Shadow of a Doubt

1 h 47 min1943X-RayPG
A teenage girl, overjoyed when her favorite uncle comes to visit the family, slowly begins to suspect that he is in fact the "Merry Widow" killer sought by the authorities. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
Alfred Hitchcock
Teresa WrightJoseph CottenMacdonald Carey
English [CC]
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Supporting actors
Patricia Collinge
Jack H. Skirball
Universal City Studios Product
PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
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4.6 out of 5 stars

2189 global ratings

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  2. 12% of reviews have 4 stars
  3. 6% of reviews have 3 stars
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Top reviews from the United States

JW ChristopherReviewed in the United States on September 7, 2022
3.0 out of 5 stars
Good but not Great
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I'm afraid I'm going to cast a shadow of a doubt upon the alleged magnificence of this movie and say it but far from brilliant. First, let's put the kibosh on the notion that Shadow of a Doubt is Hitchcock's personal film favorite. His daughter Pat Hitchcock is oft quoted saying it was his favorite film, but he denied that in an interview, Perhaps he had a fondness for it because it was his first entirely American production, but it's not likely that he was thinking of artistic merit.

Right away, Shadow of a Doubt is an atypical Hitchcock film. It is one of only two of his films that had the villain as the main character (the other being Psycho, in addition to, arguably, Strangers on a Train). Thus we do not have our heartstrings pulled by the plot device used so often and with such success in his films: the wrongly accused man. And while Uncle Charlie is an interesting character, it doesn't take long to be repulsed by him. (In Psycho, we even have sympathy for Norman Bates!)

And where is the MacGuffin in this film? Again, contrary to most Hitchcock films, it doesn't exist! Without a MacGuffin to invest our energy in, it's just a race to see whether daughter Charlie will expose Uncle Charlie before he succeeds in his clumsy attempts to kill her. Microfilm over Mt. Rushmore this ain't. SPOILER ALERT: Doesn't she, in fact, kill him deliberately, rather than having it be an accidental death?

Yes, there are bits of Hitchcockian humor to divert our attention, but overall this is a rather bland procedural that takes place almost entirely in the family's home with little action to hold your interest. (They don't even show the "Merry Widow Murderer" killing anyone, just flexing his fingers in look-at-me-I'm-acting frustration as if he were suffocating someone.)

I consider myself a more-informed-than-average Hitchcock aficionado, having watched a dozen or so of his movies (many three or four times), and having watched and listened to many dozens of hours of commentaries, critiques, analyses, bonus features and documentaries regarding Hitchcock. I've even read "Hitchcock," by Francois Trufaut (albeit a very long time ago) and seen the DVD. And, as much as I admire Hitchcock, my informed opinion is that Shadow of a Doubt just ain't that great. Don't waste your money on the 4K like I did.
Matthew D'SouzaReviewed in the United States on June 24, 2019
5.0 out of 5 stars
An Early Alfred Hitchcock Classic!
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An early shining example of Alfred Hitchcock's directorial genius!

Alfred Hitchcock's suspense thriller Shadow of a Doubt (1943) is a visceral and frightening depiction of a mass murderer on the run. Hitchcock draws out your fear for this small California town family's safety as they attempt to survive Uncle Charlie, who they do not even know is a serial killer. Hitchcock uses his signature long panning shots of stairs, doors, streets, as well as close-ups on faces for maximum effectiveness. Hitchcock simply understands what we are afraid of and exploits it in Shadow of a Doubt for tense encounters between a killer uncle and his astute niece.

The black and white cinematography is lush with beauty. From waltzers spinning in circles to a dutch angle shot of the unnerved killer fearing his capture and many more clever shots. I adore Joseph A. Valentine's cinematography in the library as young Charlie reads the newspaper clipping that reveals the plot. As young Charlie discovers who her uncle is the camera smoothly zooms out to a high aerial shot indoors with dark moody lighting for a haunting reveal. Shadow of a Doubt is full of neat and expressive shots.

