Category Archives: Hitchcock Themes

A number of recurring subjects mark the films of Alfred Hitchcock and these may be central to the narrative or peripheral elements that are nonetheless distinctive features of the plot.

Family Dynamics in “Strangers on a Train”

Throughout Hitchcock’s movies a twisted sense of family is widely expressed and criticized. In Shadow of a Doubt the “average American family” presents with signs of misplaced trust, manipulation, and the strong potential for incest. Strangers on a Train specifically shows a misguided mother-son dynamic that is favored by Hitchcock. Oblivious to the seriousness of Bruno’s obsession with murder, Bruno’s mother is blind to Bruno’s obvious psychopathic mindset. She remains the only character in Strangers on a Train that supports Bruno, even Bruno’s father wants him sent away. Even when she is confronted by Ann, Bruno’s mother refuses to believe that Bruno could in any way be involved with murder, despite his constant fixation with it. She doesn’t even want to entertain the idea that Bruno could be anything more than her innocent son. Many critics believe that the relationship between Bruno and his mother is a foreshadowing of the relationship between Norman and his mother in Psycho, “Bruno, with his close relationship with a crazy mother, is an obvious forerunner of Norman Bates.” Regardless of the movie, twisted family dynamics are a given in Hitchcock creations.


Wood, Robin. “Strangers on a Train.” In A Hitchcock Reader, 172-181. 2nd ed. Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

Shadow of a Doubt and Family Dynamics

In Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, family is a very important dynamic, but disgust is a common motif. For instance, when Charlie and Uncle Charlie are both lying in bed and thinking about each other, this brings the metaphor of incest. Also, Hitchcock’s disgust makes the family into a crime because the women start the problems, making the women the criminals; and the only way to solve this problem is  by marriage or death. Moreover, the essay by McLaughlin says, ” Her love for her mother proves stronger than her love of independence and reconciles her to her mother’s position.” Instead, of fleeing from Uncle Charlie, and starting a life away from Santa Rosa; Charlie realizes she holds the family together and cannot leave since her family is more important.   Thus, the family dynamics form the plot of the movie, if a different family was used, the movie would not be the same.

shadow1 shadows2

McLaughlin, James. ” All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.” In A Hitchcock Reader, 145-155. 2nd ed. Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

The Family Dynamic in “Shadow of a Doubt”

In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1943 film Shadow of a Doubt, the family dynamic is a crucial piece of the puzzle in this thriller. Young Charlie begins to suspect that her mother’s brother, and her namesake, Uncle Charlie is the Merry Widow Murderer after talking with a detective posed as a census taker, Jack. She then begins to look closer at some of the clues that have popped up since Uncle Charlie’s sudden appearance, like the ring with the engraved initials he gives Young Charlie, which only helps to fortify her suspicions that her uncle is the murderer.

However, Young Charlie knows that if she were to tell her family her suspicions about Uncle Charlie, it would ruin them, especially her mother. The family is already on the rocks when the movie starts, and the audience can sense this with Young Charlie’s first line: “This family has just gone to pieces.”

Therefore, the family dynamic keeps the plot from developing smoothly into Uncle Charlie paying for his crimes, and instead Young Charlie must find another way for the truth to be heard, even if the truth is divulged after the fact. Had the Newton family not been in this film, it would have made for a very bland movie.

McLaughlin, James. ” All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.” In A Hitchcock Reader, 145-155. 2nd ed. Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

An Unpopular Opinion on Hitchcock’s Families

Now that we have Strangers on a Train, Spellbound, and Shadow of a Doubt under our belts, we can begin to see a common family appear in Hitchcock’s films.  Many would believe the most striking relationship is the one betwixt the Charlies in Shadow of a Doubt, but I am here to inform you that this is not the case.  The Charlies’ relationship is actually the most normal within this particular cluster.  Entertain this idea for a moment: When the film opens up, after we see uncle Charlie evade the detectives, we see young Charlie in a mirrored position, distraught in her bed.  When her parents find her, nobody seems to really listen to what is wrong with her.  Then, her parents show a distinct disregard for censoring what books their youngest daughter Anne reads, so she is prematurely stripped of her childish innocence.  On top of all of this,  Charlie’s father seems to have a closer connection to Herb than he does with his wife.  Uncle Charlie and young Charlie are the only two family members that seem deeply moved by each other.  Charlie’s mom gets upset at uncle Charlie leaving, but this dramatic moment is similar to a kid losing a toy, and will most likely be gone from her head the next day.  Uncle Charlie’s safe place is young Charlie, and after all, isn’t that the way family should be?

Family dynamic

in our reading of robin wood essay of strangers on a train  wood points out the odd relationship between Bruno and his mother, this relationship has many oedipal traits .  and throughout the rest of the right up we have it made clear that   Bruno issues with every other female. though this is not woods intent  it was made clear to me that this was a projection of Hitchcock own mother issues. i do not see the ” his professed admiration for guy is balanced by guys increasing if reluctant and in part ironical amused admiration for him”( Wood, Hitchcock reader,p.173)  as anything more tan a MacGuffin or red haring, an exaggerated reaction to meeting an idol nothing more. the real issue being the relationship between Bruno and th women in his life . a similar them will be repeated in the film psycho .

