Uncle Charlie, a psychopathic killer of three rich widows on the run, arrives in Santa Rosa to stay with his older sister’s family which includes his overly-innocent niece-namesake young Charlie. A duality of good and evil and appearance and reality runs balancedly throughout Hitchcock’s own favorite movie. At one point, even the innocent young Charlie says she could kill her uncle herself. And in the ending, the town-beloved, philanthropic Uncle Charlie is given an absurd hero’s funeral by its citizens. What does it all mean? wonders young Charlie at the end. Was her uncle whom she once loved really a good man who simply went bad? Why did he hate the world and everyone in it? And so her shadow of doubt continues despite being the one flukey survivor of the strange duo.
Certainly, this is an essential core Hitchcock with the usual doses of abnormal psychology, murder, strong suspense, grim ironies and humor, and its challenges to audience. Most noteworthy is the blatantly cynical dinner-table speech of Uncle Charlie about the world as a “sty”, the people as “swine’, and the injustice of idle, non-working widows living off the hard work and saved money of dead spouses “eating and drinking the money” (incidentally, his motivation and rationalization for three murders).
A mask and a character’s views for sure, but one is left wondering if that is what the director really felt behind the mask of his many dark movies and evil characters. Did he himself live with the same shadow of doubt about the goodness, kindness, happiness, and innocence that young Charlie blithely espouses and ignorantly believes? Did he, like Uncle Charlie and his sister, miss an older, more idyllic age? And did the director believe, like the detective in the denouement, that sometimes perhaps the world just goes crazy?
Shadow of a Doubt is one of the strangest coming-of-age films ever made. Like other Hitchcock films, there are lessons to be learned–with some characters sadder, but wiser, and never the same after their own personal world views have been shattered. Hitchcock always pushed the envelope, time and again, presenting attractive, personable villains who aren’t just cardboard stereotypes. They trouble the viewer with their perspectives and get one to ponder that there are more things in heaven and earth than perhaps even we, not just young Charlie and the detective, had bargained on.
Shadow of a Doubt is a timeless, naturalistic-realistic (nothing fantastic about it), hard-hitting, and strangely true movie. Must-see viewing for anyone seriously interested in film, Hitchcock, ideas, human and abnormal psychology, views of the sexes, and life in a large, basic dualistic way.
For many reasons, this movie parallels/echoes Shakespeare’s dualistically-viewed/constructed Macbeth. “Fair is foul and foul is fair”, “There’s no art/To find the mind’s construction in the face”, “Look like the innocent flower,/But be the serpent under ‘t”, “this even-handed justice”, “The primrose way to the ever-lasting bonfire”.