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CineAction (1999) - Your Father's Method of Relaxation: Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt"




Shakespeare's Henry V is two plays, one of which, the grimly unglamorous expose of the sordid reality that really lies behind the "pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war," subverts the other, the conventional patriotic Boys' Own Paper play, to such an extent that in order to preserve the patriotic reading a director (whether of film or of theatre) must simply cut away the doubts and questionings, the seediness and disillusion, and present the resultant castrato as the "real" Shakespeare. This is exactly what Laurence Olivier did in his abominable film; and even Kenneth Branagh (who didn't have the excuse that "there's a war on") balked at some of King Henry's more sadistic threats.

Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) presents an analogous case, with the difference that the two "parts" or aspects of the film are so perfectly integrated that no neatly ruinous surgery could be performed. Made when there was indeed a war on, the film looks at first glance (and in 1943, no doubt, on subsequent glances also) as though it is a vindication of American small-town values against the vicious moral emptiness of the psychopathic intruder, a serial killer. Or, in more general terms, it looks as though it is a vindication of decent "democratic" values concerning the family and the wider community against the attack being mounted on them by the S.S. and the Knights of Bushido. The family and the community of Santa Rosa are, one might very well feel, presented warmly and affectionately though not, of course (for this is Hitchcock country), without touches of wry humour, sufficient to suggest that the film is not taking these very ordinary people to be saints or heroes: the screenplay is partly by Thornton Wilder, author of Our Town, that middlebro...

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