Film Comment (1976) - Charlie's Uncle: Ronnie Scheib on "Shadow of a Doubt"
- article: Charlie's Uncle: Ronnie Scheib on "Shadow of a Doubt"
- author(s): Ronnie Scheib
- journal: Film Comment (01/Mar/1976)
- issue: volume 12, issue 2, page 55
- journal ISSN: 0015-119X
- publisher: Film Society of Lincoln Center
- Sloan's Alfred Hitchcock: A Filmography and Bibliography (1995) — page 422, #469
- keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Dial M for Murder (1954), Edna May Wonacott, Funerals, Henry Travers, Hume Cronyn, James Stewart, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey, Marnie (1964), Patricia Collinge, Psycho (1960), Rear Window (1954), Santa Rosa, California, Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Stage Fright (1950), Suspicion (1941), Teresa Wright, Tom Helmore, Topaz (1969), Torn Curtain (1966), Vertigo (1958)
SHADOW OF A DOUBT belongs to a popular genre in Hollywood film: the coming to consciousness of an adolescent, or of the representative of an Edenic community (childhood, nature, the small town). He is cast out of this community, either because it can no longer exist or because it must become conscious of itself, and of its relationship to the exterior world, for him to survive. He comes into violent conflict with the world such as it has become (the city, technological society), a conflict resolved in various ways: the forging of new relationships which imply the reintegration of old societal norms within the current one (Ford, Hawks), the affirmation of alienation with the adolescent as tragic hero (Nicholas Ray), or the repression of that which menaces the community (Lang, Hitchcock).
We see first the city, an itinerary of desolation. The camera pans over barren wastelands, through shabby streets to rest finally on the snake who is soon to enter Eden: Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten). He lies like the effigy of a dead king on his tomb at the center of the junk yard representing the dry, yet his very catatonic immobility and strange Delphic utterances read as energy and will. His refusal to react to or even look at anyone or anything in the frame accentuates the power of the profile close-up to abstract and objectify its object, to insist upon a point of view outside of a reciprocal exchange of glances, and seems to ascribe this power to Uncle Charlie. Even when the camera shifts to the other side of the bed it is only to frame Uncle Charlie's unreadable profile between the bewildered landlady and the equally bewildered spectator, craning to decipher on a horizontal eye-level plane an enigmatic expression which could only be deciphered (and that with difficulty) on a vertical or higher-angled plane. Almost whimsically, Uncle Charlie stresses his option to keep the spectator in his highly uncomfortable position as long as he chooses; his remarks to the landlady supply perfect verbal counterpoint to the visual mystification practiced by the camera placement
When he does act, when he smashes the glass, his face is no longer visible, separating identity and action. The camera records cause and effect, menace and fait accompli, never the two together (cf., his murder attempts). It insists upon the discontinuity of action and upon the unreadability of the see/seen relationship, creating a problematically inhabited place of mystery and terror: the off-space. Thus when the snake sheds another skin, evading two men we do not yet know are detectives - and who, like us, want to know more about Uncle Charlie - instead of the heralded confrontation, we see only that Uncle Charlie will always elude us, that his mastery lies in control of the offspace. We are suddenly transported to a place of omniscience and domination over the detectives to witness their frantic intersection of Uncle Charlie's magical absence, his seeming violation and transcendence of physical space. Then, impelled, the camera pans left to show us that the God's-eye view is Uncle Charlie's. Thus, from the first, the spectator's privileged point of view is structured not by the logic of comprehension, but by the compulsion of fascination; not by the decoding of a chain of signifiers, but by the exercise of a power of elision.
We are denied access to Uncle Charlie's reality; what he sees is only to be read in his absorbed, obsessed face, confronting a world as unknowable as death. He had first encountered that world very near death, just after his only photograph was taken; for what he has become through his "accident" (as what Marnie's mother has become through hers, or what Jeffries in REAR WINDOW risks becoming through his) cannot be photographed or identified. Even the photograph the detectives succeed in taking is never used or seen. The camera's insistent photographing of Uncle Charlie's face constitutes a complicity with his will, not a violation of it. For its absolute separation of potential energy (wall) and kinetic energy (action) preserves the fascination with identity and the anonymity of action imposed by society and exploited by Uncle Charlie. When the two are combined, when his face is seen in action, he dies.
It is Uncle Charlie too who summons Santa Rosa from the off-space. As he incants "Santa Rosa" twice, the town unfolds from nothingness like Combray from Marcel's cup of tea, less a town than the idea of a town, as clean and friendly a montage as the city is a sinister and seedy pan. For if Uncle Charlie inhabits the uninterrupted time-space of limbo, his power proceeds from a comprehension of the elision by which bourgeois idealist ideology functions. As long as Santa Rosa adheres to a pre-established mythical model of the small town, it lacks the organizational structures of self-interest to actively defend itself. The organic community, of which the family is the perfect microcosm, elides its own justification, defines itself as an inseparable whole. It therefore unhesitatingly incorporates all elements with a defined role within the organism (enter Uncle Charlie).
But how does our Eden grow before Uncle Charlie's arrival? For if Uncle Charlie summons Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa - in the person of his namesake - summons Uncle Charlie. It is young Charlie (Teresa Wright) who puts into question the family, of which Santa Rosa is apparently only the macrocosm; Uncle Charlie appears to her not as the community's demon but as its messiah (young Charlie's fervent "only he can save us" or her reaction to the telegram: "He heard me").
