Twos in Hitchcock’s SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943), Are They Coincidences?

I was having a conversation with another classic movie fan who has a particular admiration for Alfred Hitchcock. The number two came up in regards to the director’s Shadow of a Doubt, his personal favorite and one of mine as well. I didn’t think much of the number two when mentioned because anyone who enjoys Hitchcock movies knows – or has noticed – the importance of two (or duality) as a theme element. For instance, “the wrong man” theme that permeates many of his films suggests – at the very least – that most people have at their core the possibility of a dark side in addition to the good. Also, the numerous spies that play a part in many Hitchcock stories are – by definition – employing at least two sides of their personalities. Then there’s the in-your-face duality prevalent in Vertigo (1958) and Shadow of a Doubt’s own Uncle Charlie playing good guy while in actuality he’s a murdering scoundrel…and so forth. I think you get the picture. There are many examples of Hitchcock dualities.

The “twos” my friend referred to weren’t part of the duality theme, however. Or at least not only. What he meant was the actual presence of the number two or a noticeable mention of two or illustration of two throughout Shadow of a Doubt. Naturally that piqued my curiosity so I took another look at the movie, doing a double-take at every mention or illustration of two. What I found rather surprised me.

Here’s a brief Shadow of a Doubt refresher:

Charles Oakley loses the two men that are following him and suddenly decides to visit his sister Emma and her family in Santa Rosa, CA. Uncle Charlie, as his favorite niece and namesake, Charlie calls him, is a charming man who promises to break the monotony of life in Santa Rosa as young woman sees it. Unfortunately, what Uncle Charlie brings is murder and darkness to the otherwise idyllic small town. It is young Charlie, who has enjoyed a special bond with her uncle all of her life, who comes to recognize his crimes and becomes a hero in the process in a story told with dark humor, gorgeous imagery and singular precision by Sir Alfred Hitchcock.

Shadow of a Doubt Cast:

If you prefer not to have the ending to Shadow of a Doubt spoiled you have two options – stop reading now or stop reading…NOW.

Twos in Shadow of a Doubt

  • There are two men looking for Uncle Charlie as announced by the landlord of the building where Charles Oakley temporarily resides at the onset of the story.
Two men following Charles

 

  • When Charles Oakley calls the postal union to send a telegram to his sister about his visit the only number you see him dialing is the two on the rotary phone.

 

  • There are two Charlies.
Elder and younger Charlies meet at the train station

 

  • The mother of the younger Charlie and sister of the elder Charlie is named Emma, a name with a double letter. Emma was also Hitchcock’s mother’s name, by the way, and she died during the making of Shadow of a Doubt.
Two Charlies and an Emma

 

  • The younger sister in the Newton family’s name is Ann, a name with a double letter. The bank manager’s name – where Mr. Newton (young Charlie’s father) works – is named Mr. Green and a Mrs. Green and a Mrs. Potter visit the bank while Charles Oakley is there to open an account. There is also a Mrs. Phillips in the movie. Young Charlie and Detective Graham go to dinner at the Gunnery Grill and Dr. and Mrs. Harry play cards with Alfred Hitchcock during his cameo in this picture.
Hitch is seen as a passenger with the killer hand on the train playing cards with Dr. and Mrs. Harry

 

  • Ann is an avid reader who boasts of reading two books per week.
Ann answers the phone with book in hand

 

  • When Uncle Charlie settles into young Charlie’s room in the Newton home he looks out the window to the idyllic neighborhood and there sees two women talking. In a later scene we see two women (maybe the same ones) walking past the Newton house.

 

  • Uncle Charlie gives his sister Emma two gifts.
Doubt The family gathers around Emma to see the DOUBLE picture frame (with two pictures) she got from Charles as a gift along with the fur shawl she’s wearing.

 

  • Uncle Charles’ gift to young Charlie is a ring with two sets of initials engraved on it.

 

  • Most of the characters in Shadow of a Doubt have last names with two syllables, including the two aliases used by Charles Oakley as he tries to evade law enforcement – Mr. Spencer, an alias based on his mother’s maiden name, is used at the beginning and he is Mr. Otis on the train ride toward Santa Rosa.

 

  • Two strangers want to interview the Newton family for an article and the man with the camera (luckily) carries two rolls of film with him. Although these two strangers are the same two detectives who have been following Charles Oakley since the beginning of the movie, it’s interesting that “two strangers” is how they are referred to by Emma. This mirrors how the landlady had referred to the two men earlier.
In this lobby card we see Uncle Charlie asking for the roll of film from one of the men because he doesn’t want to be photographed. Interestingly, the man has TWO rolls of film.

 

  • Young Charlie wears a jacket/cape with two large buttons when she goes to the train station to greet Uncle Charlie. I wouldn’t have thought twice about that if she is not seen later wearing two bird brooches. She wears the brooches to the library to which she goes in a hurry, scurrying past a clock tower at an angle where two clocks are visible.

