That wicked relative in the film, Uncle Charlie, has come to stay with his sister and her family in Santa Rosa, California (where the film was actually shot) much to the delight of his niece and namesake, Charlie (Teresa Wright). His niece had just been thinking that some sort of adventure was needed to stir the family out of its rut and a visit from her beloved uncle (whom she's so similar to that they are almost telepathic. In fact the first shots of the pair of Charlies mirrors each other with both lying on their bed, staring at the ceiling) was just what they needed. But soon young Charlie, after a visit from a pair of detectives following her uncle, begins to suspect that the uncle she adores might in fact be the Merry Widower Murderer – a killer that preys on wealthy, older women.
There are glimmers of truth throughout the film that hint at the evil that lies within Uncle Charlie. The first dinner when he is reunited within the clan brings forth a ring for young Charlie. While admiring it (along with some intense incestuous flirting), she soon finds an engraving that reveals the true owner of the bauble. Later, in her bedroom (again with the incest), a seemingly playful game where young Charlie tries to steal back a newspaper article Uncle Charlie has hidden, turns a little too harsh when his grip on her slowly becomes a bit too rough and forceful. But, the moment where Charlie's facade begins to crack and he shows his true self is my pick for Best Shot.
At another dinner, sitting around the family table, Uncle Charlie's sister mentions the women of her club and what Charlie will speak about at their meeting. Charlie comments on how the women in the country are different from the women of the city. And as he begins to speak, the camera pulls in tighter and closer to his face just as the words become more twisted and deprived.
Uncle Charlie: The cities are full of women, middle-aged widows, husbands dead. Husbands who've spent their lives making fortunes, working and working. And then they die and leave their money to their wives. Their silly wives. And what do the wives do – these useless women? You see them in the hotels - the best hotels - every day by the thousands. Drinking the money. Eating the money. Losing the money at bridge. Playing all day and all night. Smelling of money. Proud of their jewelry, but of nothing else. Horrible, faded, fat, greedy women.
Young Charlie: They're Alive! They're Human Beings!
Uncle Charlie: Are they?
And that icy stare, directed at Charlie, but really as if he's staring directly at us – piercing our souls with his hatred – cuts right through you. Hitchcock builds the momentum to where just the turn of his head is enough to make you jump. But the horror is more terrifying because it's real. It's your blood relation, sitting around the comfort of your dinner table, disturbing the sacredness of that familial ritual. There's evil that lurks in the hearts of men and it hits close to home. And perhaps the film is Hitchcock's favorite because he knows that having you question whether you really know the person sitting right next to you is the most frightening feeling of all.