In Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, the outwardly normal Newton family is revealed to be deeply dysfunctional and in serious danger of falling apart. Though Hitchcock does explore this theme in other films, such as Strangers on a Train and Psycho, it is in Shadow of a Doubt that he makes the most direct commentary.
The most obvious problem with the Newton family exists between the two Charlies; specifically, the strongly implied incestuous relationship between uncle and niece. From the start of the film to Uncle Charlie’s death, the two are connected in an almost supernatural manner. When we first see both of them, for example, they are each lying on a bed in the same position, and Young Charlie soon after decides spontaneously to invite Uncle Charlie to stay with the Newtons for a while. Uncle Charlie, at the same time, leaves for the Newton’s house to evade the police. This kind of parallel thinking continues until the uncle falls from the train and breaks their psychic connection. This mental rapport the pair maintains sometimes extends into the physical, quite inappropriately: they often touch one another for too long, too much to be considered normal for family, and Uncle Charlie’s gift of the ring to Young Charlie is a blatant reference to marriage. Even when Uncle Charlie grabs his niece violently (“You’re hurting me!” she cries on two occasions), the camera angles suggest that the action could be part malevolent and part lusting, perhaps a peculiar fetish of the psychopathic uncle. The rest of the family, meanwhile, remains oblivious to their relationship.
Incest is not the only thing wrong with the Newtons. They grow apart from one another at every turn; the sexist father regularly ignores his younger daughter, Young Charlie, and even his wife on occasion, preferring instead to converse with his son and Uncle Charlie. The youngest daughter, on the other hand, has grown estranged of people and spends her days reading and learning, to the dismay of Mr. Newton. Nobody but the Charlies, however, notices anything wrong; their denial is both a symptom and a cause of their fragmentation and lack of communication. Their divide is so great that they cannot put together all the clues that point to Uncle Charlie’s true nature, and so they steadfastly oppose any notion of the insane uncle’s crimes. The Newtons, excluding Young Charlie, go so far as to obstruct the police, in a way criminalizing them as unknowing accessories.
McLaughlin, James. “All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.” A Hitchcock Reader, 145-155. 2nd ed. Blackwell Publishing, 2009.