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  • Writer's pictureRonny Duncan Studios

Shadow of A Doubt (1943)


Plot Summary: "Uncle Charlie" Oakley (Joseph Cotton) lives alone in a rooming house. Two men come looking for him so he decides to leave town and go to Santa Rosa, CA to see his sister and her family. "Young Charlie" Newton (Teresa Wright) is named for her uncle and worships him. Two men soon appear at the Newton home, posing as interviewers working on a national survey. Uncle Charlie becomes upset, and berates his sister for opening up her home to strangers. The younger interviewer, Jack Graham, (McDonald Carey) who is interested in Charlie romantically, soon tells her that her uncle is one of two suspects who may be the "Merry Widow Murderer". Young Charlie undertakes her own investigation, but a series of potentially life-ending accidents occur as she races to protect her family.


Cast:

  • Teresa Wright as Charlotte "Charlie" Newton

  • Joseph Cotten as Charles "Uncle Charlie" Oakley

  • Macdonald Carey as Detective Jack Graham

  • Henry Travers as Joseph Newton

  • Patricia Collinge as Emma Newton

  • Wallace Ford as Detective Fred Saunders

  • Hume Cronyn as Herbie Hawkins

  • Edna May Wonacott as Ann Newton

  • Charles Bates as Roger Newton

  • Janet Shaw as Louise Finch

  • Estelle Jewell as Catherine

*Recognition:

  • The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Story for Gordon McDonell.

  • In 1991, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

  • The film was also Alfred Hitchcock's favorite of all of his films. In a 1964 interview on Telescope with host Fletcher Markle, Markle noted, "Mr. Hitchcock, most critics have always considered Shadow of a Doubt, which you made in 1943, as your finest film." Hitchcock replied immediately, "Me too." Markle then asked, "That is your opinion of it still?" Hitchcock replied, "Oh, no question." At the time, Hitchcock's most recent work was Marnie. When later interviewed by François Truffaut, Hitchcock denied the suggestion that Shadow of a Doubt was his "favourite". But in the audio interview with Truffaut, Hitchcock confirmed it was his favourite film, and later reiterated that Shadow of a Doubt was his favorite film in his interview with Mike Douglas in 1969 and in his interview with Dick Cavett in 1972.

Did You Know:

  • In his interview with François Truffaut on "Shadow" (first published in 1967), Alfred Hitchcock said the dense, black smoke belching from the train that brings Charles Oakley to Santa Rosa was a deliberate symbol of imminent evil.

  • Alfred Hitchcock said that part of why he considered this to be his favorite movie was that he loved the idea of bringing menace to an otherwise idyllic small town.

  • In a 1959 interview, Teresa Wright said that this was her favorite movie.

  • Alfred Hitchcock wanted William Powell to play Uncle Charlie, but MGM refused to loan him out, so the role went to Joseph Cotten.

  • Alfred Hitchcock had wanted either Joan Fontaine or Olivia de Havilland for the role of Young Charlie, but they were unavailable.

  • Charlie's sister mentions that he'd had an accident on a bicycle when he was a boy. Earle Nelson, the serial killer on whom this story is loosely based, suffered from extremely serious mental illness which, along with his history of occipital headaches, was attributed to a near-fatal bicycle accident in his childhood in which he was seriously struck on the back of the head. Charlie's sister mentions how his personality had changed after the accident (getting into mischief), which is what happened with Nelson, who soon began to commit burglaries.

  • Before leaving for the west coast Charlie leaves his room and turns to follow his landlady. It is inferred that she would never be seen again. The real-life serial killer Earle Nelson, whose activities inspired this film, had a penchant for killing landladies and molesting them afterwards.

  • A box-office failure when it was released. The box-office rank was #81 for the year.

  • The $40,000 in 1943 that Charlie opened the bank account with would be the equivalent of $606,000 in 2020.

What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: You never know what dark secrets endure even in your own family.


Best Performance: Joseph Cotten (Uncle Charlie)

Best Secondary Performance: Teresa Wright (Young Charlie)

Most Charismatic Award: Teresa Wright (Young Charlie)/Alfred Hitchcock

Best Scene:

  • The Boarding House

  • Uncle Charlie Arrives

  • Graham confesses to Young Charlie

  • The Library

  • Elderly Widows

  • The Stairs

  • The Garage

  • The Train

Favorite Scene: Elderly Widows

Most Indelible Moment: The Train/Elderly Widows


In Memorium:

  • Willard Scott, 87, American weather presenter

  • Michael K. Williams, 54, American actor (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire, 12 Years a Slave)

  • Anthony Johnson, 55, American actor (House Party, Friday, Menace II Society)

  • Art Metrano, 84, American actor (Police Academy, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, Joanie Loves Chachi)

  • Fran Bennett, 84, American actress (Nightingales, Sunset Beach, Wes Craven's New Nightmare).

  • Don Collier, 92, American actor (Outlaws, The High Chaparral, The Young Riders)

  • Jane Powell, 92, American actress (A Date with Judy, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Royal Wedding), singer and dancer.

  • Juli Reding, 85, American actress (Why Must I Die?, Tormented).

  • Basil Hoffman, 83, American actor (The Artist, Hill Street Blues, Santa Barbara)

  • Willie Garson, 57, American actor (Sex and the City, White Collar, John from Cincinnati)

  • Cynthia Harris, 87, American actress (Mad About You, Edward & Mrs. Simpson, Three Men and a Baby).

  • Gerald Home, 70, British actor (Return of the Jedi, London Boulevard)

  • Ruthie Tompson, 111, American animator (Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo).

  • Granville Adams, 58, American actor (Oz, Homicide: Life on the Street, Empire)

  • Ricarlo Flanagan, 40, American comedian and actor (Shameless, Walk the Prank)

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Charlie Oakley: 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.

Young Charlie Newton: But they're alive, they're human beings!

Charlie Oakley: Are they?


Uncle Charlie: You think you know something, don't you? You think you're the clever little girl who knows something. There's so much you don't know. So much. What do you know, really? You're just an ordinary little girl living in an ordinary little town. You wake up every morning of your life and you know perfectly well that there's nothing 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 peaceful, stupid dreams. And I brought you nightmares! Or did I, or was it a silly inexpert little lie. You live in a dream. You're a sleepwalker, blind. How do you know what the world is like? Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know if you rip the fronts off houses you'd find swine? The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it? Wake up, Charlie! Use your wits. Learn something.


Charlie: I'm glad you were able to come, Jack. I couldn't have faced it without someone who knew. I did know more. I couldn't tell you.

Graham: I know.

Charlie: He thought the world was a horrible place. He couldn't have been very happy ever. He didn't trust people. He seemed to hate them. Hated the whole world. You know, he said that people like us had no idea what the world was really like.

Graham: Well, it's not quite as bad as that, but sometimes it needs a lot of watching. It seems to go crazy every now and then, like your Uncle Charlie.


The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 5.25

Impact/Significance: 6.5

Novelty: 7.25

Classic-ness: 8.25

Rewatchability: 6.75

Audience Score: 8.8 (87% Google, 89% RT)

Total: 42.8


Remaining Questions:

  • How do they explain Uncle Charlie dying by falling off of a train?

  • What happens to all of the money?

  • Does Emma ever find out about Uncle Charlie?

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