Shadow of a Doubt is an Alfred Hitchcock film that was shot on location in the 1940's town of Santa Rosa, California. The town itself is representative of the ideal of American society. However, hidden within this picturesque community dark corruption threatens to engulf a family. The tale revolves around Uncle Charlie, a psychotic killer whose namesake niece, a teenager girl named Charlie, is emotionally thrilled by her Uncles arrival. However her opinion slowly changes as she probes into her mysterious uncle. In the film, director/producer Alfred Hitchcock blends conventions of film noir with those of a small town domestic comedy as a means of commenting on the contradictions in American values.
In the beginning the film is immediately set up in the film noir style. Under the opening credits a shadowy backround image is shown kaleidoscopically. Couples dressed in elegant ballroom gowns and suits waltz together dizzyingly as the "Merry Widow Waltz" plays. The scene has nothing to do with the drama to follow (until Charlie's crimes are revealed.) The titles dissolve in to a panoramic view of a bridge, further dissolves take us first to junkyard and then to a scene of children playing in the street. The city is shown as a dirty, dark place. We are taken to a Philadelphia rooming house (shown with a number 13 on the door.) Inside we are introduced to "Uncle Charlie" (Joseph Cotten). He is reclining stiffly in bed during the day in a seedy room. . He plays with the phallic cigar that he is smoking, seemingly bitter and cynical. On the bedside table next to seemingly indifferent and fatigued man is and an open billfold with a carelessly strewn pile of bills on top (some of the bills have fallen to the floor and lie strewn around). The overweight, middle-aged landlady knocks on the door and enters, identifying him as Mr. Spencer and informing him that two men have been asking for him. As per his instructions to not disturb him, she didn't let them in, however, they have not left, instead they retreated to the street corner to stake out the boarding house. Noticing that he looks exhausted and depressed (he passively remains on his bed during their entire conversation), she suggests that he should get some rest. Then she notices his money cluttered all about and hurries forward to straighten it ...
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...of all responsibility (for, of course, there is no way that a normal person could ever kill.) In keeping with this principle the film attempts to absolve Young Charlie from all responsibility in her Uncle's death, for it is seen as an accident that occurred when Young Charlie was fighting her Uncle in self-defence. In the final stages of the film we are brought back to the small town introduced to us in the beginning, this time, however, it is in morning for a beloved son. Charlie's death has brought Graham back to Young Charlie. We can see the good side has won the battle for her. As in early situational Charlie has learned her moral lesson and the episode may end.
This paper has attempted to investigate the ways in which Alfred Hitchcock blended conventions of film noir with those of a small town domestic comedy. It first looked at the opening scenes of the film in which the two conventions were introdruced. It then went on to analyse the film with the aid of Robin Wood's article Ideology, Genre, Auteur. From these two forms we can see that film noir and small town comedy were used as a means of commenting on the contradictions in American values.
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