Filmsite Movie Review
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Pages: (1) (2) (3) (4)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

After a light-hearted, Friday night dinner at Gunner's Grill, the happy couple run into Charlie's two girlfriends at the theatre - the ones who previously admired her with Uncle Charlie on their way to the bank. In the short, humorous scene, an embarrassed Charlie must fib to Catherine about her sore throat.

After a dissolve, the couple are sitting on a downtown park bench. When Graham questions her more about her uncle, an anxious Charlie accuses him of deceitfulness and pretending to be a survey-taker to cover up and masquerade as someone else [a similar revelation will soon occur with her own uncle]:

Charlie: I know what you are really. You're a detective. There's something the matter and you're a detective...
Graham: Charlie, listen.
Charlie: I don't want to listen. You're not in a survey at all. You lied to us. You lied to mother. You just wanted to get in our house. That's what it is. What do you want with us? What are you doing around here lying to us?
Graham: Look, Charlie, you've got to listen to me. You've got to trust me.
Charlie: When you've done nothing but lie?

He admits to being a police detective - "a pretty bad one," and pleads with her to listen to his explanation. He was sent on a quest to look for a "hunted" man, "loose" and wanted for an unspecified crime:

Graham: I had to. When I came here to this town to find a man. I hadn't counted on you. I hadn't counted on your mother or your family...There's a man loose in this country. We're after him. We don't know much about him. We don't even know what he looks like...This man we want may be your uncle.
Charlie: I don't believe you. Go away and leave me alone.
Graham: We're after one man. Your uncle may be that man. We followed him. We think he is. But in the east, there's another man who's being hunted too, hunted through Massachusetts and into Maine. He may be the one.

To endear himself to her and bring himself down to her level (even though earlier, he said she wasn't "average"), he argues that they have similar natures [the scene parallels the one between Charlie and Uncle Charles]. She is extremely important to him because both of them represent "two ordinary people...we've both been brought up about the same. You like me, I know you do. And I liked you." After confessing that she means a lot to him, he appeals to her caring nature: "If it weren't for you, you don't think I'd care how or when I caught up with your uncle, do you? 'Cause if he's the guy, I'm gonna catch up with him, Charlie, remember that." He convinces her to vow secrecy: "You're gonna keep your mouth shut because you're a nice girl. Because you're such a nice girl that you know you'd help me if you knew your uncle was the man we want." Although she denies that she would help, he counters her: "I know you would." To make it easier on her, he assuredly promises that Charles won't be arrested in front of her mother to spare her feelings - he'll be escorted out of town before an arrest: "If your uncle's the man we want, we'll get him out of town quietly. We won't arrest him here." Stunned, she agrees: "I won't say anything."

As they say goodnight outside her home, she tells him that she still has faith in her uncle: "It's gonna be funny when you find out you're wrong." Pausing for a moment on the front porch, she sees (through the porch window) her uncle speaking with her mother. Worried, she walks around the house to avoid going in the front door. On the side of the house, she encounters her father and Herb and is told: "Your Uncle Charlie's been asking about you." Explaining that she is tired, she decides to go up the back stairs: "I'm tired and I don't feel like talking."

Mystery critics Herb and Joe engage in a second conversation in the film - about killing each other with poison:

Herb: Did you taste anything funny about that coffee you had at my house this evening?
Joe: No, it tasted all right.
Herb: That's what I mean. It wasn't all right.
Joe: Put something in it?
Herb: Put a little soda - about the same amount that I'd have used if I wanted to use poison.
Joe: You don't say! I never tasted a thing. Of course, I might not notice the soda.
Herb: Notice the soda more than you would the poison. Hah! For all you knew, you might just as well be dead now.

Upstairs, Charlie pauses secretively and then sneaks into her uncle's room to rummage through scraps of newspaper in the wastebasket. Returning to Ann's room, she spreads out the torn-out pieces on her bed ("looking for a recipe"), but cannot find the purloined article. Ann suggests: "They have papers in the liberry (sic). New ones and old ones. Mrs. Cochran will get them out for ya. She won't even notice if you cut out a little-bitty recipe." Her haughty, bratty sister also explains that if she read more books, she would know that the library is open only until 9 pm. Nonchalantly, Charlie tells Ann: "I'll think about it and maybe go tomorrow." But she uses the back stairs to exit the house and proceed downtown to visit the library.

