Call for Music Writers... Rock, Indie, Urban, Electronic, Americana, Metal, World and More

Saboteur (1942)

Hitchcock continues this investigation of fascism within America in 'Shadow of a Doubt'

Bookmark and Share

Hitchcock continues this investigation of fascism within America in Shadow of a Doubt (1943). In his article “Hitchcock and Fascism,” Robin Wood interprets Uncle Charlie’s (Joseph Cotten) demeaning speech about “useless…, faded, fat greedy [widows]” as a severely restricted misogynistic Fascism aimed against “women of a highly specific age (old), class (wealthy), social status (widow), physical type (fat), character (silly), and social value (useless)” (34). Michael Walker supports Wood’s theory, stating that “the Nazi overtones [in Charlie’s speech] are unmistakable:  the idea that ‘useless’ human beings should be ‘put down’” (196). Hitchcock later creates a similar speech promoting holier-than-thou killings in 1948’s Rope, with the character saying the line, Brandon (John Dall), actually compared to Hitler. Shadow of a Doubt therefore seems to position Uncle Charlie’s Fascist ideology against the small-town American Puritanism of his niece Young Charlie (Teresa Wright), her new boyfriend Detective Jack Graham (Macdonald Carey) and the rest of the citizens of Santa Rosa. Thus, the vitriol which Uncle Charlie directs toward widows mirrors Hitler’s numerous anti-Semitic speeches. Walker points out that “one of Uncle Charlie’s contemptuous phrases for the widows—‘smelling of money’—is precisely the sort of racist rhetoric the Nazis directed at the Jews” (196). Similarly, Uncle Charlie’s animal comparison of the widows to swine brings to mind the Nazis’ description of Jews as rats.

Despite these inferences, there are multiple possible interpretations of the widows aside from representing the Jews. If we were to change our analysis to try to find any of the other groups that Hitler had ordered killed (Communists, homosexuals, gypsies, people with disabilities), then we could reach the same result. It is also possible that the widows resemble a female version of the British caricature John Bull, the national personification of England in political cartoons. The portly and humorous Bull fits many of the characteristics that Uncle Charlie despises (old, wealthy, fat, silly) and would capture Hitler’s hatred of the British forces. Additionally, it is important to note that Uncle Charlie only murders widows whereas the Nazis were indiscriminate toward gender. Donald Spoto’s analysis of Shadow of a Doubt as “one of the cinema’s indisputable masterworks on the nature of evil” provides further insight into the film (124). If Hitchcock is contemplating the nature of evil, then he would likely borrow from the reality of that time to have the film be more resonant with audiences. By using Hitler’s derogatory yet rousing manner of speaking for Uncle Charlie, Hitchcock is able to create a picture of evil without necessarily commenting on Hitler’s anti-Semitism.

Shadow of a Doubt

Shadow of a Doubt

Hitchcock’s next film Lifeboat is the director’s most overt allegory to the ongoing world war. The picture pits the American and British survivors of a sunken passenger ship against Willy (Walter Slezak), the captain of the German U-Boat who torpedoed their vessel. Each of the characters stands as a metaphor for a different aspect of the war:  Chicago-born crew member John Kovac (John Hodiak), with his Czechoslovakian heritage and liberal ideology, represents Russian Communism; successful American businessman Charles Rittenhouse (Henry Hull) stands in for American capitalism; Alice MacKenzie (Mary Anderson) is a pacifist nurse who only tries to save lives; Britain is depicted by the ship’s navigational officer Stanley Garrett (Hume Cronyn); Joe (Canada Lee), the ship’s steward, is African-American and the only minority figure in the boat; journalist Connie Porter (Tallulah Bankhead) is completely absorbed in covering the war as a news story, thus rendering her neutral; Gus Smith (William Bendix), who requires his gangrenous leg to be amputated while aboard the lifeboat, captures injured American soldiers; finally, Mrs. Higley (Heather Angel) is an English woman who suffers from psychosis due to German air raids. Hitchcock describes the film as “a statement telling the democracies to put their differences aside temporarily and to gather their forces to concentrate on the common enemy, whose strength was precisely derived from a spirit of unity and of determination” (Truffaut 113).