Young Charlie's dissatisfaction with her family proceeds from a perceptive analysis of its function, misinterpreted as a malfunction: to insure that "we just go along and nothing ever happens." She criticizes not so much the nature, function, or survival of the family as its failure to transcend itself emotionally: "a family should be a wonderful thing."
It's no accident that young Charlie's complaint is addressed to her father Joe (Henry Travers), nor that it constitutes an obsessive negation of Joe's central economic role. When she questions the family's survival Joe replies that he got a raise in January. She contemptuously retorts: "Money. How can you talk about money when I'm talking about souls?" When young Charlie enumerates the dreary round of family life - "all we do is eat and sleep" - Joe adds "And work"; to which she immediately rejoins, "Yes, poor mother, she works like a dog." She never questions the value of Joe's work; she accepts economic necessity so implicitly she doesn't even perceive it. When she asks her mother Emma (Patricia Collinge) for her uncle's address, Emma asks, "You're not going to ask him for money, are you?"; and young Charlie replies: "Of course not. What good would that do?" As an organic unit, the petty bourgeois family seeks to transcend rather than incorporate the economic structures through which and for which it functions. It is therefore unable to inscribe the father, its economic dependence, within its ideological functions (p. meet me in st. louis). The family's ideal is to create a place of fertilization of a self-enclosed organic female community (where identity enriches function) by an outward-directed male energy (which forges identity through action). Economically alienated work (like Joe's) therefore threatens to reveal the home as merely a place where women work to create a place of non work for men to recuperate from and prepare to work for others.
Lacking any function in the family, Joe occupies the screen only by acting out his own negation, by admitting his own superfluity through the medium of an even more pitiful alter-ego, Herbie (Hume Cronyn). In separate enclaves broken off from the family circle, they plot each other's elimination, an elimination superfluous in itself. (Herbie to Joe: 'Tor all you knew you might as well be dead.")
The groupings of various household members, with the all-important exception of Emma, reveal only the voids between them - acted out as impotence, egotism, or solipsism. AU that son Roger (Charles Bates), the walking computer, can contribute to the conversation is figures: the number of hours young Charlie slept, the number of steps from house to drugstore or grocery. The logical positivism of daughter Ann (Edna May Wonacott) reduces even Ivanhoe to a collection of facts. She deliberately, pedantically, cultivates her estrangement in the name of the higher pragmatism of self-interest. For Anne all games are played on their own terms and to her own advantage: "I broke my mother's back three times."
Only Emma can fill these voids, can structure time and space as a natural becoming. She seems to move through a flow of energy which is both feeling and action, identity and instinct, obeying an inner necessity of domestic security, of desireless love and acceptance. Emma's one reappraisal of her world - when it is chosen to be photographed as a typical American home - entails only a recognition of the internal necessities of the house itself (the chair needs reupholstering), the final adjustments necessary to make it represent a life.
In the scene where she defends her decision to dedicate her family's image to the service of its country, her constant motion contrasts vividly with the repressed energy of Uncle Charlie's lying propped-up in bed, disturbed both by the news and by the apparent unpredictability and firmness of Emma's movements, comments, and actions. Emma is seen in a variety of positions, intercut with reaction shots of Uncle Charlie, between the dresser, closet, and bed (unpacking his bags). Yet each time she moves it seems to be toward a new and quite unexpected off-space, not exactly violating spatial logic, but in excess of it, implying a greater freedom of movement than the actual trajectory would impose. So too, her arguments proceed with a spontaneity which does not violate the prefabricated logic of her accepted beliefs, but gives them the appearance of an instinctive knowledge. She proposes an off-space and time, asa continuum intersected by the frame but continuing beyond it, radically opposed to the forbidden place of death and discontinuity Uncle Charlie controls. As in so much of Hollywood film, energy becomes a transcendent quality which bestows validity upon the praxis through which it is manifested rather than deriving its value from a praxis.
But Joe's obvious impotence threatens to exhaust or short-circuit Emma's flow of energy, to grant it only the closure of routine, the dreary round of "dinner, dishes, bed." In order to reactivate and reenclose this emotional and sexual energy, young Charlie summons the only other man in Emma's Life: Uncle Charlie.
When the camera follows young Charlie as she purposefully strides down the street to send for her uncle, we admire her energy and realize that she too is capable of dominating the screen. Whereas Uncle Charlie locks the frame, makes it signify the terrifying possibility, if never the process, of will in action, young Charlie animates it, manifests a totally receptive reaction, a disinterested openness we have not yet learned to read as the unconscious narcissism of the spectator. Her glowing radiance fills the screen, effacing all violence and discontinuity. The camera follows her freely, joyously; her impulsion is its own. Uncle Charlie, on the other hand, never signifies identity except as a transcendent madness and an indecipherable knowledge through which he wills the world. In the bars and lines of force and tension, the spider's web of radiating light and shadow which so often surround him, we glimpse only the terror of that knowledge. The camera follows him with much of the fascinated reluctance young Charlie will later show after she has "confounded knowledge with knowledge." We begin to understand, if only dimly, that both Charlies cannot long share the frame, that there will be a struggle for mastery.