The film's next sequence builds to a suspenseful climax as Charlie rushes through town to get to the library before it closes, to read the edition of the newspaper that her uncle had damaged. The background music (a piano concerto) builds and swells as she determinedly walks across intersections with her arms stiffly balancing her on either side - the camera tracks backward as she approaches. Heedless of traffic at one busy intersection, she barely avoids being hit by a turning vehicle. The policeman, Mr. Norton (Earle Dewey) yells at her to "get back" to the curb. The town's clock shows the time: five minutes until 9 o'clock. Finally, after waiting for the light to change, she steps out, but the officer reprimands her again. The lights of the Free Public Library turn off just as she arrives and the town's clock begins chiming. At the door, she knocks loudly on the door - passersby from the sidewalk look toward her. She pleads with the stern, old-maid librarian (Eily Malyon) to let her in. She submits herself to a scolding lecture:

Really, child, you know as well as I do - the library closes at nine. If I make one exception, I'll have to make a thousand...I'm surprised at you, Charlie. No consideration...You've got all day, Charlie, to come here. I don't know why you want to rush in here like a mad woman. I'll give you just three minutes.

After locating the correct newspaper, she sits at a long table, muttering to herself:

It can't be anything really awful. I'll prove to him it isn't.

Appalled, her eyes widen as she finds the damning evidence - the newspaper column's headline flashes before her, and as she reads the story about the nationwide search, the column scrolls by. The Merry Widow Waltz theme plays dramatically in the background:


Nation-wide Search Under
Way for Strangler of
Three Rich Women

The whereabouts of the so-called 'Merry-Widow' murderer, strong-handed strangler of three wealthy women, is a question baffling detectives today who are conducting a coast to coast search for the killer.
So far successfully eluding sleuths, the unidentified man evidently has slipped through a cordon thrown around the northeastern states, but announcement of his arrest is expected daily.
The trailing detectives are after two men, one of whom they are certain is the actual killer. The fact that all the victims were wealthy widows accounts for his being known to the police as the 'Merry Widow' murderer.
His latest victim, on January 12th, in Gloucester, Mass., was Mrs. Bruce Matthewson, the former musical comedy star, known to audiences at the beginning of this century as 'the beautiful Thelma Schenley.'

In a close-up of her hand, she removes the emerald ring and re-reads the initials inscribed - "TS from BM" (Thelma Schenley (TS) from husband Bruce Matthewson (BM)) - the initials of one of the victims. She is devastated and broken, knowing that her uncle is undeniably guilty - it is the film's major turning point. She rises slowly and walks out. The camera pulls back to a long shot from above, isolating her at a distance among the dark shadows of the library's reading room. The image dissolves into the dancing, revolving 'Merry-Widow' couples on the ballroom floor. The newspaper headlines and the image of the dancers is also linked to the following image.

[Saturday] The next morning, the 'Merry-Widow' murderer himself - Charles - is pacing in the yard (with his back to the camera) and reading an opened newspaper in his outstretched arms. Through an open window, Emma tells him that Charlie is "still asleep." After another dissolve, evening has fallen over the Newton house. With a glass of milk in his hand, Charles repeats his question about Charlie to Emma, learning:

She just woke up. Perhaps I shouldn't have let her sleep so long, but I think she needed it. She doesn't look quite herself.

During his informal 'survey,' Charlie has been listening at the top of the stairwell (as Uncle Charles was earlier). To avoid a confrontation with her uncle, Charlie uses the back stairs, enters the kitchen, dons an apron, and helps her mother in "mashing" potatoes, as Emma hums the Merry Widow Waltz tune. During her day-long sleep, she learns that her Uncle Charlie asked for her and "that nice young man" Graham came twice to the house. Looking nerve-wracked and upset, Charlie tells her bothersome mother:

Whatever you do, please don't hum that tune anymore. I just got it out of my head and I don't want to get it started again. Please remember, don't hum that tune! (And then her tone changes) And don't keep getting up every few minutes. You just sit there and be a real lady.

