Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt: Storyboard and Analysis
THE FOLLOWING MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.
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Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) considered Uncle Charlie (portrayed by Joseph Cotten), the villain from Shadow of a Doubt, to be his first sociopath. The opening scene of the film, where the audience is first introduced to Uncle Charlie, is a striking contrast to Young Charlie (Teresa Wright), his niece, whom the audience encounters in the next scene. Uncle Charlie is the epitome of evil while Young Charlie to epitome of innocence and purity. I analyzed and drew a storyboard for four of the shots from the sequence of this groundbreaking film.
Shadow of a Doubt
Teresa Wright as Young Charlie
Joseph Cotten as Uncle Charlie
Henry Travers as Joseph Newton
Patricia Collinge as Emma Newton
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
1943 Universal Pictures
The significance of this scene
The ending sequence of the films' opening scene where we are introduced to Uncle Charlie, specifically the sequence where he leaves his apartment and encounters the two men whom are looking for him, is a scene of vital importance to this film. It's the jumping off point, the catalyst for action. The departure, as Joseph Campbell might say, though in this case, it marks a continued path of evil, not a heroic quest. The music preceding this portion is loud and boisterous but, once Uncle Charlie is outside and sees the men tailing him, the music becomes calm and subdued. The scene is played out with quick cuts showing us Charlie and then showing us Charlie’s focus. Charlie does not show any emotion in this scene (which makes sense if he's truly sociopathic), even though he’s encountering men he is not pleased to see and wish to do him harm. The audience doesn't yet know this. the audience doesn't even know at this point that Charlie is evil and these men are good. But Charlie knows and the way Hitchcock plays out the scene is pretty interesting.
I had a hard time drawing some of the more detailed shots but I wanted to make sure I got the lights, the darks and the lines. There are a lot of lines, vertical and horizontal, in this sequence and I think they represent claustrophobia and fear, though whether the fear is Charlie’s own or the fear he inflicts on others is certainly a subject to debate.
I’m also struck by the way Charlie is filmed versus the two men. The two men are in light, perhaps representing their good and heroic natures, whereas Charlie is filmed in shadow, often times in half shadow, showing his evil and, perhaps his duality (or perceived duality). These shadows, of course, are a theme of the film and are reflected in its title.
This scene and sequence is important because it introduces us to Charlie and jump starts the action for the remainder of the film. The encounter with the men prompts Charlie to flee and take up residence with his family, whom he has not seen in years.
It's a short, fourteen second sequence, but, a vitally important and very rich one.
Shadow of a Doubt Trailer
The scene being storyboarded begins at 4:57 and ends at 5:11
What the audience is looking at and what it tells them
Frames One and Two
Frame One (4:57)
The mysterious Charlie is standing in a doorway bathed half in shadow, half in light as he gazes ahead. The audience is not yet aware of what he is looking at. The lines behind him, created by the bricks and the door itself, are quite interesting and introduce the visual theme of lines throughout the rest of the scene-- and film. Perhaps these allude to imprisonment and claustrophobia, two themes which Hitchcock explores with some regularity in his films and which also fit with the general theme of Shadow of a Doubt.
Frame Two (4:59)
We see now what Charlie is looking at: a typical urban landscape. It's rather innocuous: Cars drive, children play, squirrels gather, birds fly, buildings just stand about, men and women walk from one place to the next. There's nothing unusual here. Two men are tailing him, but, at this point, only the men and Charlie know that. They are barely visible in the left corner of the frame leaning on the fence. They are not the focus of the scene and the audience may not even notice them. They blend in with the landscape. More lines are visible in the building (center frame) and on the fence that the two men are leaning against.
Frames Three and Four
Frame Three (5:04)
Even though Charlie has now descended the stairs, his gaze is still fixed. The audience has seen the men leaning on the fence in the previous frame (though they may not have noticed them). The look on Charlie's face could be described as both defiant and ambivalent. We still don't know that he is a sociopath, but Hitchcock does, which explains why his expressions are so difficult to read, even so early in the film.
Frame Four (5:11)
The camera, using a deep focus, closes in on the two men leaning against the fence, confirming for the audience that this is indeed what charlie is focused on as he exits his apartment and makes his way down the street. It is assumed that these are the men who've come to see Charlie, that his lady landlord mentions prior to this sequence. One of the men is dressed in a light suit, the other in black. There are lines everywhere, from the background and foreground buildings, to the cars, to the roads to the fence the men are leaning on. This is the point in the film where the action really begins.
And the story continues
What follows is a thrill ride of deception and evil. This film introduced sociopaths to a wide audience and terrified and thrilled them. Like most Hitchcock films, it stands the test of time and bears repeat viewings and discussion.
Alfred Hitchcock created suspense unlike any director before his time and, like Akira Kurosawa, he is widely regarded today and cited frequently as an influence on modern directors.
I strongly urge you to either check out the film for the first time, or view it again. the film making is phenomenal, the story is gripping and the acting is convincing. Shadow of a Doubt is a groundbreaking film in the thriller/psychopath genre.