This struggle is played out in vertical space, the winner occupying the place at the head of the stairs, which in Hitchcock always signifies the bedroom. Uncle Charlie dominates the family from this lofty vantage. When the camera pulls farther and farther back and up to isolate the shrinking and forlorn figure of young Charlie alone in the darkening library, her impotence implies his domination. The camera records Uncle Charlie's need to kill young Charlie as an eagle's exchange of glances with its prey. The first murder attempt, with its subsequent verification, is played out oh the back stairs. When young Charlie threatens to kill her uncle if he doesn't leave, adding "I don't want you to touch my mother," Uncle Charlie goes into the living room to emerge, not with Emma, but with Anne (young Charlie's only potential ally), whom he carries piggy-back to the top of the stairs.
When young Charlie tries to contact Graham (Macdonald Carey) after her uncle's two abortive murder attempts, his absence is experienced in the successively more high-angled shots of young Charlie on the telephone; and in that absence, the figure (absent also) who occupies the place of domination at the head of the stairs is obviously Uncle Charlie. Young Charlie is forced therefore to accept the responsibility of murder and repression herself. She mounts the staircase, enters the bedroom, and sweeps down to expel her uncle (and, with him, all possible Ufe for her mother outside of her role as her husband's wife), thus wresting mastery of the film-frame and of the family from Uncle Charlie. His fall from the train is but a logical extension both of his displacement at the head of the stairs and of his dispossession of the bedroom. The use of vertical planes also allows economic domination to be linked to, and absorbed by, sexual domination.
The confident exaltation with which young Charlie fills the foreground when she strides ahead with her uncle's bags, blocking him momentarily from view, almost obscures the family's sudden transformation into servants to Uncle Charlie who, characteristically, carries only the stick we do not yet read as symbolic of his phallic power. But his impact upon the landscape of Santa Rosa is not long left in doubt. He freezes Emma in mid-action, transporting her out of the present time and space into the Birnum Street of their childhood. He disowns her from her husband and family by bestowing upon her maiden name, his name. He gains possession of his niece with a ring (a symbolic marriage). Only Anne and Roger, staunch defenders of the status quo, escape his influence. But if the younger children seek to maintain the inviolability of their father's titular prerogatives by preserving his paper, young Charlie will justify the violation of Joe's rights: "I guess it's all right. If we fold it carefully he probably won't even notice." Emma will go even further, taking not only Joe's paper but also his pillow from him to bestow them upon Charles: "There now, lead a life of luxury."
The evolving role of the newspaper, and indeed of all forms of knowledge from the outside (Uncle Charlie will switch off the news on the radio to turn up music and drown out young Charlie's screams from the garage) represents a particularly brilliant example of Hitchcockian economy, or rather of the infinitely pluralistic reflections of all dialectical oppositions the film explores, only finally to repress. For the family, the newspaper is a fetish of unquestioned and unknown value, similar to a liter and crown, whose lack of content is sufficiently indicated by young Charlie's remark about folding it. In Joe's hands it symbolizes rather than articulates the link between the world and the family he represents as father. Young Charlie in replacing Joe by Uncle Charlie, hopes to enrich the family by reopening the conduit between the family and the outside world, conceiving of this enrichment only in terms of self-aggrandizement: she thinks there is something flattering to her uncle. Uncle Charlie, in constructing a doll house out of the paper, reverses her expectations, creating a more derisory relationship to the world. After the first painful confrontation between the two Charlies over the newspaper ("Uncle Charlie, you're hurting me") Uncle Charlie proposes a further negation of Charlie's hopes (he claims there is something very unflattering in the paper about someone he knows, as indeed there is). Finally, of course, the desire to keep knowledge from the family will indissolubly link the two Charlies.
Uncle Charlie does lead a life of luxury. The apparent town/city dichotomy soon disappears to reveal the isolation and precariousness not of a town or family but of a class: the petty bourgeoisie. Young Charlie's discovery is not of the world beyond Santa Rosa but of the classes of society within it.
It is through her uncle that young Charlie first becomes aware of her father's place in Santa Rosa. The dehumanizing vastness of the bank, the inverted conical lamps hanging a few feet above the employees' heads, their hushed tones, the shocked standstill after Uncle Charlie's embezzling joke, all evoke the oppressive atmosphere of a church whose religion is money and whose acolytes are forever denied access to the Kingdom of Heaven. Nor is the bank confined to its building. The Bank of America sign pervades the exterior shots of Santa Rosa. It hangs above the friendly traffic cop, shines above young Charlie and Graham in the park, frames the town. Even in the house Joe is often framed in corners very reminiscent of his teller's cage.
Uncle Charlie, however, hates the "stuffy atmosphere" and the complicity he creates with the bank president in the latter's office presupposes a knowledge that for them money is just lying around, and, as proved by the president's wife, theirs for the asking - or taking. In the widow Potter (Estelle Jewell), friend of the president's wife, Uncle Charlie obviously recognizes the same class upon whom he has preyed in the city, the women who "smell of money." And indeed Mrs. Potter communicates her availability in exactly the same terms Uncle Charlie later uses when damning widows who live off money their husbands died making: "That's one thing about being a widow, you don't have to ask your husband for money." If Uncle Charlie is a fallen angel, the question remains from what petty bourgeois paradise he has fallen, for his apotheosis (the funeral oration) lands him squarely in the ranks of the philanthropic rich.