 

  • The latest Merry Widow murder victim had two names as young Charlie reads in the newspaper, “Mrs. Bruce Matthewson, the former musical comedy star, known to audiences at the beginning of this century as ‘the beautiful Thelma Schenley.'”

 

  • Uncle Charlie takes young Charlie to a bar called the Til-Two Club to talk about the young woman’s suspicions. The young waitress, a former schoolmate of young Charlie, has been working at the Til-Two for two weeks. Uncle Charlie orders a double brandy.
Young Charlie is followed by her uncle. He catches up with her in front of the Til-Two where the two talk.
The Charlies with the waitress who has worked at the Til-Two for two weeks

 

  • Young Charlie missed detective Graham when he stopped by her house two times looking for her.

 

  • We find out that “The trailing detectives are after two men” either of which may be the Merry Widow Murderer. During a conversation with young Charlie, Detective Saunders mentions to her that they should know which of the two men is the killer in a wire arriving in two hours.

 

  • Once young Charlie is convinced her uncle is a murderer he tries to kill her two times before the final showdown. Once on the stairs of the Newton home and again by locking her in the garage with the car ignition on.
Luckily for young Charlie family friend, Herbie was passing by when Uncle Charlie locked her in the garage.

 

  • There are two train scenes in the movie, Charles Oakley’s arrival and Charles Oakley’s departure.

 

  • Joe and Herbie, two friends who like to talk about the perfect murder, have two such conversations in the movie.
Discussing murder in detail twice in the movie.

 

  • Charlie has two girlfriends she runs into two times in the movie.
Young Charlie runs into two girlfriends twice – here she is accompanied by Det. Jack Graham (Macdonald Carey)

 

  • Shadow of a Doubt features two garage scenes and two dinner table scenes. The latter statistic took me by surprise because these scenes are so vital to the film it seems like there are more of them.
Dinner – where families bond

 

  • Mirror images/double shots – can you ignore the mirror images of the two Charlies as two sides of the same person? Maybe? In the following two images from the beginning of the movie we see the Charlies in each of their respective rooms with people speaking to them from the doorway.
  • Then we have the Charlies as two menacing figures illustrated in two similar images at different points in the story with one Charlie posing a threat to the other – both standing at the doorway to the Newton house from different perspectives.

 

  • Finally, it takes two trains to bring Uncle Charlie to justice.
It take two trains

 

I’ve dedicated several posts to Mr. Hitchcock on this blog either as commentaries on his work in general or on specific movies. The one thing that I invariably mention is his attention to detail and the fact that Hitchcock left nothing to chance. Nothing. So while several of the twos included on the above list may seem silly I think there’s something to this number two matter. And who knows how many I may have missed?! What can all the twos mean beyond the duality theme? Are they just subtle ways to bring home that message? At the very least these twos play on our psyche, don’t they? What do you think? Is all of this a dual figment of my imagination? Or are they coincidences?

 

PS – When Uncle Charlie knocks over the water glass at dinner – he uses two fingers to do so.

 

More on Hitchcock:

The Hitchcock Signature

Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (1960)

Self-Plagiarism is Style: Hitchcock, Grant and North by Northwest

Hitchcock on a Train

Madeleine Carroll Set the Standard in Hitchcock’s SECRET AGENT (1936)

Hitchcock Returns to London in a FRENZY (1972)

Just Another Hitchcock Spy Story…THE 39 STEPS 

Hitchcock’s Masterpiece, REAR WINDOW

Cary Grant: The Road to Suspicion

9 thoughts

  1. I’m a relatively rabid Hitchcock fan myself and am one who doesn’t think “the twos” are coincidences. Some, maybe, but not most of them. Hitch was nothing if not meticulous. Great post, Aurora!

  2. When I saw your premise I thought of two Charleys, two detectives and the two friends devising two fictional murders. Boy! You found twos-a-plenty (almost too many!). Ha-ha. Since there are no coincidences, we must all agree that Hitch stayed up nights putting those twos in place just for our pleasure.

  3. I have picked up on before the dual nature of Uncle Charlie, and of him and young Charlie having an almost twin like connection. I had never noticed any of the others before you pointed them out in this post though. Very interesting indeed. I too don’t believe in coincidence when it comes to Hitch. Thank you for taking the time to note all of these and post them. This is such a good film, and shows that nothing as it seems to be at first glance.

  4. Hi Aurora, I was toying around with doing a post like this. I never noticed certain of the things that you mentioned, like the two dinner scenes, two garage scenes, and the double letters in names/two syllable last names. There is no way this is a coincidence, there’s just too much of it. In the above photo of the family at the dinner table, in the background, there is a pair of framed pictures in the background. Young Charlie has a similar pair above her bed. One of my favorites is Uncle Charlie wears double-breasted pajamas. On a suit, you can dismiss it as the style, but on pajamas.

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