Doubles and Doppelgangers in Hitchcock

The concept of doubles and doppelgangers is prominent in many of Hitchcock’s films. This paper will concentrate on two of Hitchcock’s films where the use of doubles and doppelgangers are prominent; Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Strangers on a Train (1951). The main characters in both films are doubles or doppelgangers, however the main characters are not the only things that are doubled in these two films; sometimes scenes or locations are doubled as well.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) follows a widow murderer  — a man who marries rich widows for their money and kills them — Charles Oakley, who goes to Santa Rosa California to escape the cops in Philadelphia who are looking for him (Spoto, 1992). There he visits his sister’s family and changes his niece, Young Charlie. Uncle Charlie’s visit is at first very exciting to Young Charlie, but as his stay progresses Young Charlie changes. Young Charlie becomes less excited, more suspicious of people, and darker when she learns her uncle’s real identity. Young Charlie keeps her uncle’s secret from her family, even after his death.

Hitchcock film Strangers on a Train (1951) is filled with doubles too. In the film two strangers, Guy and Bruno, meet on a train and agree to swap murders. Bruno will kill Miriam, Guy’s wife, and Guy will kill Bruno’s father. After Bruno kills Miriam he starts pressuring Guy to do his murder; he calls, stops by the senate-house, and the tennis courts. Even with Bruno’s pestering Guy still refuses to kill Bruno’s father. Bruno tries to frame Guy. The two men meet at the fairground by the carousel, a fight ensues and Bruno gets crushed as Guy is flung off to the side.

Doubles or doppelgangers represent the dual nature of man; the good and the evil that all humans possess. The doppelganger both haunts and illuminates a person (Spoto, 1992), bringing out the good and the bad in them. This is true for Young Charlie and Guy and will be discussed later in the paper as the doppelgangers in each film are explained in more detail. Doubles or doppelgangers also represent “strong inner conflict” (Spoto, 1992, p. 195). Inner conflict typically has to do with wrong and right, good versus evil. Young Charlie and Guy both face inner conflict, their inner conflicts will also be discussed later as the characters are discussed. In most literature and many films the double or doppelganger is a sort of alter ego that carries out the protagonists repressed desires (Walker, 2005). The double or doppelganger does something that the hero wants to do, but would never actually do because it is wrong. Uncle Charlie and Bruno both do things that Young Charlie and Guy would never do; their actions will also be covered later. In Hitchcock, as with most stories with doubles and or doppelganger, the double or doppelganger generally dies. The death of the double or doppelganger is beneficial for the hero, something like the shedding of a burden (Walker, 2005). Both Uncle Charlie and Bruno die, making Young Charlie and Guys lives easier.


The first set of doubles or doppelgangers are Young Charlie and her Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Young Charlie and Uncle Charlie are like twins, Young Charlie even states that in the film, “we’re sorta like twins”. As Uncle Charlie and Yong Charlie are introduced they are seen lying on their bed’s with their arms behind their head and feet crossed at the ankles. This was done intentionally by Hitchcock so there would be a connection between the two Charlie’s. Young Charlie says that she and Uncle Charlie are alike and that it would spoil things if he gave her present. Young Charlie also says that they both have secrets, which may be dark, connecting them further. Telepathic intimacy links them and makes them more than twins (Spoto, 1992).Young Charlie is bored, so she decides to send a telegram to Uncle Charlie asking him to visit them in Santa Rosa. When Young Charlie gets to the telegram office there is a telegram from Uncle Charlie saying he is on his way. The two characters having the same idea connects them in a mental way making their connection even stronger.

According to Spoto (1992), “the two Charlie’s inhabit the same world, and the extremes they represent coexist to a greater or lesser extent within every human being” (p. 119). Young Charlie is the good part of human nature, optimistic, generous, good, trusting and loving; whereas Uncle Charlie is the negative part of human nature, negative, decadent and murderous (Spoto, 1992). Though Uncle Charlie is the negative part of human nature, he can also be charming and generous to his family (Spoto, 1992). Young Charlie is the good part of human nature, but she is capable of killing her uncle (Spoto, 1992). According to Davidson Shadow of a Doubt (1943) is, “Hitchcock’s first American masterpiece, he uses the doppelganger theme straightforwardly to contrast the “evil” Uncle Charlie with his “good” niece, young Charlie, who must reach within her own heart of darkness to kill her uncle at the film’s end” (p. 4).