Through Uncle Charlie too, young Charlie penetrates the lower classes, entering the forbidden bar. Here the nightmare world of Uncle Charlie confronts the dream world of Santa Rosa, displacing the floating image of the Merry Widow waltzers which disappears after this scene (until the moment of Uncle Charlie's death when he is reabsorbed by the fantasy). "You live in a dream world, Charlie, and I have brought you nightmares." We recognize the lower-class world; it is the pool room from which Uncle Charlie phoned in the telegram, the place from which Santa Rosa first unfolded. Time has stopped in the "Til Two" bar; according to the clock on its swinging doors it will never be two o'clock. In the foregound sit young Charlie and her uncle; in the background dim figures cluster around the juke box, far away, unreal. Between them moves the weary, hopeless figure of Louise (Janet Shaw) classmate in school only, who has passed through every joint in town, and seems destined to circulate forever in timeless, lower-class obscurity.
If the more exploitative and dehumanizing forms of sexual control are discovered among the rich, the more terrifying aspects of sexual anarchy are discovered among the poor. The discovery of the phallus coincides with the discovery of the lower classes. Uncle Charlie's hands compulsively twist the napkin; reverse shot of young Charlie looking down, horrified; the hands slip nervously under the table. The phallic resonances of these shots evoke both the strange potency Uncle Charlie communicates to all women and the literally twisted impotence which the perversion of sexuality into theft and murder implies. This duality is reflected in the duality of the murky images of the lower classes, and elucidates the use of extreme deep focus to separate foreground and background in the two lower-class scenes.
Either these images reflect what Uncle Charlie has been seeing all through the film - the true source of the vague menace of the Other, the real (if supressed and disguised) destructive power of the lower classes - or they present the hopeless fate of the petty bourgeois should they seek to escape their class: the lower depths of the lumpen proletariat, self-destructive poor. Louise, like Uncle Charlie, loves beautiful things she cannot afford ("I would just about die for a ring like that"), wants to escape from the subterranean level of the Metropolis of Santa Rosa. Is her own life the only one she is willing to sacrifice for the emerald ring, or would she, like Uncle Charlie, take the lives of others?
Uncle Charlie teaches his niece her place in the no-man's land somewhere between the parasitic idleness of the rich and the degrading labor of the poor. It is precisely this intermediate position which links the two Charlies. However, what in young Charlie is a belonging to a class suspended between the rich and the poor is in her uncle a continual passage between, and confusion of, the two, a repeated negation of self in "organically" economic terms.
Hitchcock's films present an equally negative image of both the rich and the poor. Strangers on a train, for instance, contrasts the sterility and coldness of the upper classes with the vulgarity and selfishness of the lower; under Capricorn contrasts the foppish uselessness of the rich with the brutal insensitivity of the poor. But it is not a question of which class is better or worse, but rather of the chaos unleashed by the questioning of class structures and the crossing of class lines, particularly in a society where class is said not to exist and cannot therefore be recognized or understood. It is not until Marnie that Hitchcock admits that the practice of his cinema is in the service of the upper classes - and even then it is not by the inherent goodness or tightness of that class, but in the interest of the maintenance of order. Of course, the maintenance of order is mainly in the interests of the upper classes, but this recognition only leads to the anxiety and guilt necessary for active repression of the (revolutionary) alternative. Between the creators and projectors of the American Dream and the bringers of revolutionary nightmare, there is only the petty bourgeoisie, emerged from the lower depths, seeking its place in the sun. It is not Hitchcock's fault if the sun belongs to the rich.
From the first, Uncle Charlie's social position is contradictory (shabby boarding house-overflowing money). The nostaglic re-creation of the past by Emma and Charles evokes a vaguely bourgeois gentility which may reflect either the economic past, or the false class expectations of a spoiled youngest son. It may equally denote a more attractive past of the petty bourgeoisie ("everyone was beautiful then, not like today, not like now"), a stability now only possible in an alienated form (as in the portraits of Charles and Emma's parents preserved in a safety deposit box or Emma's remark that the house owns them). Uncle Charlie's justification for his murders reads both as a distorted version of revolutionary violence (the women he killed were parasites who worked men to their deaths) and as a revenge against his expulsion by his accident from the family womb (the women hovering around his bed, from the landlady to Emma and Charlie). Any bourgeois psychological analysis of revolutionary behavior would parallel the ideological structures at work here: the revolutionary (read: thief and murderer) is seeking to destroy that from which he was excluded, or, which now possessing, threatens all belief in. "Forty thousand dollars is no joke to him [the bank president]. It's a joke to me. The whole world's a joke to me."
Nevertheless this simplistic reading is mitigated both by Uncle Charlie's inclusion among the town fathers, and by the inadequacy of petty bourgeois morality to resolve its economic contradictions, to relate the self-enclosed family circle to the larger society. Young Charlie calls upon her uncle to break the dreary round of "dinner, dishes, bed" only to replace it in her imagination by a film loop of a circle of dancers and in her living room by the upper circle of Santa Rosa society (equally unchanging in its narcissistic complacency). For young Charlie does not have the knowledge necessary to conceive of causal linearity, of violent change in the struggle for power and identity. Thus she accepts her uncle's ring as a (marriage) pledge, a widening circuit of identity which can embrace the world, disregarding her uncle's warning that "sometimes it's not good to know too much." The "Gaslight" genre is but a variation on the innocence-experience theme: woman marries man only to discover that he wants to kill her, that the promise of sexual union conceals the reality of economic desire - as in SUSPICION, DIAL M FOR MURDER, MARNIE.)
