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March 2001, Week 3


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 20 Mar 2001 11:27:43 +1100
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'Is Alfred Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt" a Noir film?'

For what it's worth, in Silver & Ward's 'Film Noir' (1st edition, 1979),
pp. 253-54, the entry by 'J.K.' (Julie Kirgo) on that film, includes the

'Like many of H's films, SHADOW OF A DOUBT focuses on the character of a
psychopath.  [Uncle] Charlie's evil is defined initially through
contrasts with the normal behavior of his relatives in the small
California town [...]  He is a killer with a mission, bent on the
destruction of what he sees as ugly, his crazed eye fixed on a vision of
a lost time when, as he tells his beloved niece, "Everybody was sweet
and pretty, the whole world - not like today." [...]  She tells him,
"We're sort of like twins"; and he tells her, "The same blood runs in
our veins."  The crucial difference between them is that of right and
wrong.   But H is not content with such a neat, black-and-white
schematization.  The title, SHADOW OF A DOUBT, refers not only to young
Charlie's suspicions about her uncle, but also to the shadows that
impinge upon her goodness.  The will to destroy is the motivating force
of young Charlie's life; shockingly it turns out that this is yet
another thing that young Charlie shares with him, if only momentarily,
by accident and by necessity.  For in the end, Uncle Charlie is brought
down by his [literal] better half - and young Charlie is driven to
destroy the thing she loves.'

Confirming, and lending weight to, the point about young Charlie's 'will
to destroy' that she shares with her uncle, is H's observation to
Charles Thomas Samuels (in 'Encountering Directors', 1972, p. 238) that
'she IS ruthless' - notably, in the scene where she comes downstairs
wearing the ring that Uncle Charlie gave her, as a signal that he must
leave or be executed.  For a rather different, and broader, emphasis on
will (and cosmic Will) in SHADOW OF A DOUBT and other H films, see my
article "Will and Wilfulness" on the 'Screening the Past' website:

What I would conclude is this.  There are elements of film noir in
SHADOW OF A DOUBT, but the film's main impetus comes from something else
again.  I see the film as H's American version of THE LODGER (1926),
concerned with inner (psychological), or universal, experience before it
is a work of film noir, which is predominantly an extraverted (if
brooding) American form and style.  This is in line with my reading of H
as having always been a 'Romantic-eclectic' director.

- Ken Mogg (author of the uncut UK edition of 'The Alfred Hitchcock
Story' - I disown the cut and 'simplified' US version).


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