Charlotte, who is always referred to as Charlie was named after her uncle Charles (Charlie) Oakley (Spoto, 1992). Young Charlie starts out the film as bored and innocent, but during the film that changes. In the beginning of Shadow of  Doubt (1943) Young Charlie states to her father, “We just sort of go along and nothing happens”. This line and her laying on the bed doing nothing shows that Young Charlie is bored. An example of her innocence is heard in her comment to Uncle Charlie about things other people do not know about him. She says it’s, “Something secret and wonderful and – I’ll find it out”.

Eventually Young Charlie becomes as ruthless as her Uncle Charlie. Young  Charlie is as suspicious of people as Uncle Charlie is. In Shadow of a Doubt (1943) one of the detectives, Jack, takes Young Charlie out and tells her that her uncle, Charlie may be the Merry Widow Murderer. At first Young Charlie does not believe the detective however, some of Uncle Charlie’s actions and comments make Young Charlie suspicious of her uncle. Young Charlie’s suspicions lead her to the library where she finds out who her uncle is, a widow murderer. Upon Young Charlie’s discovery she threatens kill Uncle Charlie if he does not leave (which he does).

Uncle Charlie imposes his negative world view on Young Charlie and she accepts it, possibly because she is his twin, double, or doppelganger. Young Charlie did not question the interviewers motives for interviewing her and her family until Uncle Charlie states his dislike of the idea. As it turns out Uncle Charlie was right to be wary of the two interviewers, Young Charlie finds out later the two interviewers are actually detectives. Another example of Uncle Charlie imposing his negative world view on Young Charlie is seen at the end of Shadow of a Doubt (1943). After her uncle’s visit (and death) Young Charlie does not idealize the world, her eyes have been opened to the cruelty of the world, when she learns about her uncle’s murderous actions.

Uncle Charlie is charming, loving, seductive, but he brings a shadow to the small sleepy town. Uncle Charlie, Young Charlie’s double or doppelganger, has another alter ego, Merry Widow Murderer, whom is supposedly out east (Walker, 2005). Uncle Charlie sees the world as a joke. At dinner Uncle Charlie talks negatively about women and wives, calling them “silly, useless, fat, and greedy”. This comment really upsets Young Charlie, because she sees them as  people, but Uncle Charlie clearly does not believe they are. Uncle Charlie calls Young Charlie ordinary, and tells her that she brought nightmares to her and her family. The nightmares being the reality of who he really is and what Young Charlie is capable of — first covering for her uncle, second betraying her uncle, third lying to protect her family.

Uncle Charlie tries to kill Young Charlie three times in Shadow of a Doubt (1943): once on the stairs, the second time in the garage, and finally at the train station. The first and second attempts fail. Uncle Charlie’s third and final attempt to kill Young Charlie results in his own death; he slips and falls off the train. At Uncle Charlie’s funeral many people talk about how wonderful he was, however the detective and Young Charlie sit outside and talked about how Uncle Charlie hated the world and how the world needs watching. Uncle Charlie’s death leaves Young Charlie with a secret, who her uncle really was, but it also saves many lives, including her own.

In Shadow of a Doubt (1943) there is double incest. Young Charlie is attracted to Uncle Charlie as a lover and her competition is her mother, Emma (Walker, 2005). The first incestuous relationship is that of Young Charlie and Uncle Charlie. The two meet at the train station where Uncle Charlie gives Young Charlie a kiss. Later Uncle Charlie gives Young Charlie a ring, which in a sense marries them, continuing the incest between uncle and niece further. The other incestuous relationship is between Uncle Charlie and Emma – Young Charlie’s mother and Uncle Charlie’s sister. Emma obsesses over Charlie upon his arrival and his kind words make her swoon. Uncle Charlie’s killing of middle-aged women, for which he is called the Merry Widow Murder, is an enactment of Young Charlie’s desire to get rid of the competition, her mother Emma (Walker, 2005). Young Charlie sees that she has to fight her mother for her uncle’s affection, but she would never harm her mother because she is a good person. However, Uncle Charlie has no qualms killing women, he has killed three, something Young Charlie would never be able to do because she is good. Uncle Charlie’s ability to kill women fulfills Young Charlie’s desire to get rid of her mother, without her harming anyone.

