Shadow of a Doubt‘s opening is intriguing in the sense that it establishes the camera’s point of view as an invisible third person narrator that will explicitly point to us some of the most important clues about the story.
Couples in elegant dresses are dancing in a ballroom as the credits run and the image slowly fades in to the shot of a bridge, under which two men are eating sandwiches. This transition is rather bizarre because there is a big gap between the two shots in terms of atmosphere, but a while later we understand that it foreshadows the double life of the film’s protagonist. Next shot is of a junk car left by itself just a small distance away from the bridge and beyond it the city’s skyline is visible. Then there is a shot of a street where children play ball; a slow fade-in reveals a house, and a similar one shows one of its windows. From this window, we look inside with the camera, as it zooms in to reveal Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten), lying on the bed and smoking a cigar. The camera then turns left to take a peek at the things piled on his bedside table: a pitcher, a flask, two glasses, a wallet and lots of cash sitting on top of it. Next, it tilts down, almost like a human head and takes notice of the rest of the dollars lying on the floor. The camera is like a silent accomplice to the audience during this intrusion into Charlie’s private room. Next, a woman enters, informing Charlie about two men waiting across the street who came by earlier and asked for him. Charlie is nonchalant and half asleep and pays little attention to her verbose conversation. Although the woman refers to them as his friends, it is clear from the conversation that they are after Charlie. As she notices the dollar bills on the floor and naively tells Charlie to be less messy, the camera is situated at a low angle right by his bed. It feels as if Charlie knows its presence while the woman is completely unaware of it. Throughout the film, the camera will either provide the point of view closest to that of Charlie, like an alibi, or direct us where to look in detail as if it has trespassed a crime zone that it has already familiarized itself with. This is most apparent in the following shots.
The woman leaves and Charlie looks out the window, spotting the two men on the corner. ‘What do you know? You’re bluffing. You’ve nothing on me’, he murmurs to himself and decides to leave. On the street he confidently walks towards the men and passes by them. As the chase begins, we see Charlie walking fast and cautiously from the rooftop of a building. Next his pursuers appear and they decide to go different directions. The following shot is from another rooftop showing the men losing track of Charlie. Strangely though, this high-angle shot is no longer objective, but it belongs to a character; as the camera tilts up to the left, Charlie’s profile is revealed.