Ann makes a special request after being called for dinner - she wants to sit next to her mother and not next to Uncle Charlie, although Emma objects: "Certainly not. Uncle Charlie might think..." Charlie encourages Emma to honor Ann's request: "Let her change if she wants to." When Uncle Charlie approaches the table with the new seating arrangement, he notices the conspicuous change: "Have I lost my little girl?" - an indication of his intuitive suspicion that Charlie has had a major transformation. After being prompted by Emma's one word: "Joe!", Joe sheepishly hands over his ownership [and place as head-of-household] of the newspaper to his brother-in-law: "Oh, brought it in by mistake. Had it in my hand, I guess. Nothing special in it." Charlie remains in the kitchen and is fearful of entering. She listens to off-screen chatter about soup-sipping etiquette. After a deep breath, she appears at the dining room door and cooly faces her uncle, significantly noticed by him as he repeats Joe's declaration: "Nothing special tonight - Oh here she is, here's my girl." Roger rambles while calculating how many hours Charlie slept.

Charlie rises and describes her "perfect" nightmares of Charles' departure [literally and figuratively] - prophetic images of the film's conclusion:

Charlie: I slept alright, and I kept dreaming. Perfect nightmares. About you, Uncle Charlie...You were on a train, and I had a feeling you were running away from something. And, and I saw you on the train and I felt terribly happy...Well, he has to leave sometime. I mean, we all realize he has to leave sometime. We have to face the facts.
Uncle Charles: (straight-faced) I like people who face facts.

Uncle Charlie offers the newspaper's funnies to Ann - the precocious youngster self-righteously proclaims: "I read two books a week. I took a sacred oath I would. Besides, in this family, no one's allowed to read at the table. It isn't polite." Charles asks that Roger go get a "big red bottle" in the kitchen ice-box. As Charlie clears the table of soup dishes and leaves the room, she sarcastically tells her uncle that she won't be part of his adoring audience: "You can throw the paper away. Dad's read it and you've read it. And we don't need to play any games with it tonight." To regain the family's center of attention, Uncle Charlie inspects the large wine bottle ("sparkling burgledy") brought by Roger, (fondles its phallic foiled cap and cork), and makes a Biblical reference. He provokes Emma's special memories of their youth and Joe's embarrassment over his wife's behavior:

Uncle Charles: You know what St. Paul said, 'Take a little wine for thy stomach's sake.'
Emma: Wine for dinner. It sounds so gay. Charles, remember the time they had the champagne, when the oldest Jones girl got married?
Uncle Charles: This is sparkling burgundy.
Emma: Well, one sip and I'll be calling it sparkling burgledy.
Joe: Oh, imported.
Emma: Charles, 'Imported Frankie' and his tweeds.
Uncle Charles: And his loaded cane.
Emma: (giggling) His loaded everything.

Emma reminds her brother that she has promised Mrs. Green, the president of her club, that he would give a "talk to the ladies." Sneering, Uncle Charles practices his speech with an unsettling subject he knows a lot about - rich, lazily fat, detestable, middle-aged widows (whom he judgmentally avenges as a serial killer) in cities who are quite different from small-town women. During his contemptuous monologue, Charlie confrontationally and warily watches him in a profile view that moves ever closer. Midway, she objects to his assessment ("They're alive! They're human beings!"), but her uncle retorts back to his beloved niece with a chilling, misogynous line: "Are they?":

Uncle Charles: Well, what am I gonna talk about? Lecturers usually give them travel or current events, don't they?
Emma: Oh Charles, not current events, we get current events.
Uncle Charles: What sort of an audience will it be? (The cork pops explosively - timed exquisitely with Emma's next line of dialogue)
Emma: Oh, women like myself. Busy with our homes, most of us.
Uncle Charles: Women keep busy in towns like this. In the cities it's different. The cities are full of women, middle-aged widows, husbands dead, husbands who've spent their lives making fortunes, working and working. Then they die and leave their money to their wives. Their silly wives. And what do the wives do, these useless women? You see them in the hotels, the best hotels, every day by the thousands, drinking the money, eating the money, losing the money at bridge, playing all day and all night, smelling of money. Proud of their jewelry but of nothing else. Horrible, faded, fat, greedy women.
Charlie: (off-screen) They're alive! They're human beings!
Uncle Charles: (he turns toward the camera, in gigantic close-up) (coldly) Are they? Are they, Charlie? (She averts her eyes from him.) Are they human or are they fat wheezing animals, hmm? And what happens to animals when they get too fat and too old? Well, I seem to be making my speech right here.
Emma: Well! For heaven's sake, don't talk about women like that in front of my club. You'd be tarred and feathered. The idea! And that nice Mrs. Potter is going to be there too. She was asking me about you. The Greens are bringing her here to the little party I'm having for you after the lecture.