In the bar scene, when she does come to know too much and tries to give back the ring, Louise sees it and immediately recognizes the aesthetic and economic value stressed by Uncle Charlie and pointedly ignored by young Charlie, who prefers to believe it is the "feelings" that count, one of the most facile myths of the petty bourgeoisie (doubly ironic here, given the incestuous nature of the "feelings" emphasized in the "betrothal" scene). Furthermore, Louise recognizes the ring as real ("You see, I didn't even have to ask if it was real. I can tell."); she understands that its "sentimental value" is never free of its exchange value, a value invested in economic and fetishistic chains of manipulable desire. Young Charlie has read the inscription in the ring as a promise of a continuum and exchange through feeling. Yet she too.will learn to read the trace of violation implied both by the passage from one class to another and by the very existence of class structures, not to reveal the former (for that risks exposing the latter), but to repress it. She must not recognize the logic of violation but must assign the responsibility of its madness to a single individual. For even in the more subversive American films about the seeker after truth, the truth winds up as a defensive tool of temporary repression. They can but criticize the contradictions of class society, whose insights gained are constantly subsumed in the all-absorbing question of individual guilt: "Who killed Sloan in the kitchen?"
In simplistic terms, society must live with its discontents, with the boredom and repetition, impotence and blindness caused by the repression of the chaotic sexual forces of the id and the anarchic economic forces of the lower classes. Young Charlie must live with a knowledge fatal to the security of society, must keep the contradictions from becoming manifest. The recognition and repression of those who would reveal the truth about the arbitrary and exploitative nature of society constitute the only expiation and justification for the search for truth.
The search for truth in Hitchcock almost always traces transference of guilt, a process through which the hero discovers, externalizes, and kills his own worst desires in the person of the Other (a potential, if repressed, self) who, having acted out these desires, is "really" guilty of them!' In order that all guilt be finally transferred to the Other it is essential that the guilt of possible solidarity lead to the personal responsibility requisite to become oneself an agent of repression.
Young Charlie's guilt arises from her attempt to infuse the petty bourgeois family with a sexual and economic power which is in itself criminal, since the petty bourgeoisie is by definition an impotent class. Young Charlie succeeds in transferring that guilt upon her uncle who reveals the consequences of abrogating power. But the moment of guilt transference, of absolute differentiation, is a moment of double mirror identification: to discover Uncle Charlie's economic practice is to discover that of the society of which one has become an agent, and to kill a murderer is to become one: "If you don't go I'll kill you myself. You see, that's the way I feel about you."
Hitchcock could resolve this problem by showing crime as self-defeating (as in psycho, where Marion Crane risks forever alienating herself from the respectability she steals for). But he deliberately makes the maxim "crime doesn't pay" ambiguous by stressing that bank presidency, as opposed to bank telling, does, as does working men to their deaths (or in psycho, being born the daughter of a rich father, thereby "earning" the right to marry denied a hard-working secretary). Hitchcock elects instead to portray theft, the least violent, most self-interested and logically motivated of crimes, as leading inevitably, if i!logically, to its opposite, psychopathic murder. (Psycho and Marnie are hallucinatory examples of Hitchcock's obsessive need to portray theft as murder). Once liberated, the forces of desire destroy the world; the wages of action is death. But the final irony of theft is that far from being an act of desire that threatens to lose rather than obtain its object, it becomes an active negation of desire. Uncle Charlie, object of desire to all women, is himself devoid of sexual desire (as Marnie is frigid). He incarnates the desire of others only to reveal, on the one hand, the nothingness behind their fantasies and, on the other, the economic and sexual conflicts the fantasies tie up and disguise.
This active demonic negation of economic and sexual desire is but the reverse mirror-image of young Charlie's passive and altruistic negation of desire, as nihilism is the reverse of idealism. For young Charlie's negation is only a desire which, until it sees itself in its Other, does not know itself. To want to deny economic considerations is to want economic power; only the rich can afford not to worry about money. Similarly, to desire for another is to enjoy vicariously without running any risks. Young Charlie has summoned her uncle in her mother's name for her own needs. She wants to become a passive spectator, recreating herself through a recreation of her parents, voyeuristically enjoying, from both points of view through a double identification, her own conception.
Romanticism, whose idealism makes it particularly suitable for the petty bourgeoisie as an ideological complement to egocentric pragmatism (Anne), is obsessed with narcissistic incest. Young Charlie is incapable of seeing others except as mirror-selves (cf., her insistence that Uncle Charlie and she are not only alike but tied by mystic bonds, her easy assumption that her mother's feelings are her own). She summons a glorified and complementary image of herself (another Charlie) in order to enlarge her world without losing or modifying her present self, and in order to revitalize the image of her future self (Emma). The claustrophobia of the "organic" community, its tendency to absorb and homogenize all difference, to isolate itself from all alternatives, implies a continued exchange between different members of a homogeneous whole.
