Alfred Hitchcock directing Shadow of a Doubt in 1942
Alfred Hitchcock directing Shadow of a Doubt in 1942.William Vandivert—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Alfred Hitchcock directing Shadow of a Doubt in 1942
Alfred Hitchcock directing Shadow of a Doubt in 1942
Alfred Hitchcock directing Shadow of a Doubt in 1942
Alfred Hitchcock directing Shadow of a Doubt in 1942
Alfred Hitchcock directing Shadow of a Doubt in 1942
Alfred Hitchcock directing Shadow of a Doubt in 1942
Alfred Hitchcock directing Shadow of a Doubt in 1942
Alfred Hitchcock directing Shadow of a Doubt in 1942
Alfred Hitchcock directing Shadow of a Doubt in 1942
Alfred Hitchcock directing Shadow of a Doubt in 1942
Alfred Hitchcock directing Shadow of a Doubt in 1942
Alfred Hitchcock directing Shadow of a Doubt in 1942
Alfred Hitchcock directing Shadow of a Doubt in 1942
Alfred Hitchcock directing Shadow of a Doubt in 1942
Alfred Hitchcock directing Shadow of a Doubt in 1942
Alfred Hitchcock directing Shadow of a Doubt in 1942.
William Vandivert—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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How Hitchcock Turned a Small Budget Into a Great Triumph

Apr 29, 2015

Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt is widely considered one of the most masterful films in the history of cinema. Hitchcock himself suggested in interviews that it was his favorite work from his expansive oeuvre—and indie filmmakers everywhere should take comfort in that. The legendary movie was also one of Hitchcock's most frugally made.

During World War II, the War Production Board imposed limits on the film industry in the U.S., capping film set budgets at $5,000 (around $68,000 in today’s dollars) in order to minimize the unnecessary use of materials. Hitchcock normally spent at least $100,000 on movie sets, so the director had to think creatively in order to give Shadow of a Doubt a high-value look on a paltry budget.

The solution? Shoot on location. As LIFE explained in 1943:

Instead of elaborate sets he used the real thing. To shoot scenes supposed to take place in New Jersey, he traveled cross-country and shot them in New Jersey. Instead of building a studio version of a typical American city, his main setting, he searched for a ready-made one.

Though he ended up spending more on travel costs, Hitchcock was able to keep the materials budget under $3,000. And the frugal production had no adverse effects on critical reception: In a favorable review, TIME drew special attention to the scenery, noting, “Its horror is compounded by its setting.”

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 4.28.51 PM LIFE Magazine

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

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