Shadow of a Doubt



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Shadow of a Doubt (1943) was British-born Alfred Hitchcock’s sixth 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. This book 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. 

Diane Negra’s nifty gem of a book is jam-packed with insights into one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most underrated (yet among his favorite) movies.  Lurking amid the oblique and obvious references to Freud, fascism and foreigners, she finds in Shadow of a Doubt a claustrophobic return to America’s foundational fiction—that it remains an innocent city on a hill, rather than the blood-stained remnant of war and plunder.  Negra’s book, like a reel of film unspooling on the projection room floor, unravels how Hitchcock’s obsessions with symmetry and pairing leave the viewer, and in this case, the reader at once informed and anxious.  She demonstrates how close reading, archival research and wide-ranging scholarly sources contribute to surprising feminist interpretations of a film that still resonates.

Paula Rabinowitz, University of Minnesota

Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, with its idealized portrayal of the American family and rosy depiction of small-town USA, can be easily mistaken for the British filmmaker’s paean to his adoptive country. In a dazzling close reading of the film, Diane Negra peels off this Rockwellian veneer layer by layer. Her interpretation moves adroitly from Freudian family romance to homefront patriotism, from the female gothic to bourgeois nostalgia, to expose the film’s dark and intense ambivalences over American consensus culture and family values. In the process, she makes a compelling case for moving Shadow of a Doubt closer to the heart of the Hitchcock canon.  

Milette Shamir, Tel Aviv University

'Diane Negra recognizes and insightfully attends to the characteristically Hitchcockian substrata of metaphysical and existential anxiety and horror in Shadow of a Doubt, and his subtle dramatization of a chaos world without borders. But one of the real contributions of her detailed and finely researched study is her insistence that this dark masterpiece is a harrowing fable of specifically how, to use William Carlos Williams’s memorable words, “The pure products of America go crazy,” directed and overwhelmed by socio-political conditions of our own making. Negra persuasively shows how Uncle Charlie’s symptomatic monstrosity and Young Charlie’s complex victimization are intimately related to institutionalized patriarchy and misogyny, stifling family structures, and a culture of smiling evasiveness in the world that they live in: one that is recognizably America in the early 1940s – and beyond.'
Sidney Gottlieb, Professor of Communication and Media Studies, Sacred Heart University, editor of the Hitchcock Annual, Hitchcock on Hitchcock (2 volumes), and Alfred Hitchcock: Interviews

'This is a wide-ranging book that examines Shadow of a Doubt in all sorts of perceptive ways... [It] is extremely good at teasing out the significance of Shadow of a Doubt'
Carl Sweeney, The Movie Palace

'Diane Negra makes a compelling case for her expansive, comprehensive scrutiny... Through her encyclopedic, exceptionally thorough interrogation... Negra prompts appreciation of the breadth and depth of Shadow of a Doubt and implicitly encourages a further questioning of what has – or hasn't – changed in the America portrayed so dramatically, accurately and ominously by Hitchcock.'
 Hitchcock Annual #24

Author Information

Diane Negra is Professor of Film Studies and Screen Culture at University College Dublin. A member of the Royal Irish Academy, she is the author, editor or co-editor of twelve books ranging from Off-White Hollywood: American Culture and Ethnic Female Stardom (2001) to The Aesthetics and Affects of Cuteness (2016) to Imagining ''We' in the Age of 'I:' Romance and Social Bonding in Contemporary Culture (2021). She serves as Co-Editor-in-Chief of Television and New Media and as Chair of the Irish Fulbright Commission.