What we have here is an Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece. Originally called ‘Uncle Charlie,’ the film would be released as ‘Shadow of a Doubt.’ In published interviews in modern sources, Hitchcock proclaimed ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ as a favorite among his own films.
In the fall of 1962, whilst ‘The Birds’ was in post-production, François Truffaut carried out extensive interviews with Alfred Hitchcock at his offices at Universal Studios. The interviews were recorded to audio tape and the content eventually edited down into the Hitchcock/Truffaut book.
François Truffaut: I take it that of all the pictures you’ve made, ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ is the one you prefer. And yet it gives a rather distorted idea of the Hitchcock touch. I feel that the film which provides the most accurate image of the ensemble of your work, as well as of your style, is ‘Notorious.’
Alfred Hitchcock: I wouldn’t say that ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ is my favorite picture; if I’ve given that impression, it’s probably because I feel that here is something that our friends, the plausibles and logicians, cannot complain about.
Truffaut: What about the psychologists?
Hitchcock: That’s right, the psychologists as well! In a sense, it reveals a weakness. On the one hand I claim to dismiss the plausibles, and on the other I’m worried about them. After all, I’m only human! But that impression is also due to my very pleasant memories of working on it with Thornton Wilder. In England I’d always had the collaboration of top stars and the finest writers, but in America things were quite different. I was turned down by many stars and by writers who looked down their noses at the genre I work in. That’s why it was so gratifying for me to find out that one of America’s most eminent playwrights was willing to work with me and, indeed, that he took the whole thing quite seriously.
Truffaut: Did you select Thornton Wilder or did someone suggest him to you?
Hitchcock: I wanted him. Let’s go back a little into the history of the picture. A woman called Margaret MacDonell, who washead of Selznick’s story department, had a husband who was a novelist. One day she told me her husband had an idea for a story but he hadn’t written it down yet. So we went to lunch at the Brown Derby and they told me the story, which we elaborated together as we were eating. Then I told him to go home and type it up. In this way we got the skeleton of the story into a nine-page draft that was sent to Thornton Wilder. He came right here, to this studio we are now in, to work on it. We worked together in the morning, and he would work on his own in the afternoon, writing by hand in a school note book. He never worked consecutively, but jumped about from one scene to another according to his fancy. I might add that the reason I wanted Wilder is that he had written a wonderful play called Our Town.
Truffaut: I saw Sam Wood’s screen version of that play.
Hitchcock: When the script was finished, Wilder enlisted in the Psychological Warfare Department of the U.S. Army. But I felt there was still something lacking in our screenplay, and I wanted someone who could inject some comedy highlights that would counterpoint the drama. Thornton Wilder had recommended an MGM writer, Robert Audrey, but he struck me as being more inclined toward serious drama, so Sally Benson was brought in. Before the writing, Wilder and I went to great pains to be realistic about the town, the people, and the decor. We chose a town and we went there to search for the right house. We found one, but Wilder felt that it was too big for a bank clerk. Upon investigation it turned out that the man who lived there was in the same financial bracket as our character, so Wilder agreed to use it. But when we came back, two weeks prior to the shooting, the owner was so pleased that his house was going to be in a picture that he had had it completely repainted. So we had to go in and get his permission to paint it dirty again. And when we were through, naturally, we had it done all over again with bright, new colors.
Truffaut: The acknowledgment to Thornton Wilder in the main credits of ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ is rather unusual.
Hitchcock: It was an emotional gesture; I was touched by his qualities.
Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson & Alma Reville’s screenplay for ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ (NOTE: For educational purposes only.) Thanks to Allansfirebird and the great folks at Write to Reel.
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