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Teresa Wright plays Charlie, a small-town high-schooler who enjoys a symbiotic relationship with her favorite uncle, also named Charlie (Joseph Cotten). When young Charlie "wills" that old Charlie pay a visit to her family, her wish comes true. Uncle Charlie is his usual charming self, but he seems a bit secretive and reserved at times. Too, his manner of speaking is curiously unsettling, especially when he brings up the subject of rich widows, whom he characterizes as "swine." When a pair of detectives (MacDonald Carey and ...


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Oct 15, 2018

Shadow Of A Doubt At Noir City D.C.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of Noir City D.C., a festival of noir film sponsored by the Film Noir Foundation and held at the beautiful American Film Institute Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland. I have been attending Noir City D.C. for several years and have enjoyed seeing many movies and learning about film noir.

Alfred Hitchcock's 1943 film "Shadow of a Doubt" was a highlight of this year's festival. In addition to seeing this film in an ornate, period theater, I had the benefit of a perceptive introduction by Alan Rode, a noted author, critic, and charter director of the Film Noir Foundation. It was an outstanding opportunity to see "Shadow of a Doubt", which is listed on the National Film Registry, for the first time.

The movie was both set and filmed in Santa Rosa, California. Not the least of the film's attractions is the opportunity it affords to see this American town, its streets, houses, library, businesses, and people, as they were in the early 1940s. The film tells the story of a middle-class, staid American family consisting of a father who works in a bank, a mother who is a homemaker, a daughter in her late teens, a bookish younger daughter, and a small boy, the youngest child. The family receives a visit from the mother's younger brother, Charles Oakley (Joseph Cotton) affectionately known as "Uncle Charley". As it turns out, Uncle Charley is a ruthless serial killer of elderly women being pursued relentlessly by the police. At first welcomed lovingly into the family home, Uncle Charley's character gradually becomes apparent, particularly to his namesake, the family's older daughter, Charlotte "Charley" Newton (Teresa Wright) who at first idolizes her Uncle and has been about to write asking him to visit. Charley becomes wise to the sinister, violent character of her Uncle and in the process she forms the beginning of a romantic relationship with one of the detectives.

The film grows in suspense throughout. It is a masterful character study of Uncle Charley and of his niece. The film is meant to be discomforting in suggesting the evil that often underlies even the most facially peaceful communities and families. The cinematography adds a great deal to the film in its scenes of the old family house, Santa Rosa itself, and the old steam passenger trains.

"Shadow of a Doubt" is an outstanding film noir and reputedly Hitchcock's own favorite among his films. I was grateful for the opportunity to get to know it and for the continued opportunity to learn about film noir at Noir City D.C.

Robin Friedman

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