Shadow of a Doubt (1943) was British-born Alfred Hitchcock’s fifth American film and the one that he at various times identified as his favourite and his best. It seems likely that one of the reasons he liked Shadow so much is that is an extraordinarily well-ordered narrative system, a meticulous cause and effect chain that melds its various scenes and sequences together to form a unified narrative that is highly effective in building suspense and cultivating identification with characters. This scrupulously organized film operates as a masterclass on principles of narrative design while generating resonant commentary on the nature of family life.
This book redresses the deficit of sustained critical attention paid to Shadow even in the large corpus of Hitchcock scholarship. Analysing the film’s narrative system, issues of genre, authorship, social history, homesickness and ‘family values’, Diane Negra shows how the film’s impeccable narrative structure is wedded to radical ideological content, linking the film’s terrors to the punishing effects of looking beyond conventional family and gender roles. Finally it understands Shadow as an unconventionally female-centred Hitchcock text and a milestone film that marks the director’s emergent engagement with the pathologies of violence in American life and opens a window into the placement of femininity in World War II consensus culture and more broadly into the politics of mid-century gender and family life.