Herb intrudes again, waddling into the living room at his customary inopportune time: "He always comes when we're eating." After being invited into the dining room, he finds a corner seat next to Joe (on the other side of Charlie), where they discuss more murder techniques (besides blunt instruments or poison in coffee) - poisonous mushrooms and drowning in a bathtub:

Herb: If I brought you some mushrooms, would you eat them, Joe?
Joe: I suppose I would, why?
Herb: ...You see? The worst I'd be accused of would be manslaughter. I doubt if I'd get that. Accidental death, pure and simple. A basket of good mushrooms and two or three poisonous ones.
Joe: No, no. Innocent party might get the poisonous ones. I thought of something better when I shaved. A bathtub. Pull the legs out from under you. Hold you down. It's been done, but it's still good.

The camera cuts to a long shot of the table as Charlie jumps up to her feet and screams a furious protest at their macabre conversation (that Emma has humorously and thoughtlessly called her "father's way of relaxing"):

Charlie: Oh, what's the matter with you two? Do you always have to talk about killing people?
Joe: We're not talking about killing people. Herb's talking about killing me and I'm talking about killing him.
Emma: It's your father's way of relaxing.
Charlie: Can't he find some other way to relax? Can't we have a little peace and quiet here without dragging in poisons all the time?

Exasperated with her family, she stomps out of the house. Emma fears that she "doesn't make sense talking like that." Uncle Charles volunteers to rush after her: "I'll catch up with her." She is pursued, but doesn't realize that he is following her until she bumps into Mr. Norton, the traffic cop at the busy intersection on a Saturday evening. As Uncle Charlie grips her arm, Charlie explains that she was "just doing an errand" when she was "speeding" by the policeman the previous evening. Uncle Charlie jokes that he will help her slow down: "You don't want to break the law." She breaks away from him to escape and runs by the 'Til-Two cocktail lounge (with clockfaces painted on the swinging doors - with hands reading two 'til two) - it's a bar populated by war-time sailors (one of the few indications of war-time in the film) and less-than-respectable, downtrodden ladies both inside and out.

Uncle Charlie sullies (and educates or initiates) her idealistic, pure and innocent perspective when he leads her into the smoke-filled, noisy and dark atmosphere of the place. She admits, tellingly: "I've never been in a place like this." In one of the booths, they sit across from each other as one of Charlie's classmates named Louise Finch (Janet Shaw), a waitress, shuffles over to them and takes their order. In a monotone voice, Louise expresses her surprise at seeing Charlie and briefly summarizes her own hard-luck life:

I was in Charlie's class in school. I sure was surprised to see you come in. I never thought I'd see you in here. I've been here two weeks. Lost my job over at Kern's. I've been in half the restaurants in town. What'll you have, Charlie?

Uncle Charles barks out an order for both of them: "Bring her some ginger ale. I'll have a double brandy." Charlie confronts his niece very aggressively, asking her about what she might know (while making significant gestures and movements with his hands). He suspects that Graham told her the truth about him. Revealing more about his evil nature, he also attempts to sweet-talk her into sympathizing with his plight by appealing to their kinship identification as "twins":

Well, Charlie?...You think you know something, don't you? That young fellow told you something...Now look, Charlie, Something's come between us. I don't want that to happen. Why, we're old friends. More than that. We're like twins. You said so yourself. (He takes Charlie's hand and she rejects him.)...What did he tell you? What did that boy tell you?...Charlie, you're a pretty understanding sort of girl. [Jack Graham used this line of reasoning with Charlie earlier.] (Charlie begins to fold a paper napkin) You've heard some little things about me. I guess you're a woman of the world enough to overlook them. You're the head of your family, Charlie, anyone can see that. I'm not so old. I've been chasing around the globe since I was sixteen. I guess I've done some pretty foolish things. And some pretty foolish mistakes. Nothing serious, just foolish.

