Hitchcock Going Against ‘The Perfect American Family’

Shadow of a Doubt was a piece that Hitchcock took his time on, carefully composing the structure and plot of the film as needed, with the collaboration of Thornton Wilder. The novel that this film was based on already had a psychological background but the addition of Hitchcock’s conscious and subconscious qualities made the film into an interesting depiction of ‘the perfect American family’. Of course the family is anything but perfect especially if you want to take Uncle Charlie’s perspective on life. Uncle Charlie represents many trends of the time in which Hitchcock made his film. Being an imitation of the psychopathic ‘Merry Widow Murderer’[1] Uncle Charlie twists the plot of ‘the perfect American family household’. However, Hitchcock would never let his star character slide with only one juicy and controversial quality. In Shadow of a Doubt there is no doubt that a tinge of incest can be detected between Young Charlie and Uncle Charlie. Watching them as their proximities are closer than that of a family relationship, Charlie and Uncle Charlie make the audience a bit uneasy as their interaction in the beginning of the film is too close for the audience’s comfort. All these dysfunctional characteristics are slowly disclosed in the film as a way for Hitchcock to speak out against the popular and possibly horrid icon of what a family should be. As McLaughlin describes the horror of this film, “The representative American family, in short, is the true horror of the film”[2].

There are also many theories on Hitchcock’s films that state how he incorporates autobiographical information in his films. Some theories many even say watching Hitchcock’s films that depict family interactions are a reflection of his family as he remembered them as a child. According to Professor Landon’s analysis of the film, at the University of Maryland, Hitchcock wrote a small part of the script which was reportedly an incident that occurred in his own childhood. It stated, “There was no holding him. It was just as though all the rest he had was too much and he had to get into mischief to blow off steam”1. This is the part of the film when Emma, the mother, describes Uncle Charlie’s bicycle accident as something that changed his life forever. The theory could be true but another interesting aspect of Shadow of a Doubt is Emma, a supposedly mild character of the film but Landon expresses her as a reflection of Hitchcock’s own mother being that she has the same name. Hitchcock has a knack when it comes to incorporating himself in his films whether it be physically with his cameos or subconsciously through his characters. In Shadow of a Doubt Hitchcock challenges the superficial image of ‘the perfect American family’ through the use of Gordon McDonnell’s novel with a psychological twist.


[1] Landon. ‘Film Summary: Shadow of a Doubt.Htm’. Userpages.umbc.edu, 2004. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

[2] McLaughlin, James. “All in the Family” Edited by Deutelbaum, Marshall, and Leland Poague. A Hitchcock Reader. 2nd ed. Malden, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, chapter 11, pp. 145-155


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