The quiet town of Santa Rosa, California, is a prime example of an idealistic community in which many Americans in the 1940s would have considered to be a wonderful place to settle down into and raise a family. Alfred Hitchcock sought to portray this idea through his film titled, Shadow of a Doubt, which he produced and directed in 1943. The original screenplay is written by playwright Thornton Wilder.This film revolves around the strange relationship between Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Newton (Teresa Wright) and her mysterious Uncle, Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotton), whom she was named after, and how his secret of being a strangling psychopathic murderer affected this relationship. By examining the film’s Mise en scene, narrative structure, and camera movement, one can see the various ways in which Hitchcock uses suspense to extensively convey how young Charlie begins to grow strangely suspicious of her cryptic guest, Uncle Charlie.This is significant because through these elements Hitchcock is then able to successfully illustrate and present Shadow of a Doubt as a classic example of film noir.
Originating from France, the term Film Noir literally means ‘black film’ in French. Mainly developing in the early 1940s, the style of Film Noir became popular among American Cinema, post World War II. Though there is no exact definition of this term, there are key elements in which constitutes a film to be considered a Film Noir.The elements usually include unique canted camera angles, low key lighting, which creates gloomy settings and ominous shadows, sexual insinuation between characters, cynical persons, acts of violent crime, foreboding background music, and in many cases, a fatal woman, also known as femme fatale, meaning fatale woman in French. With all of these components combined, a dark atmosphere of pessimism is then created within a film which makes it out to be a ‘black film’. Camera Angles Film noirs have unique camera angles in which distinguishes t from other film styles. Specifically, a key scene which depicts this is when detectives, pretending to be Uncle Charlie’s friends, show up at a street corner to spy on Uncle Charlie.
Starting off by using a deep focus shot of the two detectives and Uncle Charlie passing them by, Hitchcock forms a great sequence of scenes in which the two detectives chase Uncle Charlie through city blocks. A notable shot is when Hitchcock cuts to high-angle, also known as a ’God shot’ or ‘bird’s eye view’ allows the audience to see the chase from very high elevated angle.The next cut shows Uncle Charlie disappearing behind a building, stumping the cops. Hitchcock then uses a panning shot to rediscover Uncle Charlie who is blowing smoke from a cigar and watching the baffled cops from the same angle from which the shot is being taken. Dark Lighting Low key lighting is one of, if not the most, crucial concept of a film noir. In Shadow of a Doubt, lighting plays a key role in effecting how the mood and atmosphere of a film develops. Hitchcock intelligently presents this technique through the first two main scenes of the film.
The first scene introduces the character of Uncle Charlie. This scene starts out with a medium shot of Uncle Charlie wearing a fine, dark colored suit, lying stiffly on his bed smoking a cigar, inside his dimly lit apartment. This is where the technique of low key lighting can first be seen. As the light shines through the curtains, a series of shadows is then casted upon Uncle Charlie’s face as well as on the furniture inside the apartment complex. This scene elaborates even more so on the concepts of dark lighting and shadows when Mrs.Martin (Constance Purdy), the landlady, comes into the room and speaks with Uncle Charlie. Referring to him as Mr.
Spencer she informs him about two men who came looking for him; later in the film these two men turn out to be detectives. As Mrs. Martin begins to leave, she pulls the blinds to completely shut them, thus creating an even darker setting. By the uncanny music that begins to play right after Mrs. Martin does this, along with a simultaneous close up shot of Uncle Charlie’s face in darkness, allocates that Hitchcock was trying to implant the idea thatUncle Charlie was a dark figure. By using this type of lighting, along with Uncle Charlie’s coarse voice, and emotionless expression, Hitchcock successfully generates this eerie feeling. The use of low key lighting in this film can be further seen with the second main scene where Young Charlie is introduced.
This scene begins with Young Charlie lying on her bed, pondering thoughts, in the same posture as Uncle Charlie was in the first scene. The lighting in this scene is very bright compared to Uncle Charlie’s apartment.Young Charlie throughout her scene unconsciously keeps her face out of shadows. For example when Young Charlie’s mother, Emma Newton (Patricia Collinge) comes back from doing errands, she sits on Charlie’s bed quite abruptly and directly casts a shadow upon Young Charlie’s face. Young Charlie then sits up immediately in a sense to avoid having her face be in a dark shadow. What is so significant about this scene is how Hitchcock is able to adequately present the style of film noir’s main purpose of contrasting light and dark aspects while portraying the characters persona at the same time.For example, Uncle Charlie can be quickly seen as playing the role of the antagonist, the villain, because his face is constantly covered by a shadow, this can be seen not just in the first scene but throughout the entire film.