Within Hitchcock’s allegory, Mrs. Higley can possibly be interpreted as representing European Jewry. She is first introduced when Joe helps her and her baby into the lifeboat while preventing her from drowning herself and her child; unfortunately, Joe is too late to save the infant’s life. Sometime later on that first night on the lifeboat, she jumps overboard, killing herself. Out of all the characters, Mrs. Higley is the one most terrorized by the Nazis. The German air raids of Britain have rendered her paranoid and mentally unstable. After they sink the passenger ship, she becomes suicidal and murders her child to prevent him from further harm at the hands of the Nazis. This constant victimization would place Mrs. Higley in the position of European Jews, who faced the continuous barrage of violence and death from Nazi Germany. However, the hostility which Mrs. Higley faces is not directed at her specifically, but at Britain and the rest of the Allies generally. It is therefore more likely that Mrs. Higley and her child represent innocent British civilians whose lives have been ruined because of the war.



Notorious (1946), Hitchcock’s final film related to World War II, was made after the war’s conclusion. Hitchcock collaborated with Jewish screenwriter Ben Hecht to create a script peppered with references to the war such as the famous uranium MacGuffin (an allusion to the atomic bomb), Alex Sebastian’s (Claude Rains) Nazi ideology, and Alex’s connections to German chemical manufacturer I.G. Farben, which benefited from concentration camp labor and supplied the Nazis with Zyklon B to use in the gas chambers (Krohn 102). Hecht, who had previously done uncredited writing on Foreign Correspondent and Lifeboat, spent most of his time throughout World War II speaking out against Nazi anti-Semitism and both American and British inaction. In February 1943, he published an article titled “Remember Us” in Reader’s Digest which detailed many of the Nazi crimes and predicted future Jewish casualties through the remainder of the war. The following year, he wrote the book A Guide for the Bedeviled in an effort to attack anti-Semitism. In his creative ventures, Hecht penned the theatrical pageant We Will Never Die in 1943 which was intended to raise American awareness of the Holocaust. Meanwhile, Hitchcock spent June of 1945 working with British producer Sidney Bernstein on a documentary called Memory of the Camps which was built entirely out of Allied footage of liberated concentration camps. According to Bill Krohn, Hitchcock “viewed footage, wrote one of his detailed treatments, and oversaw the editing of the first half of the film” (102). With the memory of the Holocaust on both of their minds going into production, the references to the Nazis and the Shoah were hardly coincidental.

Hitchcock’s political dichotomy in Notorious mirrors the film’s love triangle. T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) is the American spy who is trying to infiltrate Alex Sebastian’s Nazi troupe in Brazil by using Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), the daughter of one of Sebastian’s recently arrested colleagues. Alicia vehemently disagrees with her father’s politics due to his support of the Holocaust, something Hitchcock implies when Alicia calls her father and the Nazis “murdering swine.”  She accepts Devlin’s offer to spy on Sebastian to atone for her father’s war crimes. Due to her father’s political affiliation, Alicia is obviously not Jewish; however, Hecht and Hitchcock weave various clues into the film’s subtext that suggest her connection to European Jews. Alicia’s last name “Huberman” contains both German and Jewish origins. Her disconnect from Germany compares to many German-Jewish expatriates like Hannah Arendt, Rudolf Arnheim, Albert Einstein, and Kurt Weill who left the country when Hitler came to power. Additionally, toward the end of the film, Alicia is stuck between the Nazis, who are discreetly trying to kill her without alarming anyone, and the Americans, who (nearly) arrive too late to save her. Of course, Alicia’s slow poisoning does not compare to the horrors suffered by Jews during the Holocaust.

