Alfred Hitchcock Goes to Newark: Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Mostly remembered as the ur-text of Creepy Uncle movies, Shadow of a Doubt lingers near the top of Alfred Hitchcock’s B+ tier—not quite his A game of Psycho or Vertigo, but part of his energetic wave of early-40s American work, before he lost his footing later in the decade with duller stuff like The Paradine Case and Under Capricorn.

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In any case, Joseph Cotten in quaint, sunny Santa Rosa, menacing his niece Theresa Wright, while they barely suppress incestuous desire, that’s what people remember about Shadow of a Doubt (exept Sonic Youth, who titled a song after it {one of Kim Gordon’s best, IMHO} but then based its lyrics on a different Hitchcock movie, those wacky young ‘uns).

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Less remembered is the opening scene scene, shot in Newark. Okay, it’s not entirely forgotten, since I was just scooped on this by the Star-Ledger (dammit). But still, I am willing to bet (and will test this with a Facebook trivia poll of my friends when I post this) that few people realize Hitch was shooting here. Indeed, the IMDB—not wholly reliable, but still useful—suggests this was the only film shot in Newark between the 1910s and the 50s.

As such, it’s a valuable visual record, beginning with its opening sweep across the Pulaski Skyway. Long before the ’67 riots became an excuse to condemn Newark, here’s a British suspense filmmaker’s rather unflattering establishment of the city:

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Cotten spends the first several minutes in an SRO flophouse, then evades some mysterious pursuers through the Ironbound. Hitchcock makes great use of urban space here:

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Then it’s off to Santa Rosa and pop-Freudian thrills. It’s not entirely clear the Newark scenes are diegetically set there; Wright muses that her uncle has been in Philadelphia, but the film never clarifies whether she’s misremembering, he had fed the family misinformation, he drifts so much that he was also there, or Newark is standing in for the visually-comparable Philly.

Apparently Hitch chose Newark not out of some proto-neorealist commitment to location shooting, but rather because wartime exigencies included $5000 set-construction limits, as Sheri Chinen Biesen notes in Blackout: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir. That said, he shot on the fly once settled, including the kids playing box ball because they just happened to be there, according to a November, 1942 New York Times profile of the shoot.

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Life covered the shoot, too:

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Not much else seems to be written about Hitchcock’s Newark connection, besides another great image from Life included in Michael Immerso’s Newark’s Little Italy: The Vanished First Ward.

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It’s a shame neither Hitchcock nor anyone else apparently saw fit to film in Newark in the 1940s, but at least we have this nifty sequence—which is more than we can say for the 1930s, alas.

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2 thoughts on “Alfred Hitchcock Goes to Newark: Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

  1. Pingback: Kubrick in Newark: Day of the Fight (1951) | strublog

  2. Pingback: Industrial booster cinema on the brink of post-Fordist dystopia: Camera Eye on New Jersey (1960) | strublog

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