Hitchcock proved time and time again throughout his film career his fascination with family dynamics. Possibly espoused from his familial relations when he was a young boy, Hitchcock loved to portray twisted family relationships on the screen. His fascination with unhealthy family relationships especially becomes apparent while one watches his 1943 film Shadow of a Doubt. In this film, Hitchcock uses shots, dialogue, and other film-making devices to exacerbate the unsettling relationship between Uncle Charlie and the niece named after him. He also shows a certain fascination with Freud’s theories, far before the release of Spellbound in 1945 fully realized his fascination with the psychoanalyst. The first shot of Charlie in the film shows her relaxing in her bedroom, much like the position the viewer saw Uncle Charlie in not too long ago. The position she is resting in proves to be the very one that “Freud [describes] as being conducive to the relaxation of the ego’s vigilance over the unconscious,” and sets up the uncertainty and immoral themes of the rest of the film. Charlie allows herself to entertain an unhealthy, borderline incestuous relationship with her uncle, abandoning all common sense and not seeing the harm he intended to inflict upon her and the family until much later in the film. Even when she does realize his intentions and his murderous past, she does not truly take action until immediate events on the train force her to kill Uncle Charlie in an act of self-preservation.
Charlie does not like her family, and spends the early portion of the film complaining about her family’s shortcomings, yet at the end of the film decides not to turn Uncle Charlie in to protect that very family she felt such antagonism for at the beginning. Through one particularly harmful familial relationship, Charlie briefly attains all she had dreamed of with the arrival of her uncle, but that one relationship that brought her bliss, brought her nothing but stress and tears in the end. Hitchcock does not like the happy family portrayed in so many other Hollywood films – he highly enjoys portraying unhappy and unhealthy family relationships, and is unashamed in doing so. His characters may suffer in the process, much like Charlie did in this film as her ego struggled to regain control of her unconscious, but the story certainly does not.
McLaughlin, James. “All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.” In A Hitchcock Reader, Second Edition, 145–55. Blackwell Publishing, 2009.
Within Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, it is evident that there is a disconcerting relationship between Uncle Charlie and Charlie. The sexual tension between the two is an unlikely feature in any family dynamic. In discussing the interactions between those within the immediate family, James McLaughlin observes how Charlie has an “unmistakable, barely conscious, hostility directed at a father”; another unlikely feature of a typical family (148). This assertion is supported with Charlie being portrayed as critical daughter who often makes snide remarks towards her father, Mr. Newton. This can be described as passive aggressive behavior and is perhaps her way of expressing her resentment towards Mr. Newton. Charlie’s resentment is possibly spurred by her boring and idyllic life for which she blames her father. Consequently, there is an innate desire to experience something out of the norm and dangerous, which does happen with the arrival of Uncle Charlie. It is also interesting to see how just as critical Uncle Charlie can be towards Mr. Newton. This is evident from they way he embarrasses Mr. Newton at his work, disregards his comment about leaving a hat on the bed, sits at the head of the table, and continues to rip up Mr. Newton’s newspaper despite the children’s protests. Hitchcock’s intentions for having Mr. Newton characterized as a pushover is unclear, but it is certain that it is used to further intensify the discomfort and to reveal how seemingly typical families can be in reality, dysfunctional.
McLaughlin, James.” All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.” In A Hitchcock Reader, 145-155. 2nd ed. Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.
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.