Have you ever had a family member that you dearly love who has been keeping a dark secret about themselves from you for your whole life? If so, then you'll be the first to relate to the main character of Alfred Hitchcock's 1943 mystery Shadow of a Doubt. Our main protagonist is Charlotte "Charlie" Newton (Teresa Wright), a bored teenager in a small California town who has just learned that her uncle (Joseph Cotten), with the same name, is coming to town to visit her and her family. During his visit, she notices that her uncle is acting very odd at times, mainly when he refuses to have his picture be taken by strangers. Things change further when she discovers the last thing that her uncle would want her to discover, that he may indeed be a murderer on the run.
Director Alfred Hitchcock considered Shadow of a Doubt his favorite film out of all the films he made. Coming from the same talented filmmaker who made Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and Psycho (1960), that's a high honor indeed. Looking at it again, I can certainly understand why that might be. It's basically a story about a young woman who goes through the most backstabbing situation she could find herself in. That, of course, being that she has a family member whom she can no longer trust because of a crime they committed. What's worse is that she wanted to know what secret this person was keeping from her in the first place. It's devastating because she sees another side to this person that she never thought she'd see and also didn't want them to become.
Shadow of a Doubt tells a powerful story that reminds us that there are going to be family members that aren't always going to be as trustworthy as we think they will be. No matter how hard we try to keep in touch with everyone in our families, there's always going to be difficulty in keeping tabs on each other and trying to know everything about a certain family member. In the case of the relationship between Uncle Charlie and Charlotte's mother Emma (Patricia Collinge), we have a brother-sister relationship in which the brother is trying to keep a secret that would separate him from his sister further.
If there are times in this movie in which you have to close your eyes because the worst thing imaginable is about to happen to these characters, then that means this film is doing its job. The reason being is that through all this dread with Charlotte emotionally separating further from her uncle, there is underlying suspense that indicates that it only gets worse. The screenplay by Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson, and Alma Reville creates tension all throughout the film and makes these characters feel real. It's fascinating that Charlotte's father (Henry Travers) invites his neighbor (Hume Cronyn) over for dinner every night just to talk about committing the perfect crime. All I can say is it's no wonder Charlotte doesn't react kindly to these conversations at dinner on top of her dilemma with her uncle.
I sincerely believe that films and shows along the lines of Breaking Bad owe their existence to this masterful thriller. Joseph Cotten is chillingly good as the fishy uncle and Teresa Wright is full of life as his most cherished niece. The plot is powerful and very well paced by Hitchcock and his screenwriters. To talk any more about Shadow of a Doubt would only spoil the suspense along with your enjoyment of seeing it firsthand. So by all means, check out this Hitchcock classic and see why it's Hitchcock's own personal favorite.