Saturday, September 7, 2013

Under Capricorn

Back in May, I made brief mention of the Alfred Hitchcock film Under Capricorn. Four months ago, I said it was airing in July and I might do a full-legnth post about it then. I didn't, with one of the big reasons being that it's not one of my favorite Hitchcock films, and that's putting it politely. But, at any rate, it's getting another airing tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM as part of TCM's month-long salute to Alfred Hitchcock. So now might be a good time to blog about it.

Michael Wilding plays Charles Adare, an Irishman of good breeding who is going to the Australia of the 1830s to make a better life for himself. On the boat he travels with the new colonial governor (Cecil Parker, whom we saw last week in Storm in a Teacup), who cautions him about life in Australia. So we know fairly early that things are going to take a turn for Charles. Not long after arriving in Australia, he meets Sam Flusky (Joseph Cotten), a former prisoner who has been granted his emancipation, and is now a wealthy landowner. However, Flusky is also, if not persona non grata, the sort of person that the rest of "polite" society wishes they didn't have to deal with. Flusky, however, is willing to get involved in a land deal with Charles, and Charles not knowing any better, and sensing that Flusky is familiar, decides to take the deal.

It turns out there's a good reason Flusky seemed familiar to Charles. He had been the groomsman in the stables of his childhood friend Henrietta. In fact, the two ould eventually get married despite her parents' insistence that this would be a bad idea. And know Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman), or "Hattie", is living here with Sam, close to Charles! But Hattie is also the reason why the rest of the society people don't like Flusky. She's either an alcoholic, or mentally deranged, or both. Milly, Hattie's servant (Margaret Leighton) will swear to it. She has an episode at a party at the Flusky house where all the society men show up but refuse to bring their wives, and Charles turns out to be the only one who can calm her down.

Charles winds up getting rather closer to Hattie, which ultimately bothers Sam because he fears Hattie is in love with Charles. Charles, for his part, are trying to figure out what if anything is really up with Sam and Hattie. It all goes on like this for nearly two hours....

And there's the problem. Under Capricorn drags, and drags, and drags. The problem isn't that Hitchcock couldn't do a period piece, considering that he did a fine job with Jamaica Inn. I think the biggest problem is the characters, whom I find difficult to care about. Ingrid Bergman is given a thankless task playing the woman of an uncertain mental state caused by, well what, really? Hitchcock, for his part, did make a mistake in trying to repeat some of the success of Rope. He uses several longer shots that limit what he can do technically and distract from what is already a not very good story. Under Capricorn has echoes of other stuff set in the mid-19th century like Dragonwyck or Jane Eyre, but the story is inferior to both.

Under Capricorn has been released to DVD, but not in a version available from the TCM Shop.


Anonymous said...

I reckon this is one of Hitchcock's weakest, but it does have points of interest. I like the Gothic gloom and the cast are fine by me.
It does suffer from those long takes but I still prefer this movie to Rope, which is just a major downer for me anyway.

Ted S. (Just a Cineast) said...

I've always liked Rope but more as a character study of John Dall's manipulation of Farley Granger than for the long takes.

Then again, I'm also one of the few people who likes the bombing in Sabotage.