Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose #10: Nothing on Me (Opening Scene of Shadow of a Doubt)

228 posts in this topic

Daily Dose #10: Nothing on Me, Opening Scene from Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

 

Of Uncle Charlie’s character, we get a very heavy sense of fatalism and doom weighing on him, as he lies on the bed, as in the montage-like fluid movement of the camera down the nightstand to the bills tossed haphazardly aside on the floor, suggesting even money doesn’t matter to this character, and the complex lattice-work of shadows that lie across him and the room. 

 

The landlady comes in and with crystal clear depth of field, her in the background, his prone figure close up, what a great shot, she prattles on in her everyday reality, contrapuntally to his nihilist existential reality. The way Charlie stands at the window, with a voice-over about how the two “friends” waiting for him on the street have nothing on him, is like the interior monologues of Chandler’s and Hammett’s characters, yet is remarkably seamless: he seems to talk, but we never see his lips move in the way the shot is cut. When Charlie sits on the edge of his bed, he downs a shot, but we never see him drink. This movie is pretty near perfect and has so many great details, at every turn, of the Hitchcock touch. 

 

I like his hat sitting at an angle on his head as he walks onto the street, in film-noir the jaunty hat sometimes denoting confidence, or street-savvy, but here, his sinister intent, with the darkness shadowing his forehead, or the complete arrogance of his world-view, when he practically bumps into the detective, forcing him to move out of the way, as he strides past, flaunting his scorn of banal human law, and other useless humans.

 

I paid more attention to the music in this signature scene, since it is pointed out, and noticed how the score starts building in the apartment, during the monologue, first with strings in minor key, and the tension they build in this early scene, over seemingly mundane actions, creating an unbearable suspense so quickly, we don't even know why yet, immediately, culminating in Charlie’s exit out the front door, where the horns and woodwinds join in a huge crescendo, just as he exits the apartment building. It’s almost comical to focus on the sound in isolation, because, after all, it’s only a guy going out the front door. I just love this movie. What a great opening scene, and terrific inspiration to use the opening of the Hemingway story.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

https://learn.canvas.net/courses/1679/pages/the-selznick-years-part-2-hitchcock-and-genre-film-noir?module_item_id=195509

 

 

1.      As mentioned in the curator's note, this scene operates as a prelude to the main story. What do learn about the character of Uncle Charlie in this prelude? Be specific. 

 

In Shadow of a Doubt, we never completely find out the whole story with Charles “Uncle Charlie” Spencer. He remains a mysterious figure all throughout the film. However, there are hints that there is definitely something off about him.

 

In fact, when Charlie’s landlady, Mrs. Martin, comes to warn him about “2 men asking for [him],” the entire exchange between these two seem off.

 

1. Charles is very cool and nonchalant with this knowledge, indicating that he was expecting these men to call on him.

 

2. Charles doesn’t divulge information to reassure Mrs. Martin or the audience that there is nothing wrong. In fact, Mrs. Martin is the one who shares all the details with him. Even though, in a regular situation, it would have to be the other way around.

 

3. Charles has a lot of money casually lying around, which Mrs. Martin picks up for him. And he doesn’t seem the least but mindful or protective of his wealth at all. Either, he implicitly trusts Mrs. Martin or simply doesn’t care for the money much.   

 

4. What little information Charles Spencer does divulge, he’s very cryptic and, even, flippant about: “[The men] aren’t exactly friends of mine. They’ve never seen me. That’s odd, isn’t it?”

 

5. After Mrs. Martin leaves, Charles goes to window and proclaims “What do you know? You’re bluffing. You’ve nothing on me.” Then, he takes a major risk by strolling out of the house and right past the 2 men in a cavalier fashion, seemingly to invite the men to chase him.

 

 

2.      In what ways does this opening remind you of watching a film noir? If it doesn't remind you of a film noir, what makes the opening here different from the opening of a noir film like Siodmak's The Killers? (Note: If you haven't seen The Killers, it is fine to answer this question in general terms about your own personal expectations)

 

As mentioned before, there is nothing indicative of Charles’ as an innocent or sympathetic character. Even the technical details of the film, itself, give his nefarious nature while he, himself, remains tight-lipped.

 

Film Noir References:

  • First shot with the children playing outside reminds me briefly of M.
  • Next couple of shots: Cant angles of the boarding house where Uncle Charlie is staying.
    • Cant (or Dutch) angles are visual staple of film noir, indicating a distorted worldview.
  • When Charles is finally introduced into the film, there is quite a bit of low-key lighting on him.

 

Probably the most notable difference between The Killers opening and Shadow of a Doubt opening is the attitudes of the two male leads, played by Burt Lancaster and Joseph Cotton respectively.

 

In complete contrast to Charles Spencer, The Swede, played by Burt Lancaster, is a guilt-ridden tragic figure who is aware of his impending doom. Rather than try to escape, he condemns himself to meet his fate,

 

What gives that Noir world is the fatalism that it embodies is the overarching hand of fate, which renders even the strongest of men and women absolutely powerless, as established with the Swede’s character, “There’s nothing I can do about it. “ and  “There ain’t anything to do.”