As for Young Charlie, because her face is frequently illuminated by light all throughout the film, one can say that she is the ‘good’ guy, the savior. The main difference between the two scenes is that the low key lighting effectively creates different types of shadows creating two different types of moods.In Uncle Charlie’s apartment, the light that shines through the windows produces more sinister shadows because of the overhanging trees and partially closed Venetian style blinds. In the second scene, the mood of Young Charlie’s room is more uplifting because the windows are more opened allowing more light to be let into her room. Also her lacey curtains create a flowery and more appealing effect when casted upon the wall, which lightens the mood and allows the audience to view her as a good and righteous character contrast to Uncle Charlie’s character.Hitchcock purposely parallels these first two scenes together to show not only that the two characters are opposites of each other but also that the two share a close relationship. Sexual Insinuation Aside from low key lighting, film noir also has a tendency to suggest sexual tension and insinuation between characters in its style as well.
The relationship between Uncle Charlie and Young Charlie at first was admirable, but over time it augmented into a much closer relationship, almost even a sexual one.When Uncle Charlie arrives on the train in Santa Rosa, Young Charlie is ecstatic and even goes out of her way to make him feel comfortable; she even insists on Uncle Charlie staying in her room. More specifically, this could be seen in the scene where Uncle Charlie showers the family with gifts, giving Young Charlie a special emerald ring, this particular scene is shot in both medium close up shots and medium long shots. Located in the kitchen of the Newton residence, Young Charlie is falling into a deeper admiration of her uncle.Though Young Charlie does not say anything about being lovers in anyway, she still suggests that there is something more to their relationship than family relations. This is assumed from when Young Charlie says, “We’re not just an uncle and a niece. It’s something else.
I know you. I know you don’t tell people a lot of things. I don’t either. I have a feeling that inside you there’s something nobody knows about . . . something secret and wonderful.
I’ll find it out. ” After she says this, Uncle Charlie takes her hand in his and places a ring on her finger.In a way, this is representing a union between the two, and in a sense he is expressing his love for her. Though only lasting for a few seconds, one could see how disturbing Uncle Charlie’s staring at Young Charlie is while she examines the ring. Though this is a prominent example of their strange relationship, there are multiple instances throughout the film that exposes their peculiar connection as well. Cynicism In a shot before this scene, Uncle Charlie is presents gifts to Emma, in which he also provides one of his speeches that express his cynicism.In this speech, directed towards Young Charlie, he describes how the world has changed for the worse, “Everyone was sweet and pretty then, Charlie.
The whole world… Wonderful world… Not like today. Not like the world now. ” Uncle Charlie’s character is a keen example of a cynical temperament in a film noir. Hitchcock presents Uncle Charlie’s views of the world to be very pessimistic through the speeches that he bestows upon Young Charlie. The second and maybe the most important speech Uncle Charlie makes is at the scene at the dinner table, when Emma inquires of what his lecture is to be about when he presents in front of her women’s group.In this particular speech, Uncle Charlie is very pessimistic, ranting that “The cities are full of women, middle-aged widows, husbands, dead, husbands who’ve spent their lives making fortunes, working and working. And then they die and leave their money to their wives, their silly wives.
And what do the wives do, these useless women? You see them in the hotels, the best hotels, every day by the thousands, drinking the money, eating the money, losing the money at bridge, playing all day and all night, smelling of money, proud of their jewelry but of nothing else, horrible, faded, fat, greedy women. As he gives this speech, the camera zooms slowly into a more close up shot of Uncle Charlie until he finishes his speech, forcing the audience to pay attention to the seriousness and significance of his cynical character. Because of this speech, Uncle Charlie can be seen as a widow hater, but this speech may possibly even explain why he targets widows as his victims. The hatred that Uncle Charlie has leads to anger, which then leads to acts of crime. Acts of Violent Crime Just like low key lighting, the premise of crime is one of the main significant key elements that make a film noir, the film style that it is.Shadow of a Doubt is based mainly on the relationship between Young Charlie and her uncle, but what drives the plot of the story is crime itself. The purpose of the comedic dialogue between Young Charlie’s father, Joseph Newton (Henry Travers), and their neighbor, Herbie Hawkins (Hume Crony), throughout the film not only serves as comic relief but it is also there to implement the ongoing theme of crime.