Another example of doubles or doppelgangers is Guy and Bruno in Strangers on a Train (1951). Bruno will kill Miriam, “Guy’s troublesome wife” (Walker, 2005, p. 148) if Guy will kill Bruno’s father (Spoto, 1992). Guy’s current wife, Miriam, is troublesome because she will not grant him a divorce which would allow him to marry Anne, the senator’s daughter. In this film Bruno, the double, enacts Guy’s, the protagonist’s, desire; to get rid of his wife, Miriam. The audience knows that Guy wants to get rid of his wife because after an argument with Miriam Guy calls Anne and tells her that he could “strangle her” (Miriam). Guy’s murderousness is projected on to Bruno (Walker, 2005) when he murders Miriam. Bruno kills Miriam by strangling her, which is what Guy said he wanted to do. Guy’s response to Bruno’s action is “outraged innocence” (Walker, 2005, p. 149). When Bruno visits Guy and gives him Miriam’s glasses Guy calls Bruno a “maniac” and a “crazy fool” for murdering Miriam. Guy did not really want Miriam to be killed, he just wanted to get divorced. He also did not believe that a stranger would kill for him. Guy thought the idea of swapping murders was a joke, which is why he agreed to it.

In Strangers on a Train (1951) Guy’s first instinct is to call the cops when he finds out that Bruno murdered his wife Miriam. However, Bruno makes him realize he cannot, telling him, “If you go to the police now, you’ll just be turning yourself in as in accessory. You see, you have the motive”. This realization causes internal conflict for Guy; he knows about the murder of his wife, but cannot do anything about it. If Guy went to the cops he would be convicted for at least accessory to murder. This causes Guy to becomes anxious and paranoid, hiding behind a barred gate with Bruno in the shadows to avoid being seen by the cops. Guy is afraid of being found out, so he keeps the truth about Miriam’s murder to himself. Anne, Guy’s girlfriend, eventually finds out that he was involved in Miriam’s murder because he does not seem surprised or devastated when Anne’s family informs Guy of Miriam’s murder. Anne encourages Guy to go to the police, like he originally intended, but he tells her he cannot. Instead Guy decides to talk to Bruno’s father and tell him that his son wants him dead.

In Strangers on a Train (1951) it appears that two men, Guy and Bruno, meet by chance on a train. However, Bruno knows all about Guy; how he is a tennis pro, that wants to get into  politics, and that he wants his divorce finalized so he can marry Anne. Bruno’s knowledge of Guy’s public and private life suggests a connection between the two men (Spoto, 1992). Typically strangers do not know the ins and outs of a person’s life, friends or family do. But Bruno and Guy are have never met before so something else must connect them; maybe the two men are the head and tail of a coin. The fact that Bruno has the swapping of murders planned out means he knew the two of them would meet, suggesting a  further connection between these two men (Wood, 1989).  Generally someone does not come up with a plan to work with, or aid, a total stranger. Plans are made with friends or family, again Bruno and Guy are neither, so something else must tie to two men together.

According to Spoto (1992) Guy and Bruno from Strangers on a Train (1951) are “dual aspects on a single personality” (p. 192). Guy and Bruno are both introduced to the audience in the same way, by their feet. The first time Guy is seen his feet climb out of a taxi at the train station; Guy’s shoes are simple and one solid color. Whereas the first time Bruno’s feet are seen getting out of the taxi; Bruno’s shoes are flashy and two-toned. Sometimes people are simple and other times they are flashy. Just as the two men’s shoes are different, the men are different. Though they are not so different that the audience cannot see a connection between the two.

Guy, the protagonist of Strangers on a Train (1951) is a tennis pro (Spoto, 1992) who wants to go in to politics. Guy is a good man, whose life is not going smoothly, but he always tries to do the right thing. When Bruno mentions Miriam’s cheating Guy says it’s, “painful for a man to discover he’s been a chump”. Guy is trapped by his cheating wife Miriam, who decides she doesn’t want to get divorced since Guy is making money playing tennis. When Bruno lets Guy know Miriam is dead Guy is horrified and he wants to do the right thing. Guy wants to go to the cops, and when he realizes he cannot he does everything he can to make sure other people in his life are not involved. Guy tells Anne he thought Bruno was joking about swapping murders, which is why he agreed to it. Guy goes to Bruno’s father’s house to tell him about his son, however Bruno is here. Guy tells Bruno he’s sick and that needs help. Guy also tells Bruno that he never intended on murdering Bruno’s father. The fact that Guy never intends to murder anyone  shows that Guy is still a good person. In Guys last tennis match he has to work harder to win, taking chances that even the announcer calls out of the ordinary for him. Guy is taking chances in the match so that he can get to the amusement park to stop Bruno. Meeting Bruno caused Guy to take chances and step out of his norms, while remaining good.