Nor is Hitchcock unaware that imaginary relationships through a series of projections are symptomatic of a refusal or inability to situate the self in a historical or material context. It is in part Joe's incapacity to divorce himself from this context that drives young Charlie to replace him with her uncle who, far from romanticizing the larger theater of the world, will reveal all too clearly its economic and psychic context. Of course the mirror relationship of young Charlie to her uncle resembles not a little the imaginary relationship of the petty bourgeoisie to the bourgeoisie (or an audience to Hollywood film). As long as this relationship remains imaginary - as long as the petty bourgeoisie sees itself as a younger, poorer relation of the bourgeoisie who may yet grow up to be as active and glamorous as its relative - it allows the petty bourgeoisie to enjoy in fantasy what it is denied in reality (cf., the Merry Widow sequences, the concrete audio-visual bond between the two Charlies). Shadow of a doubt goes farther: it shows the consequences of inscribing the fantasy within a reality it instantly con-odes and transforms into a dream.
The audience is invited to project its desires upon a phantasmal image (young Charlie), with which it identifies and through which it vicariously enjoys the excitement, passion, freedom, and power denied it in reality, through which it wants to resolve, if only in illusion, the contradictions of its own social and psychic alienation. In this sense the relationship young Charlie wants with her uncle - and, through him, with her mother - is precisely the one the audience has with her. Young Charlie is both the object and subject of audience projection. Through her disastrous experience of change, through her near-fatal attempt to fuse action and identity through projection, the audience learns the peril of confusing fantasy and reality, as it (and young Charlie) learn through Uncle Charlie the consequences of appropriating power denied it. Deferred power (in the past, future, or imagination) is the only power open to the petty bourgeoisie, the image the only place of possession. To attempt to appropriate the deferred power is not only to risk losing the little one has (the petty bourgeoisie in trying to rise in class may fall into the lower classes) but also to risk its image.
For if young Charlie's search for fulfillment involves only an adolescent (nonfunctional and unformed) self, her mother embodies the values of a double community (the family and Santa Rosa), the security of a fixed identity and function. She is able to act out and articulate, through her role as mother, the myth of the original state of grace (the womb, childhood), whose image, firmly anchored in the past, allows society to function in the all-too-fallen present through the promise of a future repossession of at least a part of paradise. For Hitchcock, to seek to embody the image in unlimited praxis, to make it signify reality, is to risk revealing only the nothingness behind it and the nightmare which hides in its shadow. Worse, it is to reveal that the image itself is one of unfreedom, of a sacrifice of self for the projected desire for unity of others: "But I can't bear it if you go. It's just that we were so close growing up. Then Charles went away and I got married, and, you know how it is, you forget you're you, you're your husband's wife." Spoken over Emma's disintegrating face, then over a close shot of young Charlie, and finally over blackness, these words mark the terrifying fragility of the petty bourgeoisie, to whom the truth could literally be fatal. Young Charlie's projected desire and revolt have become (or perhaps always were) Emma's own. But since young Charlie willed Emma's new self, she alone must kill it.
In some Hitchcock films the shared labor of repression can establish a community based upon a recognition of a common interest in the defense of a menaced order (and order is always menaced), as in the birds. More problematically, the cathartic act of guilt transference through ritualized murder (with complex and ambivalent references to the Mass) can unite disparate existences and class interests (lifeboat, rear window, the trouble with harry). But in her knowledge and struggle, young Charlie is alone. For the rest of the inhabitants of Santa Rosa nothing has happened in time and space.
It is Graham, the detective, who should aid young Charlie. But, to quote the old saw about the police, "they're never there when you need them." Hitchcock's dislike of the forces of law and order has long been misunderstood. What makes them unable to recognize and destroy evil is their all too-human need to remain innocent, "disinterested," their denial of desire and not their inhumanity. (Doyle to James Stewart's Jeffries in REAR WINDOW: "Thorwald's no more a murderer than I am.") Graham seeks constantly to deny the shared knowledge of evil that indissolubly ties young Charlie to him stressing instead their similar small-town innocence. Certainly if he recognized in Uncle Charlie a dangerous rival whose removal was necessary - or the true father from whom he must win her hand (the scene where young Charlie grabs her wrists when she denies Graham access to the bedroom mirrors all the scenes where Uncle Charlie grabs her wrists, from the bestowal of the ring to the first confrontation over the newspaper, to the final death struggle on the train) - Graham would cease to base his relationship to her on a lack of sexual desire and a lie of shared innocence. Internalized repression fortified by guilt is a far more effective means of repression than any police force. It is only to young Charlie that the ideological creation of the bourgeoisie, that "natural order of things," has revealed itself as a series of selfeffacing mechanisms of exploitation and control. Young Charlie too will play her role in effacing what she has seen.
Seldom does Hitchcock, particularly in his American films, attempt to show society other than repressive, sterile, and founded upon inequalities and contradictions - an established order maintained through force. It is only that he makes all alternatives, all attempts at change, a Pandora's box of uncontrollable sexual and social forces far worse than the original ills. This of course means that if he gives full negative value to Emma's repression, he gives little positive value to her liberation, which appears more as a somewhat unseemly giddiness than as a means of creating identity through action. If Hitchcock stresses the inadequacy of the resolution of contradictions, he refuses to accord the inadequacy the status of anything but anxiety and guilt. The petty bourgeoisie must be forced out of its false dream of security in order that it may face, may welcome, its impotence, after its disastrous experience of revolt, so that it accept responsibility for the self-repression necessary for its (or someone's) survival. Ignorance of economic realities (Emma re Uncle Charlie: "Oh, he's just in business, you know, the way men are") disarms the petty bourgeoisie from any possible confrontation with the way men are in business. What is needed is just enough knowledge to absorb all the revelatory force of that knowledge and more than enough fear to prevent one from wanting to know any more. Furthermore, the conflict between ideology and practice, between the emotional flow of the organic community and the nexes of economic exchange, which the film explores, never ceases to be overdetermined by sexual conflict (here facilitated by the choice of a woman as protagonist, since her only means of self-definition within her economic class is marriage rather than work) and played out as an incestuous life and death struggle between dream and nightmare.
