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Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

It’s enlightening to consider what made this tale of evil invading a small town Alfred Hitchcock’s personal favorite of all the films he made. For the master director, the tale of a serial killer (Joseph Cotten) evading the law by visiting his family in a small California town was “one of those rare occasions where you could combine character with suspense.” Indeed, all the action in the film grows out of Uncle Charlie’s attempts to conceal his true nature and his growing conflict with the adoring niece (Teresa Wright) who shares his name. When she begins to suspect the worst, she also proves to share his ruthlessness as she hunts down proof that her uncle is a killer.

Beyond that, Hitchcock put a great deal of himself into Shadow of a Doubt, which could be considered the first truly personal of his U.S. productions. Although he didn’t take a writing credit, he contributed some of the dialogue, including the description of Charlie as a boy—much of which describes the director as a young man. Hitchcock even named Wright’s mother, Emma, after his own. She would be one of the last positive maternal figures in any of his films.

Many of his later movies reflect the elements that made Hitchcock value Shadow of a Doubt so highly. His more thoughtful thrillers like Strangers on a Train (1951) and Psycho (1960) are all firmly grounded in character, while Vertigo (1958) and Marnie (1964) have been hailed as autobiographical reflections of the director’s own inner turmoil.

d. Alfred Hitchcock, 108 minutes, DCP

Courtesy of Universal Pictures