Since Guy represents good, Bruno would represent evil. Bruno has gone to and been kicked out of three university. Since then he has taken to gambling and drinking. Bruno is of the mind that “you should do everything before you die”. Because of this belief Bruno travels and tries many things. Bruno’s traveling and experimentation is him trying to identify himself. Bruno says he isn’t lucky or  smart, like Guy is. Throughout Strangers on a Train (1951) Bruno is often associated with shadows and darkness. Like when he hides behind the gate outside Guy’s house at night or when he is in hid fathers room at night. Bruno represents “destructive, subversive urges” (Wood, 1989, p.87). For example Bruno strangles Miriam to death at the amusement park, he also strangles another woman at a party, but does not kill her. The old woman at the party is like Bruno’s mother, rich and indulgent, by strangling her Bruno is acting out his desire to get rid of his mother.

At the end of Strangers on a Train (1951) Bruno and Guy struggle on the carousel at the amusement park, Guy is trying to get his lighter back from Bruno so that Bruno cannot frame him for Miriam’s murder. During their struggle the carousel goes out of control and Bruno is crushed. The cops and the boatman, who remembers Bruno from the night of the murder, disagree about who did it. Eventually boatman says it was Bruno and he has no idea who Guy is. When Guy’s lighter is found in Bruno’s hand the cops agree with the boatman and Guy is set free.  With the guilty man is dead the case closed and Guy is free to live  happily with Anne.

Other Doubles

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) is filled with doubles, Young Charlie and Uncle Charlie, as discussed earlier, are doubles. The rest of the doubling in the film is more subtle, but is most defiantly present. One of the first examples of doubling in the film are the two opening scenes to introduce the two main characters, Uncle Charlie and Young Charlie. Both opening scenes start with an aerial view of the city or town the character lives in, Philadelphia and Santa Rosa. The aerial view is followed by a view of Young Charlie or Uncle Charlie on her or his bed laying in the same position; arms under their head and legs crossed at the ankle.

Another example of doubling in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) has to do with people. There are two interviewers, who are actually detectives, that visit the Newton house and investigate Uncle Charlie, as a suspect in the Merry Widow Murderer case. There are even two suspects in the Merry Widow Murderer case, one is Uncle Charlie and the other is a man out east, who ends up dying and taking the blame for the murders. Young Charlie has two younger siblings, Ann and Roger. Young Charlie also has two female friends, Shirley and Catherine, that she runs into in town after Uncle Charlie’s arrival. Young Charlie’s father, Joseph and his friend, Herbie are two morbid voyeurs, who talk about the perfect murder two times during the course of the film. There are also two men that are interested in Young Charlie, a guy from the town and one of the detectives, Jack. The pairing of people in the film makes the concept of doubles more apparent, but it does so in a more subtle manner than the obvious doubling of Young Charlie and Uncle Charlie. The use of pairs with people is so frequent that Hitchcock must have done it on purpose, to enhance the concept of doubles.

People are not the only things that are doubled in Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Some of the locations and actions are doubled as well. The bar in Santa Rosa is called Till’ 2. A fun play on words that engrains the idea of doubles into the viewers mind, as well as providing a laugh because it is one of the least subtle ways of pointing out the concept of doubles in the film. There are two toasts, one given by Uncle Charlie before his departure and the other in honor of Uncle Charlie, for all his. The fact that there is two toasts is a detail that is easily missed, but when caught shows careful consideration and purpose on Hitchcock’s part.

