Hitchcock, The Artist
“Shadow of a Doubt” was one of those movies I would flip right past if it happened to be on television. If I knew that it was a Hitchcock film, perhaps I’d pause for a few seconds to see if it looked scary. If it didn’t captivate me within those few seconds, I’d cruise right by until I found MTV. But, being somewhat forced to watch “Shadow of a Doubt” in class, I had no choice other than to buckle down and pay attention. I was pleasantly surprised. I expected some twists and turns, since it is an Alfred Hitchcock film. I didn’t expect the suspense or the romance. It was surprisingly entertaining in both plot and dialogue. I could tell by the many different film elements that this was a trademark Hitchcock film. “Shadow of a Doubt” is an Alfred Hitchcock work of art, because of its originality, openness to interpretation, and different approach to suspense.
“A work of art” is defined by Encarta Encyclopedia Online as “something made or done exceptionally well.” This film was unquestionably done well, if not exceptionally well. But, what does “done well” mean? I think it means that the work is completed fully with the best efforts of everyone involved. Not only is it fully researched, but meticulously planned and painstakingly designed. Therefore, the work in question is more like a child to those who created it, rather than a work of art. It contains their blood, sweat, and tears, and maybe a little insight into their minds. So, in the case of “Shadow of a Doubt” it is a work done well, by Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock was quoted in a 1998 review of “Shadow of a Doubt”, by Ted Prigge as saying “he enjoyed playing the audience like a piano.” Hitchcock did this almost effortlessly in this film (1). He had the ability to scare people, without shoving horror down their throats. It’s what separated him from any other director of suspense: he knew the secret to scaring people was preying on real human emotions (1). His subtlety is what took “Shadow of a Doubt” from an everyday movie to an intricate thriller.
Movies of the past had a different approach to scaring the audience. In the 20th century, scary movies were more than entertainment. They were designed to lure the viewer into buying the action figures and tee shirts that the movie had spawned. They gave you nightmares. They used computer-enhanced special effects that took years to complete. They used robots as actors. The movies of the past were based more on cinematography and their musical scores. People evaluated the dialogue and acting. The plots were more than just ideas thrown together to create a feasible story. They were creative tales crafted by writers with more than just success in mind. Action was not needed to keep the audience’s attention in “Shadow of a Doubt.” In fact, the film was very mild mannered in the action department, and it opted to work with the suspense of humanity rather than the suspense of easy thrills (1). Hitchcock knew in order to be scary, he had to be able to enter the viewer’s mind and find their weakness. This personalization and concentration on affecting the viewer is another way “Shadow of a Doubt” is a “work of art”.
“Shadow of a Doubt” seemed to be about a murder running from the law. But, for those who wished to dig a little deeper, you could see that it is wholly more about the uncanny relationship between Uncle Charlie and young Charlie, his ill-fated niece. Young Charlie herself said that she and her uncle were “like twins.” They shared a strange way of communicating, which at times seemed totally inappropriate and weird. Young Charlie was able to see into her uncle’s mind in a way that she would soon regret. When she felt bored and wished for some action, Uncle Charlie appeared on the train. Then, Uncle Charlie hid a portion of the newspaper that contained an incriminating news story, and Charlie knew he was up to no good. When young Charlie discovered that her uncle was, in fact, the “Merry Window
Hitchcock, The Artist