Charlotte “Charlie” Newton (Teresa Wright)
Think of what a poison pill Shadow of a Doubt must have seemed in 1943. Alfred Hitchcock’s movie starts out as a slice of picture-perfect Americana, with a nice, middle-class, Main Street family celebrating a reunion with beloved Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten). Except that Charlie is actually the “Merry Widow” serial killer, and only his namesake niece recognizes the truth about her favorite uncle. (What goes unmentioned in this film, made during the height of World War II, is that there are hardly any young men around to play hero, so the responsibility falls to a young woman. Certainly Jack Graham, the young detective who woos Charlie, is no help.)
Hitchcock puts Wright through the wringer; she goes from happy-go-lucky to guilty accomplice (not wanting to ruin her family’s reputation or break her mother’s heart by revealing the truth about Mother’s brother) to fearing for her life. Still, she’s a plucky, all-American girl, and she rises to the occasion, but not without having to hold on to a terrible secret for the rest of her life. Young thriller heroines from then on owe Wright’s Charlie a tip of the hat.