Dimitri Tiomkin's score is scary as it swells for the dramatic sequences and carries you away with lovely passages for the sweeter moments. Tiomkin finds serenity in the quiet family moments and builds a crescendo of fear during the climactic sequences. I love Shadow of a Doubt's music.

I adore Teresa Wright as young Charlotte "Charlie" Newton. She is so astute, nearing on clairvoyant, which gives her character a maturity and wisdom beyond her years. She is a subtle hero of her tough circumstances. Wright plays Charlie with a fierce determination and willful certainty. Teresa Wright acts pound for pound alongside Joseph Cotton at the heights of his acting prowess in a magnificent display as an actress.

Joseph Cotton demonstrates his range in Shadow of a Doubt as the widow murderer Charles "Uncle Charlie" Oakley. Cotton sheds his nice guy persona from all his other classic films like Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, or The Third Man. Cotton's warm demeanor and delightful voice are nowhere to be found in Shadow of a Doubt as he opts to play Charlie as a cold deadpan killer with a silent menace and an obvious distaste for humanity. Cotton's hyper focused and highly nuanced villain is one for the ages. His constant pleasant attitude towards his family is so under-handed as he reveals his inner rage to his unsuspecting niece. It's honestly shocking every time I witness Joseph Cotton's transformation from the calm voice of reason to the monotone monster at the center of Shadow of a Doubt. Joseph Cotton is surely one of cinema's greatest antagonists in Shadow of a Doubt.

Henry Travers is splendid as Joseph Newton, the kindly father to young Charlie, with his funny obsession with murder mysteries alongside his quaint friend Hume Cronyn as Herbie. They give a lot of much appreciated comedy relief from the super tense sequences within Shadow of a Doubt.

Likewise, Patricia Collinge is devastating as Charlie's tired and lonely mother Emma Newton. Her desperation for her younger brother Uncle Charlie to stay with her is really saddening and upsetting. On the other hand, Edna May Wonacott is hilarious and endearing as Ann Newton. Her bright remarks are always a fun reprieve to the suspense in Shadow of a Doubt. Similarly, Charles Bates is a charming young son Roger Newton.

Overall, Shadow of a Doubt elevates Hitchcock's masterful direction with all time great performances. I cannot recommend Shadow of a Doubt enough!
30 people found this helpful
yoshionthegoReviewed in the United States on April 6, 2015
5.0 out of 5 stars
No Doubt
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Critics and fans agree that Shadow of a Doubt is director Alfred Hitchcock’s finest film. It was nominated for an academy award for Best Story in 1943 and was selected in 1991 by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States national film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Perhaps best of all, it has a 100% rating on the movie website Rotten Tomatoes from critics and fans alike.
Shadow of a Doubt is the story of a seemingly charming man, Uncle Charlie, who has a dark and sinister side which is slowly unraveled by his niece. Uncle Charlie’s true character is skillfully revealed through stylized cinematography, intriguing lighting, and an uneasy plot.
In the opening scene, cinematography sets the stage for the movie and its focus: Uncle Charlie. As the intro credits fade, we see a sweeping vista of a large bridge and a city’s skyline. The shots fade into a neighborhood, then a street with kids playing ball in the street of that same neighborhood. After the street we see a building, then a window, then Charlie laying on a bed in a formal suit, with a slow movement to his face, and then the camera lingers there. This series of shots sets the stage of the film’s focus on Uncle Charlie. At first, the audience does not know who this man is or what he is doing, but we know that the movie is all about him. The cinematography in the rest of this first scene gives insight and foreshadowing into Uncle Charlie’s true character. After we see him on the bed, we learn that two men are looking for him. This seems to spook Charlie as he makes immediate plans to leave, walking out the door and right past the two men. The scene ends with a bird’s-eye view of the two men running around confused, with Charlie looking down at them from the top of a building. This shows us that Uncle Charlie is elusive, tries to confuse people and may have a few dark secrets that will be explored in this film. Much can be learned about Uncle Charlie from paying attention to the cinematography of the first seven minutes of the movie.

