There are several films by Alfred Hitchcock made in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is a series of reviews that will revisit this important director’s work made in or around the Bay Area. In “Footsteps In The Fog: Alfred Hitchcock’s San Francisco” by Jeff Kraft and Aaron Leventhal (with foreword by Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia Hitchcock O’Connell) the authors trace the films made by the British director in places like San Francisco, Santa Rosa, and Bodega Bay.
“Shadow of a Doubt” is the first film by Hitchcock set in the San Francisco Bay Area that Hitchcock adored. He later bought a home in Scotts Valley.”Shadow of a Doubt” directed by Alfred Hitchcock was made in Santa Rosa in 1943. At a time when Hollywood studios were trying to cut production expenses during WWII, it was a great idea to make the town the movie setting and use some of the 13, 000 residents as extras. The film had its world premiere in Santa Rosa .
“Shadow of a Doubt” is based on a novel by Gordon McDonnel and adapted to the screen by Pulitzer prize winner Thornton Wilder. The Irish born stage actress Patricia Collinge plays Emma Newton in the film. Hitchcock hired British stage actor Henry Travers to play Joseph Newton, Emma’s husband. The Canadian actor Hume Cronyn plays Joseph’s next-door neighbor Herbie Hawkins. The two neighbors enjoy solving murder mysteries and philosophize about the best way to commit a murder. Their game ironically is offset by the presence of a real murderer that they never suspect, Emma’s brother Charlie played by Joseph Cotton.
The film opens with scenes of a dance floor and dancing couples moving to “The Merry Widow Waltz” composed by Franz Lehár. The background music is dissonant creating an eerie atmosphere. Then come shots of a decrepit Newark, New Jersey. Charlie lies in bed with money all around him. His landlady enters his room to inform him two men are looking for him. Playing cool, he tells her he will go out to meet them but he walks right by them. He places a call to his sister Emma in Santa Rosa. He plans on visiting his sister Emma and her family –Joseph, older daughter Young Charlie (Teresa Wright) , younger son (Roger Charles Bates) and daughter ( Edna May Wanacott). Edna May was actually from Santa Rosa and Hitchcock’s daughter helped groom her for her part. In her role she is an avid reader and precocious like Young Charlie. At the same time that Uncle Charlie is thinking about going to Santa Rosa, Young Charlie is bored by the everyday routine of her family life and thinks that he if were to come, things would change.
Charlie conceals father’s paper bearing the news of Charlie as the murderer of three wealthy women as a toy for Ann. Later Young Charlie tracks it down at the library. From then on the two Charlies are involved in a dangerous two step, unbeknownst to the Newton family or friends but to two trailing detectives who take the greatest liberties posing as reporters to gain entrance to the Newton home.
The duplicity of Uncle Charlie is clear in his dealings with Young Charlie. He tries to flatter her by calling her the head of her family, but at the same time calls her a sleepwalker who knows nothing about how treacherous life really is. He is a dark character that speaks badly about useless women whom he murders, and is physically violent towards his niece often pulling harshly on her arm. He manipulates her and belittles her but she refuses to be suppressed. She is the counterpart to him, clever and introspective, who is able to see through his charade.
The actors in the film are all impeccable with signature roles that are unforgettable such as the white-haired librarian played by the British actress Eily Malyon. Ann in fact says she wants to marry a librarian so she can have all the books that she wants to read.
It is fascinating to re-explore the town of Santa Rosa as it was in 1943. As Charlie says in “Shadow of the Dark”, ” I want you all to know that I’ll always think of this lovely town as a place of hospitality and kindness, and homes…homes”. Gone are many of the charms such as the Roseville sign on Main Street that no longer exists and the “California Theatre” where the film had its world premiere was later torn down.