SHADOW OF A DOUBT directed by Alfred Hitchcock (USA, 1943)

After recently re-watching The Third Man, I was reminded of another of my favourite movies starring Joseph Cotten.

Shadow Of A Doubt  is one of Hitchcock’s most underrated thrillers and, by all accounts his own personal favourite.

Watching it now shows how it has a number of parallels with David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.

In both films a safe, boring, suburban routine is disrupted by sinister forces from outside. In each, the law-abiding ‘ordinary’ citizens cannot comprehend why there should be such evil in the world.

Uncle Charlie, played by Cotten, is no Frank Booth but he has a similar ruthless streak fired by a burning hatred of conventional society.

We never see any of the murders he has committed but the audience is never in any doubt that he is a cold-blooded killer.

His adoring teenage niece, Charlie (Teresa Wright), is named after him and is thrilled when he comes to visit to break the rut her family has gotten into.

This excitement soon evaporates when she discovers her beloved Uncle’s guilty secret. Hitchcock doesn’t waste a lot of time with this; she quickly puts two and two together to reveal that he is the ‘Merry Widow Murderer’ the police are searching for.

As ever, Hitchcock shows that you don’t need mystery to create suspense. The focus is more on the divided loyalties face by the bright but  innocent Charlie. Should she turn her Uncle into the detectives on his trail or help him escape. Her dilemma is complicated by the fact that she gets romantically involved with one of the cops.

Shadow Of A Doubt is a quietly subversive movie. The goodness of the church going community in Santa Rosa, California is presented as honest but dull. In contrast, Uncle Charlie represents a stylish yet cynical alternative.

He pokes fun at the small town ways and the fascination with money and religion. He  mocks the teenager’s naivety declaring that instead of dreams, “I brought you nightmares”.

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