 

In most, if not all, of these movies, audiences are never reassured that the protagonist will meet any kind of refuge or salvation when they die. The most that audiences get might be final thoughts of regret as expressed in The Swede’s final statements, “I’m through with all that running around” and “I did something wrong… Once.” This existentialism is what ultimately gives Film Noir that tragic, haunting quality that tears ripped through the peace and idealism of the American fabric of life for Post-WWII audiences, especially for veterans.

 

Oddly enough, Joseph Cotten does play a disillusioned veteran in a couple of films after Shadow of a Doubt, including I’ll Be Seeing You (1944) and Niagra (1953).

 

If Shadow of a Doubt were made even a couple of years later, Cotten’s nefarious portrayal of Uncle Charlie probably wouldn’t have gone well with American audiences.

 

For so long, the proclaimed enemies of the Americans were foreigners, whether it was the Nazis or the Axis Powers of the Germans and the Japanese. In fact, many of Hitchcock’s early villains are “foreign” or unrelatable in some way, whether it’s foreign agents from Sabotage, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Lady Vanishes, Lifeboat, Notorious or wealthy and/or respected, corrupt official from Foreign Correspondent, Saboteur, etc.

 

Charles is not like any of the above villains. He’s not an outsider that the Oakley family has to get to know or contemplate whether or not to give him their trust. He’s part of that family, even a blood relative. Also unlike the aforementioned villains, as suave as Joseph Cotten is, Charles is still a small-time villain. He doesn’t political or patriotic motivations. This time it’s purely personal and purely evil. He’s operating under his own family’s noses and possibly endangering them in the process.    

 

But even with all that, this was still during the war. At this time, audiences are still reassured that all able-bodied “good” American men were fighting the enemies overseas.    

 

In the aftermath of the war, however, Charles would’ve probably been seen as a representative of the returning GI’s trying to get back into the American routine of life. It would simply be unthinkable for American audiences that after coming from war, that one of their own that they had grown up with and loved, could come back as the enemy threatening to destroy the peace and sanctity of their home.

 

 

3.      As we move into Hitchcock's Hollywood years, his scores will take on more importance than they did during the British years. Music will play a big role in Shadow of a Doubt. The film's score is by Dimitri Tiomkin, the first of four film scores that the composer will create for Hitchcock. What effect does the Tiomkin score have on the mood, atmosphere, and even the pace of this opening scene? 

 

The music is absolutely chilling! Because Charles Spencer so carefully conceals his nature and motives, as mentioned before, it is the technical aspects of the film which give him away as someone not to be trusted. Dimitri Tiomkin’s score adds to corroboration with the film in exposing Charles.

 

The music builds up when Charles looks out the window and prepares to head out. Then goes soft once Charles heads out the door in order to build the suspense, as the audience is not sure how Charles will handle his “not friends” outside. However, once he spots them, Charles directly faces them (as well as facing the camera and the audience respectively) and walks right toward them.

 

Once Charles walks right past them, the music quiets down. But, there is still something very menacing about the banging of the keyboard, which happens once Charles walks past and the men are watching him walk off in the distance and follow him. As if by choosing to follow him, they’ve chosen a very dangerous path to take. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

  1. As mentioned in the curator's note, this scene operates as a prelude to the main story. What do learn about the character of Uncle Charlie in this prelude? Be specific. 

    An enigmatic man, Uncle Charlie exhibits many characteristics.  First of all, he seems to be nomadic.  His distaste for permanent residence is inferred by his out-of-place attire, his small boarding room, and his aloof and divergent personality from that of his apparent landlady.  Yet, his "friends" making their presence may state otherwise.  After Charlie sees his "friends," we find out that he is being chased, and his crime is given to us in the version of the song playing during this moment: the Merry Widow Waltz.  Uncle Charlie can charm when he pleases, but that is no match for his innate duplicity.   

  2. In what ways does this opening remind you of watching a film noir? If it doesn't remind you of a film noir, what makes the opening here different from the opening of a noir film like Siodmak's The Killers? (Note: If you haven't seen The Killers, it is fine to answer this question in general terms about your own personal expectations)

    It seems to be uncharacteristic to show playing children alongside an upbeat music score in a film noir.  However, Joesph Cotten makes up for the lack of noir in the subsequent shots.  A fantastic representation of this is the shot at 1:59: the darkness envelopes Uncle Charlie, and he does not seem to mind.  We also see cigars, suits, alcohol, detectives, and a man on the run, all indicative of a film noir.

  3. As we move into Hitchcock's Hollywood years, his scores will take on more importance than they did during the British years. Music will play a big role in Shadow of a Doubt. The film's score is by Dimitri Tiomkin, the first of four film scores that the composer will create for Hitchcock. What effect does the Tiomkin score have on the mood, atmosphere, and even the pace of this opening scene? ​​

​      The score heard in the first seconds of this scene reflect the mood that will come soon enough.           This happy and uplifting song mirrors the joyous lifestyle of young Charlie and her family, the               same family that Uncle Charlie will soon terrorize.  We also hear traces and even segments of             the Merry Widow Waltz, a defining song for Charles and his life.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

New Members:

Register Here

Learn more about the new message boards:

FAQ

Having problems?

Contact Us