Hitchcock-a-thon: I Confess (1953)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hitchcock-a-thon: Under Capricorn (1949)

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If Waltzes from Vienna or Jamaica Inn didn’t convince that Hitchcock really can’t do period dramas, Under Capricorn might be the conclusive bit of evidence you need. While it’s not quite as bad his earlier efforts at the genre, it’s still a bland, sluggish final entry to Hitchcock’s ’40s success as well as a disappointing end to his films starring Ingrid Bergman.

Welcome to Australia, 1831, brought to us in vibrant Technicolor. Charles Adare (Michael Wilding) arrives from Ireland to visit his uncle who’s been appointed the governor of New South Wales and hopefully make his fortune. He’s introduced to former convict and current businessman Sam Flusky (Joe Cotten) and his troubled, alcoholic wife Henrietta (Bergman). Charles tries to help her rehabilitate and in doing so falls in love with her (whoops) which causes a whole lotta tension, not least because the housekeeper Milly (Margaret Leighton) is secretly in love with Sam and tries to ruin his marriage.

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Under Capricorn is visually beautiful. Hitch utilized the same ambitious long shots seen in Rope but the camerawork is freer now he’s abandoned the “all in one take” gimmick. Other than that, however, there is painfully little to recommend.

Cotten and Bergman have both given sensational performances in earlier Hitchcock films, but here they struggle with the woefully wooden script. A real disappointment given their calibre of talent. As for the other characters, they don’t fare much better. Wilding is entire forgettable as the lead and the manipulative housekeeper, Milly, is played as a watered down version of Mrs. Danvers from Rebecca.

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After an absolutely dire first half, the plot picks up a bit towards the end as a few twists and turns are thrown into proceedings. But at nearly two hours long it’s too little too late. They movie’s had nearly 100 minutes to make me care about these characters and it failed. At this stage, no amount of plot twists can change that.

Despite the big-name cast and sophisticated cinematography, Under Capricorn is a step back in time for Hitchcock in terms of storytelling.  For all the elegant, swooping shots Hitchcock could throw at it, nothing could stop it from being utterly inert.

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An absurdly distracting bonnet

Hitchcock-a-thon: The Manxman (1929)

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Another silent Hitchcock, another love triangle. Once again starring Carl Brisson. Hitchcock later dismissed it as “a very banal picture.” I’m not going to call him wrong about his own movie but…he’s wrong. In my opinion, it’s actually one of his strongest films from the silent era.

Set in a small village on the Isle of Man, Kate (Anny Ondra) promises her love to a chipper fisherman called Pete (Brisson) shortly before he leaves for Africa to make his fortune. While he’s gone he asks his best friend Philip (Malcolm Keen) to take care of her. But a forbidden love starts to blossom and when Pete returns to ask Kate for her hand in marriage, it’s only a matter of time before it all blows up in their faces.

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Until then, she has something else in her face

In many ways, The Manxman feels like a cross between two Hitchcock films: the love triangle story from The Ring mixed with the theme of regretting promises from The Pleasure Garden. But The Manxman is better than both of them.

While, in terms of cinematography, The Ring is still Hitchcock’s greatest ’20s achievement – the characters and story are stronger here. In The Ring the audience were clearly intended to sympathise with ‘One-Round’ Jack; Bob Corby was his obstacle to overcome and Mabel was his prize to be won.

But the lead characters in The Manxman are more nuanced than that. All three of them are likeable and we don’t want anyone to come away hurt, even though it’s almost unavoidable. Ondra is enthralling as Kate, making it impossible not to side with her on any decision she makes. Keen gives an entirely convincing portrayal of a man falling in love despite himself and poor old Pete is so naïve and trusting that he can’t see what’s happening right under his nose.

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Like…RIGHT under his damn nose

The film ends on a beautifully melancholic note and it’s hard to know exactly how we’re meant to feel. As well as these gripping character dynamics we’re also treated to some gorgeous craggy scenery and some niffy love-triangle imagery. My personal favourite is the opening shot of the three-legged Isle of Man flag, setting the location but also introducing the thematic symbolism.

The Manxman is an emotionally engaging film. Compelling, suspenseful and a fitting swansong for Hitchcock’s silent classics.

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Farewell