If SHADOW OF A DOUBT is Hitchcock's first American masterpiece, it is because it's the first to explore the risks of a carefully maintained isolation and innocence about sexual, political, and economic forces. This becomes clearer if one compares it to the English version of the innocence/ experience genre, stage fright. The defensive claustration of the small community gives place to the kaleidoscopic fragmentation of theater. If any discovery of hitherto unexpected economic or sexual forces menaces to transform Santa Rosa into an anachronistic dream, England, and its metaphoric space, the theater, seem capable of tolerating the most disparate elements, acceptance of the most impossible contradictions. Film is no longer a schizophrenic passage between dream and nightmare. It has become the medium of lies, half-truths, and grotesque apparitions which can freely admit their status as representation.
For once class is no longer effaced but codified, that is, once it represents a historical social identity rather than invisibly defining it, it can be acted out on levels which only reflect, never are confused with, reality. Similarly, once death is no longer what lies behind the phantasmal image (vertigo), a cadaver can become a material prop (THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY is indeed an English comedy). Madness, too, can find far less horrifying modes of manifestation. Only in his English films does Hitchcock evoke the energy, the ironic and somewhat unholy glee which in STAGE FRIGHT does not even falter at the grand guignol of the final curtain. Film which takes as its referent theater no longer has to question the status of the image, accuse its problematic relationship to reality. Hitchcock's American films reflect a far more isolated, fragile world built upon a lie of shared innocence and non-intentional, organically determined social structures, outside of which there is nothing but an infinite hall of distorting mirrors. If Eve can play at being Doris with minimal risk, Judy Barton can only play Madeleine at the price of her own annihilation, leaving Scottie dominating the void of his own identity.
There is in Hitchcock no Langian handshake by which conflict of interest is resolved in the promise of a liberal compromise. Hitchcock is no liberal. MARNIE makes clear that if new methods of suppression and control no longer necessitate the imprisonment or killing of disruptive elements of society, they always necessitate the transference of a sexual and economie guilt from the exploiting to the exploited who attempt to exploit. The apparent contradictions to this statement - the films where the villain is of the upper classes - are all superficially World War II propaganda films where the need to mobilize the lower classes against a sufficiently exterior menace (Germany) overrides Hitchcock's deep-rooted fear of them. In VERTIGO Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), treated by camera placement and mise-en-scène as the ultimate dominating evil upper-class mastermind, turns out to be a lower-class character who kills his wife for her money.
Hitchcock has always admitted that the final referent of his image is not reality but a subjective projection over a void. His practice as filmmaker, then, as one who neither photographs reality (enough has been said by Hitchcock on this score) nor reproduces it. (Hitchcock's denial of all freedom to his actors and crew, his lack of interest in the process of production, except as an unfortunate fall from the purity of his concept, attest sufficiently to his desire to deny rather than direct a communal effort), places him in the position of he who wills the world, and since in Hitchcock it is a world of murder, he who wills murder. Certainly the spectator, faced with the choice between the impotent benevolent father as metteur-en-scène (of murder mysteries) and Uncle Charlie as sadistic sexual metteur-en-scène (of murder), cannot help preferring the latter. As for the mise-en-scène of the forces of law and order, without Uncle Charlie we would be reduced, like the detectives, to waiting until Emma broke the eggs for her cake or investigating the petty bourgeoisie's vision of its own normality. There can be little doubt as to which character in the fiction vehicles the mise-en-scène.
It is in this sense significant that between the city and the Edenic community there is only the inscription of a double absence, that of Uncle Charlie and that of Hitchcock, an impenetrable black curtain and the hand of the master holding all the trumps. And in this hand is mirrored the image of Uncle Charlie's latent power. Hitchcock doesn't look so well, or so we are told, but we are also told that the man behind the black curtain, equally unseen, is sick and powerless. Both are concealed, both will soon assert their hidden power.
If Uncle Charlie forced the spectator into an awareness that he was the only one from whom the privilege of domination was won, here Hitchcock seems to reveal that Uncle Charlie's hidden power is but a version of his own. His inclusion of Uncle Charlie in the scene is only the inclusion of an absence, for the mask which is Uncle Charlie's face perhaps conceals an all-too-familiar profile. To efface all process of production, all that lies between storyboard and screen (menace and fait accompli), to separate identity and action, to alternately grant and withhold knowledge to others, to tell the truth in such a way that it is not understood but feared, to deny any referent to the image except that of a dream or nightmare proceeding from a disturbed brain behind an inscrutable profile, how better to describe the practice of Uncle Alfred?
In 1943, however, the snake has a more immediate historical referent. The loss of innocence, the passage from adolescence to maturity, from disinterested passivity to self-defensive activity are obviously symbolic of America's entry into World War II, nor is Uncle Charlie's elimination of the unproductive rich as a sex rather than a class, his sexual attractiveness and expressionless rigidity without specific reference to Nazism. The Edenic community is the naive expression of America's own image of itself in 1943, as is Graham's simplistic statement that "the world's all right, it just goes crazy every once in a while, like your Uncle Charlie." And Hitchcock seems very ambivalent about the wisdom of maintaining the image of the Edenic community, perfectly represented by Emma, the seen who can only accede to the status of seer at the price of her own annihilation.
