Starring Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey, Henry Travers, Patricia Collinge, Hume Cronyn, Wallace Ford, Edna May Wonacott, Charles Bates, Irving Bacon, Clarence Muse, Janet Shaw, Estelle Jewell
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Expectations: Super high. I love Hitchcock.
Shadow of a Doubt opens very mysteriously as Charlie Oakley lies on a bed in a boarding house. Money is strewn about the floor, but Charlie doesn’t seem to mind. He does mind when two men come calling after him, so he quickly gives them the slip and sends a telegram to his older sister. He’s coming to stay with her family, and it’ll be a grand ol’ time! As the audience we aren’t exactly sure what’s going on and why people are looking for Charlie, and it is this constant questioning and evaluation of the situation at hand that makes Shadow of a Doubt an absolute thrill to watch.
Many thrillers place an emphasis on a ticking clock or some other overt tension, but such devices are not necessary in the hands of a master like Alfred Hitchcock. Instead, the film is set in the small town of Santa Rosa, CA (population roughly 12,600 according to the 1940 US census). Every character in the film wears a smile and goes about their business with a polite attitude. There are no villains in sight, but there are suspicions and rumblings of things being not what they seem. In lesser hands this kind of taut, yet subtle tension could have come across as boring or misguided, but Shadow of a Doubt actually ranks as one of Hitchcock’s most suspenseful films. The tension is so thick you could cut it with anything you have handy, sharp or otherwise.