These nontraditional interpretations of Hitchcock’s characters demonstrate that Jewish representation in Hitchcock’s cinema ranges from completely missing to improbable. Even the likeliest characterization found in Shadow of a Doubt remains in Hitchcock’s most covert propaganda piece. Even today, many of the interpretations of that film focus on the relationship between the two Charlies and its depiction of small town Americana instead of its vague wartime allegory. Hitchcock even goes so far as to say “it’s quite possible that those widows deserved what they got” in his famed interview with François Truffaut (153). So why would Hitchcock effectively ignore this important part of World War II’s history?

Like many other filmmakers of this time, Hitchcock’s continued avoidance of Nazi anti-Semitism reflects Hollywood’s reluctance to portray the impending war as a fight for Jewish lives. Since the majority of Hollywood studio executives were Jewish immigrants, any attempts to depict Nazi anti-Semitism would cause a major backlash against the entire industry. Joseph Breen, the head of the Production Code Administration, warned that “the charge is certain to be made that the Jews, as a class, are behind an anti-Hitler picture and using the entertainment screen for their own personal propaganda purposes. The entire industry, because of this, is likely to be indicted for the action of a mere handful” (Carr 159). Overt anti-Nazi propaganda films like The Mortal Storm (Frank Borzage, 1940) had any references to Jews stripped by the Production Code and replaced them with the less offending term “non-Aryan.” Within this atmosphere, Hitchcock’s political films can be understood as the clearest representatives of the Hollywood zeitgeist—movies which may make vague, unclear allusions to the horrors of Nazism, but truly portray the war as a conflict among nations. Even if Notorious stands as Hitchcock’s attempt to communicate Jewish suffering, then it was made too late to have any effect on reality.



  • Carr, Steven. Hollywood & Anti-Semitism:  A Cultural History up to World War II. Cambridge:  Cambridge UP, 2001.
  • Friedman, Lester D. Hollywood’s Image of the Jew. New York:  Frederick Ungar Pub. Co., 1982.
  • Krohn, Bill. Hitchcock at Work. London:  Phaidon, Ltd., 2000.
  • O’Brien, Geoffrey. “The Lady Vanishes:  All Aboard!”  The Lady Vanishes. Criterion Collection, 2007. DVD.
  • Simone, Sam P. Hitchcock as Activist:  Politics and the War Films. Ann Arbor, MI:  UMI Research P, 1985.
  • Spoto, Donald. The Art of Alfred Hitchcock:  Fifty Years of his Motion Pictures. 2nd ed. New York:  Anchor Books, 1992.
  • Truffaut, François. Hitchcock. 2nd ed. New York:  Simon & Schuster, 1983.
  • Walker, Michael. Hitchcock’s Motifs. Amsterdam:  Amsterdam UP, 2005.
  • Wood, Robin. “Hitchcock and Fascism.”  Hitchcock Annual. Vol. 13 (2004-2005):  25-63.
  • Yacowar, Maurice. Hitchcock’s British Films. Hamden, CT:  Archon Books, 1977.

Michael Rennett graduated from CSU Northridge, in 2004 with a B.A. degree in Media Theory and Criticism and a minor in Jewish Studies. He received his Master’s degree from Chapman University in the field of Film Studies in 2006. He has contributed to The International Journal of Baudrillard Studies and The Journal of Religion and Film and is going to be published in The Journal of Popular Culture in 2010.

Related Articles
6 Mar 2014
Yes, this is perhaps one of the most efficient entries in the Hitchcockian subgenre of “every-man trapped in an extraordinary situation”, but he would go on to direct much better films.
29 Oct 2013
In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.
By PopMatters Staff
31 Jan 2013
From classics to contemporary television, the typical titles and the surprising outsider choices, the year in home video was just as divisive, and delightful, as the rest of our meaningful media.
17 Jan 2013
Alfred Hitchcock's first take on The Man Who Knew Too Much is a marvel of cinematic economy, and full of characteristic Hitchcockian touches.
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks

© 1999-2014 All rights reserved.™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.