It is not until the second dinner table sequence that this ambivalence is resolved by a redefinition of the seen which coincides with the redefinition of the seer. The first dinner table sequence, structured around an alternation of shots of several members of the family and longer shots of Emma alone at the end of the table, already indicates by this imbalance the fragility of Emma's position and the enormity of her responsibility. But far more importantly it stresses her failure to represent the seer, isolate her, reveal the absence of a community based on a reciprocal exchange of glances. All of Emma's point of view shots throughout the film convey information to which she has no access, evoke emotions in the spectator totally different from those to be read in her reaction shots (we see for, instead of, Emma, not through her). In the few scenes where she is assailed by doubts (in the car after the garage murder attempt, in the kitchen after young Charlie's defense of Anne's dinner-table defection) she is always isolated, looking away from those from whom she could gain knowledge.
She threatens to become the seer only once, when Uncle Charlie begins to reveal himself through his description of the merry widows (see sequence above). The first closeup of Charlie breaks the potential seer/seen Emma/Charles signifying exchange, as her interruption of her uncle's monologue forces him to look away from Emma directly into the camera, thus fully establishing Charlie in the place of the spectator. In the opening boardinghouse sequence the cut from one side of Uncle Charlie's unreadable profile to the other revealed only his control of the off-space and the spectator's isolation. Later, when Emma and young Charlie leave the bedroom, having informed him of the investigators' impending visit, the camera partly circles Uncle Charlie's face, going from a dark profile to a lighter 3/4 shot, the camera movement implying a more insistent, active desire to know, the expression and lighting revealing more vulnerability, less complete control of the off-space (from which the forgotten photograph has suddenly materialized). But the spectator is still alone. It is not until the dinner table sequence that, Charlie's knowledge now congruent with the spectator's, she can vehicle and structure his look as accusation, can relieve him of the responsibility of knowledge, occupy the place of the camera and force Uncle Charlie to confront it head-on.
But young Charlie can only fully occupy the place of the seer when she learns to replace Emma by Uncle Charlie in the place of the seen (when she counters Uncle Charlie's verbal questioning of the humanity of the idle rich by a visual questioning of his humanity). The seen becomes the Other; the problematic inscription of the self in its context is absorbed by the terrifying inscription of the Other in his nightmare.
The implications of this replacement are manifold. Hollywood film must no longer encourage America to narcissistically relive and retouch its own mythical path, to reinvest it with more and more ideal qualities (young Charlie's "wonderful things"), for in refashioning its myths it risks discovering what lies behind them (particularly what lies behind the myth of a classless society). It must rather confront its present historical situation, create analytical allegories not of its stability, but of its real danger (cf., LIFEBOAT). Rather than idealize democracy in contradistinction to Nazism (indeed in so doing it might confuse the issue; as TOPAZ shows clearly, defensive self-interest is sufficient justification for a struggle for survival, it is better not to question what self or what interest one is fighting for), it must simply teach to kill or be killed. Neither must it encourage the spectator to passively contemplate his own idealized image or to dream of embodying his limitless potential in action, but to actively defend whatever self he is given against all he is not but may become.
The myth of Eden must neither be lived nor destroyed but alienated to a past from which the world and the self have fallen. In many ways SHADOW OF A DOUBT is a funeral service to the loss of paradise. The actual funeral services at the end, with their eulogy of Uncle Charlie, "kind, brave, generous," protector and benefactor of orphans (if not widows), reveals too well that paradise must be lost lest it be ironically negated. There are no on-screen murders in shadow of a doubt, no cadavers; Charlie's two brushes with death are not particularly suspenseful or frightening. Yet of all Hitchcock's films before VERTIGO and TOPAZ (the latter a funeral to the death of all positive human values), it is perhaps the most permeated with death, death which fills the pan of the city and structures all the voids between people. The still-born minds of Ann and Roger, Joe's wistful playing out of his best friend's murder, Emma's death on screen when she learns of her brother's departure, the dying out of the light, nightmare, and death-sleep of twenty hours which trace Charlie's discovery in the library, the dead love scene in the garage where Graham and Charlie never touch, the film is a series of deaths. At the center of it all is Uncle Charlie, the walking dead, threatening to consign all others to the non-being he incarnates.
Emma and her Eden will disappear in late Hitchcock. In her and in her only is reflected the state of natural grace from which all subsequent Hitchcockian mothers have so disastrously fallen. Young Charlie and her luminous intelligence too will give place to the impotent Jeffries, Scotties, and McKenna's, doomed to play out their distorted fantasies upon others, representing a grotesque childhood of the mind. If in shadow of a doubt the price in freedom of the Eden which is fought for, in image if not in reality, seems high, in rear window and vertigo, the price in freedom is far greater and the reward a very dubious sanity. In TORN CURTAIN and TOPAZ, the fight is for the preservation of any self, by any means possible, and at any price.
The author would like to thank Patrick Sheehan and the staff of the Motion Picture Division of the Library of Congress for their kind assistance, and Greg Ford for his invaluable aid in editing this article.