Hitchcock’s View on the Family Dynamic

Hitchcock’s Shadow of Doubt shows Hitchcock’s true feelings about families as a whole when he introduces the Newton family and their inner turmoil. “Like everything else in Hitchcock, the family is not innocent:…” (McLaughlin). In this particular family the relationship between Uncle Charlie and Charlie comes off as something more than just an uncle, niece relationship. Throughout the film Hitchcock adds actions and word choice that make it even more apparent that this is something more, for example the gift of the ring. “This unhealthy, unholy union – it is as if they are getting married – of her and her uncle..” (McLaughlin). This gift of a ring in itself makes the audience uncomfortable but the fact that it is the ring of Uncle Charlie’s victim adds a new level to this disturbed family dynamic. Hitchcock uses Uncle Charlie to demonstrate his view on the corrupt American families.

McLaughlin, James. ” All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.” In A Hitchcock Reader, 145-155. 2nd ed. Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

Hitchcock Themes

After watching many of Hitchcock’s films such as Shadow of a Doubt, Spellbound, and Strangers on a Train. I have decided to comment on the family dynamics in Shadow of a Doubt. The family dynamics throughout this movie are downright creepy and incestuous. When the movie starts out with the parallel of Uncle Charlie in his bed and young Charlie in her bed there is a weird dynamic. They both appear to be sick and something is missing in their lives. Young Charlie desperately wants Uncle Charlie to visit and he somehow gets this message without being contacted. They seem to have a weird telepathy that only the two of them seem to understand. When he arrives young Charlie is oblivious and doesn’t realize that he is a creepy man. As the movie progresses she starts to become suspicious of him and eventually kills him. The family dynamic is also screwed up because Charlie’s little sister is very mature for her age and automatically realizes that uncle Charlie is bad. Also uncle Charlie treats the family’s dad as if he is a child. He tries to take the dad’s place as the head of the family. In the end they realize that uncle Charlie was bad news and that he was contributing to the bad family dynamics.

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’., 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


The Alluring Sociopath

One of the many themes that reappear in many Hitchcock films is the likable villain.  Some of these characters include Professor Jordan in The 39 Steps, Alex Sebastian in Notorious, Bruno Anthony in Strangers on a Train, and Charlie Oakley in Shadow of a Doubt. Hitchcock paints all of the characters in such a light that his viewers feel pangs of guilt when bad things happen to them.  These characters are often played by handsome, suave actors; this helps further divert the audience’s morality.  Considering these characters are pretty much evil people (i.e. Nazis, murderers, etc.), Hitchcock does a fantastic job of making them as sympathetic as possible.  When the audience starts siding with these characters, they start questioning their own morality, leading to a more uneasy and unsettling experience in the theatre.

Sebastian in Notorious

Black and Deep Desires


We all know Hitchcock has a deep fixation on murder. One of the world’s first and most prominent filmmakers, Hitchcock didn’t choose an easy route. Comedy, romance, and melodrama all had mass appeal at the time, but for Hitchcock, there was no other choice than suspense. If he didn’t seem like enough of an innovator, this was a time when the concept of movie genres was still being explored. It is thanks to Hitchcock that we even have horror,  thrillers, and a number of other sub-genres we cherish today. It’s easy to conclude an analyzation of this theme by pointing to Hitchcock’s childhood and unresolved psychological issues. Of course in order to be a filmmaker of this kind (and of his caliber), he must have had some kind of personal motivation behind it. Murder isn’t an easy subject to dedicate your life’s work. But it wasn’t just Hitchcock, was it? He had an audience, didn’t he? Don’t we still love his films today? Doesn’t his genre (no matter how perverted) still hold sway over us?

In order to make the films he did, Hitchcock knew one thing: we’re all sickos. From Shakespeare to Poe, entertainers have always had a knack for pinpointing that special place in our heads where we harbor our inner psychopaths. While we want to stand up and scream “don’t go in there, you idiot!” yet we also can’t help but relish the cringeworthy moment when the murderer finally carries out the act. And while we cling to the edge of our seats for the detective to catch the perp, we can’t help but wonder “would it be so bad if he/she got away with it this time?” We love to hate the villain. This is a time-tested trope to us, but to Hitchcock’s audience, it was something more than a guilty pleasure. The silver screen changed the way people consumed entertainment. Where someone could cling to a book from the comfort of their home, their feelings hidden from all, hiding your perverse emotions is a little more difficult in a crowded theater. For example, do we laugh when Herb and Joe discuss the perfect murder in their suburban home? Who are we supposed to empathize with? It was frightening.

In the case of murder this is especially interesting. Robbery or blackmail may not be easy to go back on, but it is possible. Murder is the most permanent act imaginable. Madness, passion, downright psychopathy – these things are so powerful that they can convince someone to end the life of another is so strong within the human psyche, and we just can’t help but love it. Hitchcock knew this completely. And, I like to think, he laughed.