In the film there are two dinner scenes, another clever double for Hitchcock. The first dinner scene is after Uncle Charlie arrives at the Newton’s, during which her presents them all with gifts, it is early evening. The second is later at night, showing how Uncle Charlie’s city ways have changed the family. It is in this dinner scene where Uncle Charlie shows his cruel nature, calling middle-aged widows, rich, fat and lazy. The film is nicely bookended by two scenes at the train station. The first at the beginning when Uncle Charlie arrives in Santa Rosa and the second at the end when Uncle Charlie is leaving. By bookending the film with the train station Hitchcock points out yet another double to the viewer. There are also two scenes in the Newton’s garage. The first time Young Charlie and Jack talk about the widow murder and Jack tells Young Charlie he loves her. The two of them get trapped inside, but they manage to get out. In the second garage scene Young Charlie gets trapped in the garage again, however this time Uncle Charlie trapped her in there, with the car running. The private scene between Jack and Young Charlie could have taken place anywhere, as could Uncle Charlie’s second attempt on Young Charlie’s life. However, Hitchcock chose to use the same location twice, in order to add yet another double to Shadow of a Doubt (1943).

According to Davidson “Strangers on a Train (1951) is a film in which game playing assumes a particularly high degree of importance” (p. 3). In the film there are tennis matches, amusement parks, gambling and politics. Tennis is a game; at amusement parks people play games and go on rides; often gambling takes place when people are playing  games, like poker; as for politics, some people see them as a game. The film contains numerous “references to tennis doubles, double-crossing, crisscross, and double drinks” (Davidson, p.4).  According to Spoto (1992) there are no doubles in Highsmith‘s book, which the film was based on, so the doubles were added by Hitchcock to make a point.

Strangers on a Train (1951) deals with many doubles.  The first double in the film is two strangers swapping murders, which would make them double murders. As Bruno puts it, “your wife, my father, crisscross”. Another doubles in the film is found in drink. On the train Bruno orders, “scotch and plain water a pair, doubles”.  Bruno’s mother mentions that painting is soothing twice. The first time she says it to Bruno, who is upset about his father. The second time she mentions it is to Anne after Anne tells her that Bruno has murdered someone.

Once Miriam gets money from Guy she doesn’t want divorce, she wants to stay married and move with him back to Washington DC. By changing her mind and refusing to divorce Guy she is double-crossing him. Miriam is also double-crossing Guy because she is pregnant with another man’s baby, it seem that she likes to sleep around.  Guy even says she double crossed him, to Bruno. When Guy tells Bruno that he will not murder his father Bruno is very upset. Bruno says, “I don’t like to be double crossed” and that Guys murder is on his conscience. Two people are double crossed, a detail that Hitchcock must have been paying a lot of attention to the theme of doubles.

Some scenes in Strangers on a Train (1951) are doubled.  There are two tennis matches in the film. The first tennis match is a practice, Bruno is there watching, which makes Guy uncomfortable. The second tennis match is an official game. During this match Guy is taking chances he never takes in tennis.  Guy hurries in the match so that he can meet up with Bruno and stop him from framing him for Miriam’s murder. There are also two scenes at the amusement park. In the first one Miriam goes on a date with two guys at an amusement park; Bruno follows them around, until he gets Miriam alone and strangles her. The second scene at the amusement park  involves Bruno, Guy and the police. Bruno is there to frame Guy, Guy is there to stop Bruno, and the police are there to catch Guy.  Each time the cops are seen at the amusement park they are in pairs. Doubling of scenes and doubles within the scenes, like a tennis double or pairs of cops, mean that Hitchcock put in a lot of effort when it comes to the theme of doubles.

Another set of doubles in Strangers on a Train (1951) are Miriam and Barbara, Anne’s sister. Both Miriam and Barbara wear glasses, they are also on the shorter side with brown hair.  When Bruno sees Barbra at the tennis courts he is shocked and sits there in silence starting at her. He remembers Miriam and how he strangled her. At a party Bruno talks to an old rich lady,   the lady’s female friend sits next to her, she also old and rich. The three of them talk about disposing of people. Bruno strangles the old lady, his second strangling, however she doesn’t die. When  Bruno is strangling the old woman Barbra passes by, again Bruno sees her and is reminded of Miriam, which is why he continues to strangle the old woman instead of stopping like he originally intended.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Strangers on a Train (1951), by Hitchcock are filled with doubles and doppelgangers. Sometimes the doubles are the characters, meaning they are doppelgangers; like Young Charlie and Uncle Charlie, or Guy and Bruno.  Other times the doubles are found in names of places, like the bar Till’ 2; scene locations, like train stations or amusement parks; or minor details, like two toasts or two comments about how soothing painting is. The fact that doubles are so frequent in these two films means Hitchcock had to be incorporating the doubles on purpose, to make his theme of doubles in both films obvious.

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