The devil comes in many guises. In Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), the devil arrives by train on the small suburban town of Santa Rosa, California in the form of Joseph Cotton (The Third Man). Cotton portrays Uncle Charlie, a man with a mysterious past, who arrives in the small Southern Californian town to stay with his estranged relatives and hide from two pursuing detectives; a secret he keeps to himself.
At first, Uncle Charlie is an angel to the Newton family. His young, virginal niece, Young Charlie (Teresa Wright) is delighted to welcome her uncle. Uncle Charlie injects an exciting life back into the family and into Young Charlie’s rather boring existence. Uncle Charlie is a tall, handsome, cynical, intelligent urban business man, or at least that’s what he tells everybody. When two detectives looking for Uncle Charlie show up in town, Young Charlie finds out the awful truth about her eponymous uncle. The two try to best one another in a struggle for control over the situation. Shadow of a Doubt creates one of cinema’s best villain/hero pairings. Uncle Charlie is the Hyde to his namesake’s Jekyll linked together by name and circumstance, playing constant mind games with one another till the climax, set on the place where it began; the train.
Hitchcock’s films are a mélange of several elements from different genres: Vertigo (romantic paranormal murder mystery), Psycho (film-noir horror). But Shadow of a Doubt is a straight noir. Sure enough, there is a romantic subplot involving Young Charlie and one of the detectives, but on the whole the movie fills many of the film-noir tropes. Hitchcock uses the visual hallmarks such as the German expressionism, highlighted when Uncle Charlie is standing on the top of the stairs with the distorted shadow of a window in the background. Uncle Charlie is of course a man with a foggy past that is slowly revealed over the course of the film. For all the film-noir tropes, the film is distinctly Hitchcockian and was the master’s favorite of all his films.