The biggest crime that affects the movie is Uncle Charlie’s murder of widows because it is the basis of the series of problems that occur throughout the film.Since this was a significant factor in the plot, its’ scene had to be equally fitting as well. This scene is very important because it incorporates the purpose of crime in this film noir and it also displays Hitchcock’s use of various shots and montage to portray the intense suspense. This specific scene is when Young Charlie is extremely suspicious of her uncle and races down to the library, before it closes, to ensure that her uncle is not a criminal. Hitchcock first uses a dissolving shot to show Young Charlie leaving her house and entering the city.The dissolving shot allows the audience to recognize that the shots are still in sequence even though each shot may be of a different setting. Next, Hitchcock uses a tracking shot to follow Charlie face forward as well as from the side, running to the library.
After the tracking shot, fine editing is seen through the rapid cutting that was used, which gave a thrilling and suspenseful feel to the scene. Next in the library, Young Charlie opens up a newspaper and through the ‘point of view shot’ Uncle Charlie is in fact the ‘Merry Widow Murderer’ as she connects the headlines to the emerald ring he gifts to her.These scenes build suspense but the foreboding music in the background adds the definite mood of the scenes. Foreboding Music Music is very important when it comes to how a scene is portrayed by the audience. If the director wanted a scene to be scary, then eerie music would have to play in the background, but if the desire was for the scene to be in a pleasant mood, a more cheerful song would be used. By portraying suspense in this film noir, music is the definite key in affecting how the audience depicts the characters.By using the same example previously mentioned for low key lighting, the parallel scenes of Young Charlie and her uncle are prime examples of who they are as characters as well.
The music in the background played a major part in this as well, though many times it goes unnoticed. For Uncle Charlie’s scene, when the blinds are shut, a shadow is casted upon his face and eerie, creepy music begins to play. For Young Charlie it is the total opposite, where more pleasurable music is placed in the background. At the beginning of the film there is a scene consisting of elegantly dressed men and women dancing to a waltz in a ballroom.This scene may be puzzling at first, but as the plot progresses, a better understanding of the film progresses as well. This specific scene re occurs a total of four times throughout the film, always accompanied by a haunting song, composed by Franz Lehar, called the ‘Merry Widow Waltz’. This particular music score is significant because it acts as a motif for Uncle Charlie’s guilt, for every time he hears this haunting song he would feel paranoid and fear.
Femme Fatale Separate from eerie music, expressionistic lighting, and distinct camera angles, Femme Fatale is character/persona, who is essential to the styles of film noir.In French, the term means fatale woman, which is supposed to represent dangerous dames in film noir style films whom are the antagonists that are fatal to the male protagonists, but this concept is slightly twisted in Shadow of a Doubt. Though Young Charlie is not the antagonist she is still fatal to the leading male character, who is Uncle Charlie. This is shown in the scene where Young Charlie is trying to figure out the problem of the back stair case in which Uncle Charlie sets up a trick with the intentions of hurting Young Charlie because she knows that he is a psychopathic murderer.Shot with close up shots, this scene displays Young Charlie’s growth and courage she develops throughout the film. With minimal lighting, very dark shadows are casted, especially upon Uncle Charlie’s figure. Young Charlie strongly states to Uncle Charlie, “Go away, I’m warning you.
Go away or I’ll kill you myself. See… that’s the way I feel about you. ” So in the end, Young Charlie is the femme fatale of this film noir, killing the Merry Widow Murderer. In conclusion, Shadow of a Doubt is an outstanding example ofAlfred Hitchcock’s work as well as the writing of Thornton Wilder.
By placing secret motifs and symbols throughout the film, Hitchcock is able to portray the evil and darkness taking over the Newton residence in the innocent and wholesome town of Santa Rosa. This depiction shows how much thought and work was put into the production and the art of making this film. By employing innovative lighting techniques, divergent camera angles, the element of suspense, and other central components of film noir, Shadow of a Doubt easily became an early American film noir classic.
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