Charlie notices his strong hands twisting the napkin. His eyes catch her glance, and he slowly slides and hides both hands under the table. Then he grins at her and continues his persuasive arguments:

Uncle Charles: Aw, Charlie now, don't start imagining things.
Charlie: How could you do such things? You're my uncle and mother's brother. We thought you were the most wonderful man in the world. The most wonderful and the best.
Uncle Charles: (firmly) Charlie, what do you know?

She takes the emerald ring from her pocket and returns it to him by placing it on the table, as their drink order is brought by Louise. The uneducated, aspiring waitress admires the ring, with one of the film's most ironic comments:

Whose is it? Ain't it beautiful. I'd just die for a ring like that. Yes sir, for a ring like that, I'd just about die.

Charlie attempts to leave, but is ordered to "sit down" - he begins theatrically lecturing her on her disgraceful lack of knowledge and his hatred for the world. She hasn't experienced - as he has - how the world is a living hell filled with foul swine within houses [the "horrible, faded, fat, greedy women" he detestedly described at dinner]. While deceptively palming the ring under his hand on the table, he undercuts his earlier comment that they are twins by contemptuously emphasizing how different they are. [When he calls her "just an ordinary little girl living in an ordinary little town," he echoes what she had complained about in her first appearance in the film]:

You think you know something, don't you? You think you're the clever little girl that knows something. There's so much you don't know. So much. What do you know, really? You're just an ordinary little girl living in an ordinary little town. You wake up every morning of your life and you know perfectly well that there's nothing in the world to trouble you. You go through your ordinary little day and at night you sleep your untroubled, ordinary little sleep filled with peaceful, stupid dreams. And I brought you nightmares! Or did I, or was it a silly inexpert little lie? You live in a dream. You're a sleepwalker, blind. How do you know what the world is like? Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know if you rip the fronts off houses you'd find swine? The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it? Wake up, Charlie! Use your wits. Learn something.

As she departs the bar, cackling laughter resonates after her - harshly underscoring the scornful view of the world that Uncle Charles has just espoused. When he catches up to her on the walk outside the Newton house, he again grabs her arm, invokes their "blood" relationship [another Dracula reference], admits his exhausted condition and his contemplation of suicide before finding a "last chance" refuge with her family:

The same blood flows through our veins, Charlie. A week ago, I was at the end of my rope. Oh, I'm so tired, Charlie. There's an end to the running a man can do. You'll never know what it's like to be so tired. I was going to (he pauses) - Well, then I got the idea of coming out here. It's my last chance, Charlie. Give it to me! Graham and the other fellow, they don't know. There's a man in the East. They suspect him too. And if they get him, I-- Charlie, give me this last chance.

She has little sympathy and replies that he should leave her and her family alone: "Take your chance. Go." He pleads with her for a few days: "I'll go, Charlie, I'll go. Just give me a few days." And then he reminds her what her knowledge could do - it could figuratively kill her mother and literally kill him. She agrees to postpone revealing his guilt for a "few days":

Uncle Charles: Think of your mother. It'll kill your mother.
Charlie: (vulnerably softened) Yes, it would kill my mother. Oh, take your few days. See that you get away from here.
Uncle Charles: Do you realize what it will mean if they get me? The electric chair. (She breaks down) Charlie, you've got to help me. I count on you. You said yourself we're no ordinary uncle and niece, no matter what I've done.

She sends him into the house alone. Left in front of the house, she overhears conversations that have returned the house to accustomed peacefulness:

Uncle Charles: East west, home's best.
Emma: Where's Charlie?
Uncle Charles: She's outside. Don't worry about her.
Emma: What was the matter with her?
Uncle Charles: Oh, she said she was a little edgy. I persuaded her to go for a little walk. She's calmed down now.
Emma: Oh, I'm so glad. I've saved a dessert for you, Charlie.

She watches as he playfully carries Ann piggy-back up the stairs. Tears roll down Charlie's eyes, and she weeps while looking up into the sky - for answers.

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