Hitchcock carries the theme of the transference of guilt from Strangers on a Train on to his next film, I Confess, this time with a religious twist. Transfers it, you might say. Appropriate.
In Quebec City, devout Catholic priest Father Michael Logan (Montgomery Clift) hears a late-night confession from the church caretaker Otto Keller (O. E. Hasse), an impoverished German immigrant, who accidentally killed a wealthy lawyer called Villette after an attempt to rob him royally ballsed up.
Logan’s vows mean he cannot reveal Otto’s confession to anyone, including the police, even after he finds himself accused as the murderer thanks to a co-incidental relationship with Ruth (Anne Baxter) long before his days of the cloth that connects his life to Villette.
We’ve seen heroes falsely accused of crimes time and time again in Hitchcock films, but this is the first time our main man hasn’t ended up on the run, trying to track down the true culprit. Instead, the drama comes from wondering how long Logan can bear the cross of another man’s guilt when the entire city blames him and whether he can clear his name without breaking his holy oath.
As you might expect, this makes I Confess more sombre in tone than Hitchcock previous “innocent man on the run” flicks. And not necessarily in a good way. It borders on boring, not helped by chiselled, brooding Montgomery Clift who looks more like Captain Scarlet in a dog collar than an actual priest.
Anne Baxter is also fairly forgettable as Ruth. But she was never meant to be involved in the project. Anita Bjork, the Swedish star of Miss Julie, was originally on board for the role, but Warner Bros forced Hitchcock to cast Baxter instead after Bjork brought her lover and illegitimate child into Hollywood.
Combine these unremarkable leads with a mediocre script and you’re left with a real damp squib of a film.
At least it’s beautifully shot. Hitchcock always had a keen eye for striking architecture whenever he was let loose on location shoots, and I Confess is no exception. He sure knows how to make Quebec look glorious.
And, hey, it is interesting to see Hitch attempt a film where the hero addresses the accusations against his name rather than running from them. The final product just doesn’t pay off.