”: Feminine Point of View and Subjectivity in the Gothic Romance. Film of the 1940s,” Cinema Journal, 1983, 23.2: 29-40.

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Retrieved 24 June 2015.

Watt-Smith, Tiffany, ‘What are you feeling right now?’ The Guardian, Review, 12 September 2015; 18-19.

Wheatley, Jane. ‘The Real Rebecca,’ The Times, 11 November 2005, times2: 3-5.

Williams, Linda ‘When the Woman Looks,’ in Doane, Mellencamp and Williams: 83-99.

Yacowar, Maurice, ‘Hitchcock’s Imagery and Art,’ in Grant (ed.) (2008): 203-211.

Young, Deborah. ‘Shadow of a Doubt,’ Variety 352.8 (4 October 1993): 44-45.


Citizen Kane (1941) d. Orson Welles
The Girl (2012) d. Julian Jarrold
Hitchcock (2012) d. Sacha Gervasi
North by Northwest (1959) d. Alfred Hitchcock
Psycho (1960) d. Alfred Hitchcock
Psycho (1998) d Gus Van Sant
Rope (1948) d. Alfred Hitchcock
Shadow of a Doubt (1943) d. Alfred Hitchcock
Stoker (2013) d. Chan-Wook Park.
The Stranger (1946) d. Orson Welles
Strangers on a Train (1951) d. Alfred Hitchcock
To Catch a Thief (1954) d. Alfred Hitchcock
Touch of Evil (1958) d. Orson Welles
Vertigo (1958) d. Alfred Hitchcock
The Wrong Man (1957) d. Alfred Hitchcock
Young and Innocent (1937) d. Alfred Hitchcock

Beyond Doubt: The Making of Hitchcock’s Favourite Film. DVD Shadow of a Doubt
Living Famously: Alfred Hitchcock (2003) BBC.
Reputations: Alfred Hitchcock. Episode 1 Hitch: Alfred the Great (1999) BBC.
Talking Pictures: Alfred Hitchcock (2014) BBC
Talking Pictures: Joan Fontaine. (2013) BBC
Writing with Hitchcock: _Shadow of a Doubt and Uncle Charlie’s Hands. From Steven DeRosa’s Retrieved 15 July 2015.


  1. David Thomson writes: “Jekyll/Hyde has always been a movie model, because it gene splices duplicity and resemblance and helps makes a circus out of murder.” (Thomson, 2015: 44).
  2. As Joseph Gelmis would have it, about quite a different generation of filmmaker: The Film Director as Superstar (1970) New York: Doubleday.
  3. Hitchcock licensed his name to be used in several publishing deals which were handled by his daughter, Patricia. This juvenile mystery series was the brainchild of Robert Arthur, who was also an editor for a number of book collections attributed to the director. (The Investigators’ motto? ‘We investigate anything!’) In the first entry, The Secret of Terror Castle (1964), Jupiter Jones (formerly known as child actor ‘Baby Fatso’), bluffs his way into Hitchcock’s office at World Studios and strikes a deal with the director to have him introduce the story of their adventures on condition that they find a haunted house for the location of his next film. They do, he is as good as his word, and thereafter the world’s most famous filmmaker provides the introduction to all the books (as he does in his TV series) as well as appraising each case at its conclusion. He also introduces the boys to other clients, which is not as sinister as it sounds. Second Investigator Pete Crenshaw also has Hollywood connections: his father is a special effects man. Bob Andrews’ dad is a journalist. (There is no word on their mothers.) The various writers managed to capture Hitchcock’s voice effectively. For instance in The Secret of the Haunted Mirror, Hitchcock comments of Jupiter (a version of the director) in the introduction that he “has a mind that is maddeningly efficient and a manner that is, alas, rather pompous” (7); and, concludes of the culprit’s style, “One can appreciate the artistry.” (156) Two of the books would eventually be adapted and shot with German funding in South Africa, The Three Investigators and the Secret of Skeleton Island (Blaxmeyer, 2007) and The Three Investigators and the Secret of Terror Castle (Blaxmeyer, 2009). Alfred Hitchcock does not receive a mention in either production.
  4. Psycho would have its own double, triple, quadrupled life form as it multiplied and sequelised. The second sequel was directed by Norman Bates himself, doubling as star, and the original even got its own cover version, directed by Gus Van Sant in 1998 with the approval of Pat Hitchcock. Shadow would have its own clones in a number of less effective TV remakes (Lux 1955; Hallmark 1991). According to Stephen Rebello, Hitchcock had hoped to make a prequel to the film and discussed it with Robert Bloch. (Rebello, 2013: 188) It would be reinterpreted, much later, as Stoker (2013), directed by Chan-Wook Park from a screenplay by Wentworth Miller of Shadow’s true origins in the Gothic. Hitchcock himself could be said to have had a ‘shadow’ career, in more ways than one, with his lost, unfinished, forgotten and unmade films forming the subject of a new wave of books, adding to the torrent that already exists: David Freeman’s The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock (1985); Sidney Gottlieb in The Hitchcock Annual (1996-7); Dan Auiler’s Hitchcock Lost: The Lost Silent and Frenzy (2013); and Alain Kerzoncuf and Charles Barr’s Hitchcock’s Lost and Found: The Forgotten Films (2015).
  5. Maurice Yacowar says: “Hitchcock was Hitchcock from the outset – perceptive, progressive, playful in his mischievous machinations against the simple securities of his audience, yet profound in the implications of his ironic stance.” (Yacowar in Grant, 2008: 203). And David Cook writes: “About his commitment to style there can be no question – during the thirties, he was one of the few directors to use Eisensteinian montage in an era of primarily functional editing; his mastery of the long take and the moving camera have been apparent since the forties; and his achievements in widescreen composition in the fifties are of major historical importance for the contemporary film. Beyond form, however, there is Hitchcock the moralist and fatalist who created an image of the modern world in which the perilous and the monstrous lurk within the most ordinary circumstances of everyday life. It is a world that shares much with the work of Franz Kafka and comprehends what Hannah Arendt termed ‘the banality of evil’ … Hitchcock’s designation as ‘the master of suspense’ was a public relations gambit based on the popular misperception of his work. His greatest films – Sabotage, Shadow of a Doubt, Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds – have little or none of that quality. Hitchcock did not so much work in a genre as create one – the ‘Hitchcock film’ – which has been endlessly imitated but never surpassed. He was an authentic original whose life was his art and who succeeded, perhaps more than any other artist of the century, in making his own fears, obsessions, and fantasies part of our collective psyche.” (Cook, 1990: 354)

The Girl Who Knew Too Much: Shadow of a Doubt (1943) Part Two, Gone Girl

Elaine Lennon is a film historian and the author of ChinaTowne and Pathways of Desire: Emotional Architecture in the Films of Nancy Meyers. Elaine Lennon obtained a PhD in Film Studies at the School of Media, Dublin Institute of Technology where she lectured in film and screenwriting for a decade.

Volume 27, Issue 1-2 / February 2023 Essays   alfred hitchcock   daphne de maurier   david o. selznick   film noir   gothic   melodrama   orson welles