From that very first scene in the movie, lighting also plays a key role in establishing Uncle Charlie’s character. As Charlie lies on the bed in the small, darkened room, the camera lingers on his motionless face. The only thing that is illuminated is the bottom-half of his face; his eyes remain in the shadows. This creates a mysterious and eery feeling about Charlie, and the viewer wants to know more. Shortly, as a blind is closed on a window, shadows overtake Charlie from head to toe. When the blind is reopened by Charlie, it creates shadows reminiscent of a jail cell, metaphorically reflecting the nature of Uncle Charlie’s lifestyle because, although he is never incarcerated, his options are so limited, he may as well be in jail. In that first seven minutes of Shadow of a Doubt, the lighting implies an awfully lot about Charlie and his life: he’s not a nice man and his life is full of dark secrets.

Shadow of a Doubt’s plot contributes to Uncle Charlie’s story. His essence is a sharp contrast to the world in which his family lives; they are small town people and innocent, while he is a murderer. Despite this difference, Uncle Charlie’s family remains oblivious until his niece discovers the truth about his life, and she chooses to keep his secret hidden. Her reality is altered by the fall of her “hero”. Uncle Charlie’s attitude contrasts greatly with his family; their world is filled with a soft glow of light which shows a dreamy and happy world. This reality is a stark contrast compared to Uncle Charlie’s reality of his life in the shadows. This ignorance is a source of irony, especially with a sub-plot involving Charlie’s brother-in-law, Mr. Newton, and his friend Herbie, who are both obsessed with the so-called "perfect crime”. This subplot occurs regularly; Mr. Newton and Herbie being completely oblivious to the fact that a real life serial killer, the affable Uncle Charlie, lives among them. This sub-plot juxtaposes the innocence of family members as they entertain themselves with “impossible” tales of crime and highlights the inherent evil that exists among them, within Uncle Charlie.
All in all, the cinematography, lighting and plot, combined with other movie-making dimensions, contribute to the characterization of Uncle Charlie. From the very first scene, viewers understand that Uncle Charlie is a man with a story, and they are drawn into that story by every dimension of artistic movie-making. These elements combine to make Shadow of a Doubt a masterpiece forever. Way to go Alfred; you really outdid yourself. This is what the cinema is for.
3 people found this helpful
cookieman108Reviewed in the United States on May 26, 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars
Charlie, think. How much do you know about your uncle?
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Having just watched Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) last night for the first time, I was surprised at how good it was, and why I've never seen it before. I mean, I am a fan of Hitchcock, and I've seen many of his movies, but to have heard so little of this particular film seems puzzling to me, as it's an excellent film, and worthy of a lot more recognition than it seems to have gotten. Either that or I just need to get out of my cookie jar more often...
Anyway, the film, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and written by Thornton Wilder, stars a wonderful cast including Teresa Wright, who appeared with Gary Cooper the previous year in The Pride of the Yankees (1942), Joseph Cotten (Citizen Kane, The Third Man), and Henry Travers (High Sierra, Mrs. Miniver, It's a Wonderful Life). Also making an appearance is Hume Cronyn making his film debut in a supporting role as a mousy neighbor.
The story involves a family in a small California town, and the impending arrival of a relative, Charlie (Cotten), from back east. Most anticipatory is younger Charlie (Wright), named after her uncle, as she feels a deep, almost telepathic connection to this man she hasn't seen in quite awhile. Now, before Charlie's departure for California, we get a general sense of unease, as it seems Charlie is involved in something of a sinister nature. Upon arriving in California, the visit seems to be going well, as the family welcomes him with open arms, but soon we learn that trouble has followed Charlie in the form of two rather shady individuals who present themselves with a certain amount of deception, which is elaborated on later. The older Charlie's behavior begins to change subtly, perceptible only to the younger Charlie and us, the audience. As various bits of information are disseminated, the younger Charlie's begins to realize that her uncle may harbor a terrible secret that could tear apart the very fabric of her family. As her uncle's slick veneer is slowly peeled away, she eventually learns the truth, with the older Charlie realizing that the relative safety he sought in coming to stay with his sister and her family is in jeopardy. What lengths will he go to to protect himself from his past?
