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Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

While we're on the subject of Alfred Hitchcock, having just discussed the most memorable performances in his films, we thought we'd look at Hitchcock's own favorite Shadow of a Doubt (1943) for this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot. I wasn't surprised that the film failed to score in that list we just made, if only because the whole cast is so memorable. How do you choose amongst them? What's more, the subject of the film is, if you ask me, not the gruesome crimes that are continually referenced but the family unit itself. How protective and proud of one's own blood should you be? How do you preserve the family's happy cohesion, whether real or imagined? What to do about the rotten apple in the bushel? 

Since Shadow of a Doubt (1943) is strangely underseen given Hitchcock's own love of it and the endurance of so many of his films, I don't want to spoil any of its surprises (the writing was Oscar nominated and deservedly so). But I will say that the surprises do not include the nature of Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten). He's bad news.

But how bad?

That's up to his family to gaily ignore or vaguely worry over and for his favorite niece and namesake (Teresa Wright) to puzzle out. Shadow of a Doubt has several delicious shots that are case studies in Hitchcock's mastery of visual storytelling and his glorious understanding of the power of shot variation (which is, if you ask me, the single element of filmmaking with the greatest depreciation in quality over my lifetime). I'm absolutely crazy about the way he shoots the growing conflict between the niece and her uncle... which you think will play out like cat and mouse but is closer to cat and kitten in its visual language since Young Charlie is no scurrying fool but a resourceful creature. My favorite shot is one that should be welcoming, but plays out with just as much potency as a disturbingly intense closeup of Uncle Charlie earlier in the film during a particularly nasty monologue.

Uncle Charlie is merely standing on the porch this time. Young Charlie would "like to pretend the whole dreadful thing never happened" but she knows that her "typical American family" home is no longer a sweet or safe one. 

Other Best Shot Choices...

Cal Roth on Hitchcock's repetitive "truth reveal" shot
Film Actually likes the fourth wall broken and Cotten's intriguing performativity
The Entertainment Junkie loves the camera's retreat from Teresa in the library
Antagony & Ecstacy puts a ring on it. It's one of his favorite Hitchcocks.
The Film's The Thing there's evil right beside you!
We Recycle Movies cheats by never getting past the opening credits! 

NEXT WEDNESDAY: The Color Purple (1985). Won't you sing 'Miss Celie's Blues' for us by selecting your "best shot" from that Spielberg hit?

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Reader Comments (8)

The close-up sent me out of the room running when I was a kid.

August 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

CMG... I know!!! holy hell Cotten is good in this movie. That would probably be my third favorite shot in the film

August 7, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Hey! I watched the movie! I always watch the movies! I just tried to do something other than be the umpteenth person to gush over the scene of the train pulling into the station. (Man, I love that scene. And the dinner table scene. And the stairs scene. And Theresa Wright. And Joseph Cotton.) Besides, isn't doing the unexpected in the spirit of Hitch himself?

August 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

I saw this film with my family when it first came out. I was maybe 7 or 8, probably too young, but films weren't rated then and families just went to whatever was playing. I remember that it so disturbed me that I was sick to my stomach in the middle of the night. I still think it's Hitchcock's scariest film. Many years later I actually met Teresa Wright, who I'm happy to say was just as plucky and appealing in person.

August 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterchuck in sf

chuck -- wow! i love that story. please shoot me an email at filmexperience (at) gmail (dot) com. i wanna hear more :)

anne marie -- i do love your film history

August 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Ugh how did I forget we were doing this film this week. I watched it a couple of weeks ago after you and Nick suggested it and loved it.

August 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

here's my post:

August 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

Late entry!

August 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

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