Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Shadow of a Doubt: Girl Power!

This is my entry in The Universal Pictures Blogathon hosted by Silver Scenes. Click HERE for more Universal entertainment!

The Sick Rose

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy
 - William Blake

I've never viewed Alfred Hitchcock's 1943 "Shadow of a Doubt" as a case for feminism, but lately I'm beginning to wonder....

Like Blake's sick rose, "Shadow of a Doubt" presents us with a sick, creeping evil that lurks beneath something lovely. A lovely town (Santa Rosa, California), a lovely average family (the Newtons), a perfectly charming visiting relative (that would be Uncle Charlie). Nothing is as it seems or should be.

When we first meet her, Young Charlie (a perfectly cast Theresa Wright) is restless. Lying on her bed, she is critical of her small town life and her ordinary family. She longs for some excitement, something to "shake things up." On the other side of the country her Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten in an unforgettable performance) is also lying in bed. He, too, views his world with disdain, but he does not long for excitement. He longs to elude the police and live another day.

Young Charlie has a sixth sense when it comes to her Uncle. She rushes to send him a telegram, only to find out that he has already sent one to her telling her he is on his way. The Merry Widow Waltz is inside her head while her Uncle, The Merry Widow Murderer, smiles at her across the table. But she can't see the worm in the rose. Not yet.

The longer Uncle Charlie stays, the more he begins to wear his welcome out with almost everyone except his sweet and simple sister (who he accuses of being just a gullible woman when the police try to infiltrate the Newton home with a phony magazine article ruse). He behaves boorishly at Mr. Newton's bank and place of employment and spews his corrosive view of widows enjoying their lives with their dead husbands' money. When Young Charlie challenges him with the statement that they are still human beings, Uncle Charlie sneers "are they?" Big Charlie's only positive world views are expressed when he is looking backwards, to a time when everything was (or seemed) sweet and pretty. There is no place in that world for an independent woman, a woman with money or thoughts or a will of her own. 

Young Charlie, no matter what her fate, will not become her mother. She will not be a loving slave, even if she marries her policeman suitor. The young ladies of the Newton household will become the things that Uncle Charlie despises. Little  Ann clearly has a curious mind that will not be satisfied with dolls and dress-up. And Young Charlie, once the apple of her Uncle's eye, the recipient of his trophy and token of love (that telltale emerald ring), she is put in the precarious position of defending the veneer of the life she questions by combating the person she felt was her soulmate. She has seen the worm and life will never be simple again. Her innocence is gone, her intelligence is rewarded. Take your place in the world, Young Charlie. The price is high, but you will go far.


The Lady Eve said...

Likening Uncle Charlie to Blake's "invisible worm" who destroys the lovely rose is a genius comparison. So true! Both Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten were perfectly cast, well-matched and very effective together, first as doting uncle and niece and later as mortal enemies.

Neither young Charlie or her sister Ann were at all like their mother, a woman naive to the point of dim. Not that dad was much more worldly. The parents seemed to represent a more trusting, less cynical time, a pre-World War, small-town ideal. Smart, determined Charlie managed to out-sleuth even her detective boyfriend and I like to think, with her "witchy" intuition and having survived an early battle to the death with evil, she went on to live a most interesting life.

CineMaven said...

What a lovely piece and such food for thought: Young Charlie as a feminist. Yay!! And I like the point you made of "The young ladies of the Newton household will become the things that Uncle Charlie despises..." This is one o' my favorite Hitchcock films and Teresa Wright is a dream. ( Love her! ) Remember the moment in the movie she tells Uncle Charlie to leave or she'll kill him herself. Ha! I believe her. I can't leave out my girl Janet Shaw, the waitress who was Charlie's classmate. Whew!

My friend and I had a MovieCHAT about this film. If you have any spare time, you might check this out:

Caftan Woman said...

Beautifully written piece that stirs all of the emotions we feel for and about young Charlie and her journey.

The Metzinger Sisters said...

I never compared Uncle Charlie's disdain of widows with the "modern woman" of the 1940s but how true, Young Charlie was indeed going to grow into the kind of woman that her uncle despised. A really great piece for the Universal Blogathon! Thank you!

Silver Screenings said...

Yes, I also like the comparison of Uncle Charlie to the worm. Very clever.

I also really liked this: "...she is put in the precarious position of defending the veneer of the life she questions by combating the person she felt was her soulmate." Great observation. Teresa Wright portrays this beautifully, doesn't she? I love her performance here.

And yes, you're right! Young Charlie is a terrific example of Girl Power. She's smart and capable and has the strength of character to confront evil, even when it's in someone she loves.

Fabulous post.

FlickChick said...

Lady Eve - I love the 6th sense angle. I wonder if Charlie became a psychic? That would be a fun conclusion. Maybe one that helped her detective boyfriend solve crime!

FlickChick said...

CW - many thanks for the kind words. I'm off to your site right now.

FlickChick said...

Metzinger Sisters - many thanks for hosting this great event. I am on my way to read more great posts.

FlickChick said...

Cine Maven: many thanks for the kind words and stopping by. There are so many angles to this story, I think there is endless material here.

FlickChick said...

Ruth - he sure was a worm, wasn't he? The worst kind of evil, but a great film.


Wow, what an enlightening post! I, too, never saw Shadow of a Doubt with a feminist twist, but it makes total sense. Congratulations on your wit, girl!
Thanks for the kind comment!

FlickChick said...

Thank, you Le. We girls gotta stick together!

ClassicBecky said...

This is one of my favorite Hitchcock films, right up there with Vertigo. Teresa Wright was just perfect, and you are so right about the feminist angle. I never thought of it that way, but her strength and determination are so obvious. I really liked this review, Chick -- one of your best!

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Becky. I'm glad you got to this, as I know how much you love Theresa Wright. She is unforgettable in this film.

E Craig said...

This is a great film and a great review.