The film starts out very slowly, but it's obviously deliberate, as the sense of dread within the viewer is cultivated in meticulous fashion. This seems a common tactic with Hitchcock, but I did get the feeling it was more drawn out here than in most of his other films. The pacing felt very similar to Rebecca, another Hitchcock film, which was released in 1940, but while that film had a much more grandiose feel to it, this film keeps things fairly simple, which really works well. There is a good amount of leaving the viewer in the dark within the first hour or so of the film, but when the secrets of the character is revealed, the plot points prior to this fall into place nicely, making sense of these once less meaningful elements. Teresa Wright's character is wonderful as the perceptive and intelligent niece forced to make a very difficult decision between her family and her uncle, trying to deal with the consequences of whatever path she chooses. Cotten is the real standout performance in the film, presenting a very likeable character, with a highly polished exterior, but an exterior you learn is barely hiding a very ugly and, ultimately, dangerous core. He figuratively becomes the fox in the hen house, as his sinister nature encroaches upon this quiet, unassuming community. As I said before, the pacing is pretty slow, picking up moderately within the last 30 minutes (it has a running time of 108 minutes) to a very suitable and satisfying ending, one that provides a nice jolt during an already tense scene.
The print provided by Universal for this release looks very good, despite a few hardly noticeable signs of age and wear. Special features include a featurette on the making of the film, detailing why Hitchcock considered this to be one of his favorite movies he made, production notes, drawings and photographs, recommendations (to other Hitchcock films), and a theatrical trailer for the film. All in all, and excellent, if underrated, Hitchcock classic.
97 people found this helpful
Gizmo’s MommyReviewed in the United States on August 14, 2022
5.0 out of 5 stars
Shadow of a Doubt
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Suspense thriller worth watching.
acjReviewed in the United States on June 21, 2022
5.0 out of 5 stars
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The personal favorite of this extraordinary director is one of my top black and white films of all time. The entire cast is perfect and contribute to tension and suspense that is unique even for Mr. Hitchcock.
One person found this helpful
Schuyler V. JohnsonReviewed in the United States on February 26, 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars
The serial killer in Uncle's clothing...
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This is simply fabulous; a completely unique story, set in a quiet, gentle small town, innocent in all its doings, until Uncle Charlie comes to call. Really the finest of Joseph Cotten's performances, this role is perfect, and he is truly frightening in his contrast of personalities, one for his sister and family, the surface one, and his hidden personality, that of the malevolent murderer. He despises rich women, particularly rich widows, and goes after them with a vengenace. Attractive and charismatic, he has no problem attracting them, to their eventual doom. He makes a slip and gives Charlie, his niece, a ring he stole from one of his victims, with the initials engraved on the inside of the band, and Charlie, her admiration and love for her uncle rapidly dwindling, does some late night research at the local library and discovers the identity of the intials on her ring. Theresa Wright is brilliant and believable, as are her entire family, her mother, whom I greatly admire, and father, perfect in his small town role, and her little brother and sister, the bookworm sister my favorite of all. Hume Cronyn, a friend and neighbor of the father's, engages in an ongoing game of how to create the perfect murder...always arriving during dinnertime and when asked how his mother is (he lives with her) he says "Middling, just middling." As the movie progresses and Charlie becomes more and more convinced that her uncle is the serial killer being sought by the two detectives who followed him to Santa Rosa, the tension increases and Charlie's life is threatened as well. My favorite scene is at the dinner table when Uncle Charlie tips his mitt a bit by expounding on rich widows: "Fat, greedy women, eating the money, drinking the money, proud of their jewelry but nothing else...and what do we do with animals when they grow too old and too fat?"
And the scene in the bar, foreign land for Charlie, and a great scene, with Joseph Cotten twisting a napkin in his hands, and Charlie watching him do it, and thinking about all the women done away with by these same hands...there is a bit part of a barmaid, a school acquaintance of Charlie's with a jaded, resigned air of her lot in life as that of a waitress with no hope for the future. Uncle Charlie tells his niece that she knows nothing of him or life in general, and she "lives her perfect, ordinary life in her ordinary little town, dreaming stupid, silly dreams...and "I brought you nightmares..." Indeed.
Hitchcock filmed this in the town of Santa Rosa, in a real house, and the attention to the small town aura is evident throughout; also the decade of the 1940s, lends an air of real innocence, a world complacent and happy and unaware of the Uncle Charlies of the outside world. Well worth adding to your Hitchcock collection...a true classic of the Master Director's skills.
6 people found this helpful
New Jersey MomReviewed in the United States on June 24, 2012
3.0 out of 5 stars
Badly written and badly acted
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I rate this movie 3 stars because it's a Hitchcock film and any Hitchcock film bears the hallmark of the master's obsession with detail and cinematography. But frankly, this film needs tremendous sript editing and re-write (not to mention better acting, but the actors don't have a lot to work with).

