Saturday, August 01, 2009

Tonight's Movie: I Confess (1953)

Over the last year or so I've been gradually working on catching up with Hitchcock movies I've not yet seen. Today I watched I CONFESS, an excellent but relatively lesser-known Hitchcock movie which deserves wider viewing.

Father Michael Logan (Montgomery Clift) is a Canadian priest in a real jam: during Confession a church employee (O.E. Hasse) admits to a murder -- of a man who was blackmailing not only Father Logan, but a woman the priest once loved (Anne Baxter). A police inspector (Karl Malden) becomes suspicious of Father Logan, but the priest cannot violate the sanctity of the Confessional in order to save himself from being charged with murder.

This is a very engrossing, thought-provoking film with interesting characters and a unique setting; the movie was filmed on location in Quebec. The religious issues combined with murder make for an absorbing story; 95 minutes pass quickly.

It's not a perfect Hitchcock film, but even an imperfect Hitchcock movie provides stellar entertainment. My complaints include syrupy flashback romantic scenes with odd camera angles and operatic music -- which may have been used to show a character's memories were exaggerated, but still! -- and a sequence near the end which is way too obviously a Biblical allegory. A bit more subtlety would have been nice. Explanations of Father Michael's motivations are also missing at times; why did he break it off with Ruth, and what drove his interest in the priesthood? Despite these flaws, I found the film highly watchable and worthwhile.

Karl Malden is fun to watch as the police detective. The supporting cast includes Brian Aherne (always a welcome film presence) as the prosecutor, Roger Dann as Baxter's long-suffering, loyal husband, and Dolly Haas as the killer's wife. Incidentally, you can't miss Hitchcock's cameo at the start of the movie!

You can read more about the movie at DVD Savant, though you may wish to read his detailed comments after seeing the movie. I didn't necessarily agree with all Glenn Erickson's opinions, but he sets forth a thoughtful analysis which is worth reading; he says "I CONFESS is far from perfect and this is what makes it one of the more fascinating Hitchcock movies to discuss."

I CONFESS is available on DVD as a single-title release or as part of the Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection. Extras include a "making of" featurette and the trailer.

It's also been released on VHS.

Previous reviews of Hitchcock films: THE 39 STEPS (1935), MR. AND MRS. SMITH (1941), SABOTEUR (1942), SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943), and MARNIE (1964).

Update: I CONFESS is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.


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