Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
I grew up watching Alfred Hitchcock films. My mom introduced me to them via my first viewing of The Birds — the eerie tale about nature versus man. Then at a tender age, I saw Psycho, the chilling story of a mentally deranged serial killer with mommy issues. So when she popped in one day with a copy of Shadow of a Doubt, I was more than happy to see what psychological thriller Hitchcock was able to concoct this time. Unlike the films mentioned earlier, Shadow of a Doubt is subdued and feels more real, akin to something that would happen in our world—not a distant fever dream of angry birds or cross-dressing serial murderers. And since this is the Sinister Screen, the Satanic themes are there but require a little more focus to dig up.
The story centers around the Newton Family, and this is where we catch a glimpse of some left-hand path values. Most notable is that of non-conformity. The Newton Family are an odd bunch, even going so far as stating that they are “not the typical American family.” The patriarch of the family, Joseph, loves noir and true crime stories. Ann, the youngest daughter, is a voracious reader who is a little too smart for her own good. Roger, the only son, is a pint-sized math whiz who can calculate on a whim. Emma, a kindly but no-nonsense housewife. And then there is Charlotte “Charlie” Newton, a precocious teen who is bored with the world around her and idolizes her uncle, Charles “Uncle Charlie” Oakley.
Oh yeah, Uncle Charlie, he’s the focal point of this film because the story revolves around him running from the law since he is one of two suspects for the “Merry Widow Murders.” Uncle Charlie is suave, handsome, and rich — juxtaposed by misogynistic, boorish, and vicious tendencies. But the unsuspecting Newton family idolizes him, especially Charlotte, who—in somewhat greater magic fashion—states that she has a “telepathic connection” with Uncle Charlie. At first, Charlotte is like a trusting puppy when it comes to her uncle, hanging upon his every word and falling for his charm. All of this changes when she learns that her uncle is, in reality, a cold-blooded killer. Now she has to up her lesser magic skills to take down her beloved uncle, even promising him that she will kill him if he ever thinks of harming the rest of the family. The two of them together are like a dangerous combination of the balance factor at work.
Uncle Charlie is the example of a man who has let counterproductive pride get in the way of real success. The charm mentioned above, as well as boorish behavior, was a waste of potential. He only makes his world, and the world of those around him, worse. On the other hand, Charlotte, while at first morose about her life lacking any sense of purpose, learns that she has more power than she realizes and utilizes the right tools to defend herself and those she loves.
After watching Shadow of a Doubt again, I can see why Hitchcock stated that it was his favorite film to make. Shadow of a Doubt is not as dark as his other films, opting instead with a ‘light-noir’ tone. It is more personal in its scope and, for the Satanist, the lesson of taking care of you and yours—as well as kicking out all toxic influences in your life—is self-preservation at work.
[- D.A. Marshall]
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