The characters just stand there and give little stock speechs. "I am X character revealing y about myself. I will now give a speech to demonstrate that." Uncle Charlie is supposed to be a charming psychopath whom no one would suspect is actually a serial murderer. Then he sits at the dinner table -- not even laughing or saying it in a way that suggests a joke -- with a dark murderous look on his face saying "widows are fat pigs who spend all their dead husband's money and you know what we do with fat pigs." WTF?? Why not just say "I'm the merry widow murderer"?? How does this fit with a "growing and menacing" suspicion that he's not who he appears to be? There's supposed to be a "shadow of a doubt" that something is wrong with this guy-- not a sledgehammer hit on the head. Same with all the other characters.

Furthermore, you couldn't just drive a truck through the plot holes of this movie -- you could fly a fleet of 747s. Why does Uncle Charlie, who is so afraid he'll be recognized as the "merry widow" murderer that he destroys a newspaper so the family won't see a story about the murders -- hand out as presents expensive objects that belonged to the women he killed -- including a fabulous emerald ring with the dead woman's initials engraved on it!!! (which he has to explain away). Then the niece goes out on a date with the detective who is stalking her uncle and he never seems to notice that this ordinary middle-class girl (they make the point that the family is "average" and middle-class continually, the detective himself says it) is wearing what looks like a $50,000 emerald ring! If he had asked to look at the ring the whole case would have been solved instantly. And we know that it's immediately identifiable as real because a waitress in a different scene notices the ring at first sight (clearly a whole lot sharper than the detective!) and comments that she can ialways tell that something like that is real.

It goes and on and on. They're just about to catch Uncle Charlie via the identification of a photograph, then they hear that another possible suspect has been killed while fleeing the police so clearly the other guy must be the murderer (why???) and they just drop the whole identification thing.

And of course, at the very end, the detective, who has introduced himself to the family as someone taking a survey in order to weasel out information about Uncle Charlie, is obviously going to marry the niece. Since the whole point of the story is that the the girls mother (the murderer's sister) must be protected from any knowledge of her brother's crimes ("it would kill her") how is that they're going to explain that this guy who has been hanging around the house for weeks posing as a survey taker is actually a detective?

None of this horrible script or pile of plot holes is necessary to the movie. About an hour's good re-write could have cleaned up everything. Have no idea why it wasn't done but it detracts so badly from the movie that at some point you are just laughing.
8 people found this helpful
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