SHADOW OF A DOUBT Deconstruction of a Scene: Signature Scenes

There are a lot of great camera moments in Shadow of a Doubt.  Rather than an in-depth look at one scene, I decided to do a more brief overview of several scenes.   Although there are several standard coverage shots in this film, they are interspersed with moments of ingenuity.  Hitchcock never let the camera set-ups become boring.

  1.  Charlie visits the library and learns a secret

When young Charlie (Teresa Wright) reads the newspaper at the library she discovers an article that both implicates her uncle in a series of murders and offers explanation for the inscription on her ring.   Hitchcock has the camera start tight in on the ring then pull back, and keep pulling back, until the camera is far above the library floor.  This bold camera move heightens Charlie’s shock, and her feeling of being alone with her knowledge.  This scene is incredibly well lit too.  Joseph A Valentine was the cinematographer on this film, and two others for Hitchcock.

 

2. Uncle Charlie’s monologue

It wouldn’t be a Hitchcock movie if he didn’t use subjective point of view at least once.   As the Newton family sit at the dinner table, Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) begins to talk about widows.   As he speaks he becomes more passionate, and his choice of words more shocking.  We are watching Uncle Charlie in profile, from niece Charlie’s point of view on her uncle’s right.  As he speaks of “horrible, faded, fat greedy women” the camera slowly zooms in, until his face fills the screen.  Then young Charlie, off camera, mentions that these women are alive, are human beings.   Uncle Charlie whips his head to the right.  “Are they?” he asks Charlie, and us as well, looking directly into the camera.   This is a moment of considerable tension, and the first time we really understand just what a monster Uncle Charlie could be.

 

3.  Trapped in the garage

After Uncle Charlie’s plan to trap his niece in the garage fails, and she survives death by carbon monoxide, the family is gathered outside the house preparing to leave.  Hitchcock does something very clever here.  He wants to give Mrs. Newton a close-up as she contemplates her daughter’s close call, and he does so with staging rather than with a zoom.  The family are standing together.  As they climb in the taxi, Mrs. Newton gets in the back seat and slides over to the driver’s side.  At the same time, with no cut, the camera dollies down the driver’s side of the car, stopping on Mrs. Newton’s window.  She has just moved into a close-up!  After she delivers her line of dialogue, the taxi pulls away, leaving young Charlie small and alone.   Still with no editorial cut, she turns and walks to the house.

 

4.    The ring on the stairs

After the speech, Uncle Charlie is proposing a toast.  He is happy, believing he has won.  At first he smiles as his niece descends the stairs.  Then he realizes that she has stolen back the incriminating ring, which now rests on her finger.  Checkmate.  The smile drains from Uncle Charlie’s face.

 

 

None of these camera moves draw attention to themselves on first viewing.  They are all driven by the motivations of the characters, and contribute greatly to the emotional tension.   Hitchcock was ever the experimenter, looking for new ways to allow the camera to tell the story.   Shadow of a Doubt is one of his greatest achievements.

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wemisse

Avid movie lover, reader, and writer.

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