Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Hitchcock completist

Back in 2004 or 2005, TCM had an Alfred Hitchcock week, running the famed director's movies every night in prime time, and into the wee hours of the morning. Some of the director's early work in Britain got aired, but most American viewers will recognize Hitchcock for movies from Rebecca onwards, that being the first movie Hitchcock made for David O. Selznick after coming over to the US. By my reckoning, of the movies Hitchcock made from Rebecca onwards, TCM is now down to two that haven't gotten shown since before the Hitchcock festival: Lifeboat, which is a Fox film; and Under Capricorn. One that only recently got stricken from the list is I Confess, which is getting another airing tomorrow at noon ET.

As with many of Alfred Hitchcock's films, I Confess is not a mystery, but a suspense film: Hitchcock lets us in on the secret early on. In this case, that secret is Otto Keller's (O.E. Hasse) murder of a lawyer in Québec City. Keller is a caretaker at one of the church rectories, and after committing the deed, he returns to the church, where he summons Fr. Logan (Montgomery Clift) to the confessional, and under the seal of confession, confesses to having killed this man. This sets up a fairly trite conflict, that of a priest not being allowed to violate the sanctity of the confessional. (Personally, I'd think that part of the penance ought to be admitting the crime to the police, and that God cannot grant salvation until the sinner does so. Apparently that's not the way the Catholic Church works.) Logan can't reveal what he knows, which turns out to be a huge problem, as he knew the victim. Inspector Larrue (Karl Malden), who has the task of investigating the murder, knows not only that Fr. Logan was acquainted with the victim, but that Logan is trying to hide something, which naturally places suspicion on Logan.

What Logan is hiding is a relationship he had had a decade earlier with Ruth (Anne Baxter), who is now married to a member of the Québec legislature. Before World War II, Logan had not taken the priestly vows, and was in love with Ruth. The war changed all that, and while Logan was facing the horror of war that caused him to become just friends with Ruth and want to join the priesthood, Ruth, realizing Logan was no longer in love with her, entered into a marriage of opportunity. Logan returned from the war and wants to tell Ruth what happened but, before she can tell him she's gotten married, the two get caught alone together by the eventual murder victim, who proceeds to blackmail Ruth (which conveniently also gives her and Logan the motive for the killing).

Now, we know that because of the Production Code, the real killer is going to get revealed to the authorities. But how it happens is what makes the movie interesting. I Confess is generally considered one of Alfred Hitchcock's "lesser" movies, but that's a bit unfair. If the movie has any problem, it's only that it's nondescript in that there's not really anything to make it stand out the way Alfred Hitchcock's other movies do. Still, Montgomery Clift and Karl Malden both deliver excellent performances. As with most of Hitchcock's movies, it's gotten a DVD release, so even if it doesn't show up on TCM all that often, you can watch it whenever you want.

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