No Doubts of a Shadow

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No Doubt of Shadows

The quiet town of Santa Rosa, California, is a prime example of an idealistic community in which many Americans in the 1940s would have considered to be a wonderful place to settle down into and raise a family. Alfred Hitchcock sought to portray this idea through his film titled,

Shadow of a Doubt, which he produced and directed in 1943. The original screenplay is written by playwright Thornton Wilder. This film revolves around the strange relationship between Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Newton (Teresa Wright) and her mysterious Uncle, Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotton), whom she was named after, and how his secret of being a strangling psychopathic murderer affected this relationship. By examining the film's Mise en scene, narrative structure, and camera movement, one can see the various ways in which Hitchcock uses suspense to extensively convey how young Charlie begins to grow strangely suspicious of her cryptic guest, Uncle Charlie. This is significant because through these elements Hitchcock is then able to successfully illustrate and present Shadow of a Doubt as a classic example of film noir.

Originating from France, the term Film Noir literally means ‘black film’ in
French. Mainly developing in the early 1940s, the style of Film Noir became popular among American Cinema, post World War II. Though there is no exact definition of this term, there are key elements in which constitutes a film to be considered a Film Noir. The elements usually include unique canted camera angles, low key lighting, which creates gloomy settings and ominous shadows, sexual insinuation between characters, cynical persons, acts of violent crime, foreboding background music, and in many cases, a fatal woman, also known as femme fatale, meaning fatale woman in French. With all of these components combined, a dark atmosphere of pessimism is then created within a film which makes it out to be a ‘black film’. Camera Angles

Film noirs have unique camera angles in which distinguishes it from other film styles. Specifically, a key scene which depicts this is when detectives, pretending to be Uncle Charlie’s friends, show up at a street corner to spy on Uncle Charlie. Starting off by using a deep focus shot of the two detectives and Uncle Charlie passing them by, Hitchcock forms a great sequence of scenes in which the two detectives chase Uncle Charlie through city blocks. A notable shot is when Hitchcock cuts to high-angle, also known as a ’God shot’ or ‘bird’s eye view’ allows the audience to see the chase from very high elevated angle. The next cut shows Uncle Charlie disappearing behind a building, stumping the cops. Hitchcock then uses a panning shot to rediscover Uncle Charlie who is blowing smoke from a cigar and watching the baffled cops from the same angle from which the shot is being taken.

Dark Lighting

Low key lighting is one of, if not the most, crucial concept of a film noir. In Shadow of a Doubt, lighting plays a key role in effecting how the mood and atmosphere of a film develops. Hitchcock intelligently presents this technique through the first two main scenes of the film. The first scene introduces the character of Uncle Charlie. This scene starts out with a medium shot of Uncle Charlie wearing a fine, dark colored suit, lying stiffly on his bed smoking a cigar, inside his dimly lit apartment. This is where the technique of low key lighting can first be seen. As the light shines through the curtains, a series of shadows is then casted upon Uncle Charlie’s face as well as on the furniture inside the apartment complex. This scene elaborates even more so on the concepts of dark lighting and shadows when Mrs. Martin (Constance Purdy), the landlady, comes into the room and speaks with Uncle Charlie. Referring to him as Mr. Spencer she informs him about...
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