When Alfred Hitchcock left England for the American studio system, which offered him more generous financing, a larger technical toolbox, and a bigger stable of stars to choose from, some people wondered how he would adapt to his new creative environment. Would the master of the British chase melodrama—with his macabre and mischievous wit, his enthusiasm for the shadows and menace of German expressionism, his dark view of human nature, and his voyeuristic gaze—survive the transition to sunny Hollywood? Would Hitchcock succeed in making Hitchcock films in the United States?
Shadow of a Doubt (1943) provides an answer in the affirmative. Set in Santa Rosa, California, the film explores an archetypal collision between innocence and (murderous) experience, when the apparently idyllic life of a supposedly average American family is suddenly upended with the arrival of the charismatic but sinister Uncle Charlie (an unsettlingly malevolent Joseph Cotten). He seems to be running from the law, but Charlie may have other motives for dropping in on his sister’s family—most intriguingly, a fascination with and affinity for his young niece, also nicknamed Charlie (Teresa Wright), who clearly feels drawn to her uncle in mysterious ways. A tale of repressed desire and pathological violence—and of doppelgangers, caprice, and innocence unmasked—Shadow of a Doubt, as Hitchcock himself liked to say, brings “murder back into the home, where it belongs.”