Shadow of a Doubt

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Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt is no less than a perfect example of film noir. Low-key lighting, dramatic shadow patterning, and camera angles are all expertly used to foreshadow and portray the emotions and psyche of the characters. Hitchcock uses sets and props to mirror scenes, creates characters that are remarkably similar but simultaneously conflicting, and emphasizes emotions that offer contradictions. The sense of duality and contradiction in the film demonstrates how darkness can take the form of humanity and seep into even the most innocent places and the purest hearts. The mystery of the film is not what causes the suspense, but rather the anxiety that the audience feels stems from Hitchcock’s use of duality as a means to force the audience to face the fact that human contradiction comes from the discontinuity between natural impulses and intellect. He creates parallels that underline similarities and differences that occur simultaneously in society and individuals. Uncle Charlie comes back to his hometown of Santa Rosa, California to visit his sister and her family. There’s also “Little” Charlie Wright, who loves and adores her uncle. As the movie progresses, Charlie discovers that her beloved uncle might not be what he seems to be—is he the notorious Merry Widow strangler that preys on old, rich women? Or is he an innocent man, wronged by the law? With clues such as the Merry Widow Waltz stuck in her head, the detectives that show up on her doorstep and the expensive but curious ring that her uncle presented her with, Charlie discovers that her uncle is in fact the sick man who believes that killing women is a good idea, and nothing like the man she believed him to be. With her knowledge, Charlie is a liability to her uncle and his safety so he tries to kill her off by making her death seem accidental. When Uncle Charlie is leaving Santa Rosa to head back east, he lures Charlie onto the train and attempts to suffocate her and throw her off. However, Charlie is able to fight back and she ends up pushing her uncle off the moving train to his death. Shadow of a Doubt takes place in a quiet California town: it is innocent, sweet suburbia where the biggest scandal might be a controversy at a pie-eating contest; but, cynicism penetrates the walls of the town, and evil shows its human face. Hitchcock begins by uses establishing shots of the protagonists’ homes to acclimate the audience with the safe place that will soon be violated. Film Scholar Kevin Hagopian once wrote that Hitchcock “made the home a place where exotic terror lives uneasily with domesticity” (Kevin Jack Hagopian; imagesjournal.com) referring to the introduction of Uncle Charlie, aka the Merry Widow Murderer, into a typical American family. Having the story take place in an idealistic town makes the drama that evolves all the more exciting. The more happy-go-lucky the setting is the greater kick the audience gets out of the introduction of unexpected drama. However, Hitchcock does not create a stark contrast between the setting and the plot merely for the sake of entertainment purposes; it is the way things happen in real life. Tragic events and sinister crimes are not foreshadowed by the weather. There is never the confirmation that a catastrophe is coming and so the characters in the film (namely Little Charlie) are just as taken aback at the series of events that are unfold, as any other person would be if they were put in the same situation. In this sense, the setting is chosen to create a false sense of security for the characters, because in reality, security is but a thin skin stretched over the whole world. Individual scenes also set up important comparisons and contrasts, either by foreshadowing scenes through repetition or with the use of props and staging. The opening scene of the movie foreshadows the funeral scene at the end. Uncle Charlie is reclining on his bed with his hands crossed over his chest. His spirit is dead, and...
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