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It's a real shame (and also rather difficult to believe) that this film is so little-known and difficult to view. Even though it was directed by the famous Alfred Hitchcock (in my opinion, the most brilliant film director who ever lived), it has too often been dismissed as one of his "lesser works." To each his own, I suppose, but _Under Capricorn_ boasts some of the most beautiful photography and eloquent, literate dialogue to be found in any Hitchcock film. Although the plot and structure of the film are familiar (the quintessential love triangle, ala _Wuthering Heights_), Hitchcock's treatment raises it above the ordinary. The costumes and sets are actually quite lavish, and pay particular attention to the unique musical score! Hitchcock's experiments with the "ten-minute take" (with which he experimented in his previous film, _Rope_) also add to the film's interest. The film is not, of course, an artistic triumph for Hitchcock alone. Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten (to name only two) are stars of the caliber that one just doesn't see anymore, and they give worthy performances. Casting Ingrid Bergman as an Irish noblewoman is, of course, rather bizarre casting against type, but this great actress makes it work. Joseph Cotten possesses the rougher qualities that his part demands, but his performance also elicits sympathy from the viewer (such as the scene where he is going to present his wife with a collar of rubies but then decides to hide his gift when she and Charles Adair comment that it wouldn't go with her gown). The other actors, mostly little-known to American audiences, fill their roles well more than adequately and the very fact that they are unfamiliar makes them easier for the viewer to see as the characters they play rather than as "stars." All in all, _Under Capricorn_ is an underrated masterpiece that is surely one of the best "costume" pictures of the 1940s. It is not for anyone seeking vicarious thrills or shocks, but for discriminating viewers who demand a coherent storyline, color photography that is aesthetically pleasing, literate dialogue and interesting casting, _Under Capricorn_ will fill the bill. I recommend it enthusiastically!
If your approach to reviewing this movie is to compare it with
Hitchcock's usual style, Under Capricorn will surely not compare. If,
however, you can suspend your expectations and view it with an open eye
and mind, you might see that, in its own right, it is an excellent film
of the type I refer to as the "Victorian soap opera." Being an
aficionado of this "genre", perhaps I'm biased; but I enjoyed immensely
the leisurely pace, extended dialog (which unlike other reviewers, I
found to be intelligent, graceful, and poetic). I found it to be gently
suspenseful, never really being sure who would get the girl in the end,
or even who might survive to the end.
Joseph Cotton was appealing, even though his character throughout much of the movie seemed to be villainous, and his reasons for being that way were quite apparent by the end of the film. My suspension of disbelief centered around Bergman's casting as an Irish aristocrat: once in awhile she managed to say a word that had an Irish flavor, but mostly she just sounded Swedish. However, that did not detract at all from her usual thoughtful performance. Michael Wilding irritated me a little with his foppish ways, yet even he managed to come off as a human being with faults and virtues...just like the rest of us. Leighton was superb and she, like Cotton, seemed to be a treacherous yet sympathetic character. I think it was the portrayals of complicated people with no one being painted as totally good or bad, the nuanced characterizations that I found so artistic yet real.
If you approach this movie without preconceptions, you might be drawn into it and appreciate Hitchcock's genius in an entirely different way.
With a great director, a good cast, and a relatively interesting
premise, it's surprising that this doesn't work better than it does.
The Australian setting has potential, as does Joseph Cotten's character
and the tangle of relationships in his household. But, despite some
good scenes, it never really comes together, and even when things start
to happen, it never feels as if it has hit its stride.
There's little fault to be found with the settings, which are convincing enough. Some of the characters never really come to life, but there is still an interesting mix of them. The pace is one area that definitely could have been improved, and the pre-occupation with the long takes certainly doesn't help at all. The technique worked very well in Hitchcock's "Rope", because it meshed with the setting and the subject matter. It doesn't fit so well here in "Under Capricorn", and it often dilutes the suspense rather than increasing it.
By no means is it a total clinker - the story does have some interesting parts, and with a different approach it could have been suspenseful, even memorable. Hitchcock's technical skill is still present in many respects, and even Hitchcock's lesser achievements are still worth seeing.
The movie's overly-polished feel is consistent with the approach that was chosen. It's at least one case where the more familiar, less affected Hitchcock style would have resulted in a much better film.
Transatlantic Pictures (Hitchcock's own production company) must've
rubbed their hands with glee when they decided to co-produce this film
with Warner Bros. For not only did they have the world's leading female
actress (Ingrid Bergman) in their film, they also had gifted stars
Joseph Cotten, Michael Wilding and Margaret Leighton lending support,
and naturally the great Alfred Hitchcock at the helm. If ever a film
was sure to be a critical and commercial hit, Under Capricorn was it.
Such a shame, then, that Under Capricorn emerged as the worst film of
Hitchcock's career. The critics roasted it, the public ignored it, and
Transatlantic Pictures went bust.
Irish aristocratic lady Henrietta (Bergman) elopes to Australia with her cruel lover Sam Flusky (Cotten). She gradually develops the illness dipsomania, what with her lover controlling her every move with over-bearing authority and their maid Milly (Leighton) plying her with drink. A childhood friend of Henrietta's, Charles Adare (Wilding) turns up and, realising pretty quickly that all is not well, tries to help her regain a sense of stability.
The film is a laughably overwrought costume melodrama, totally ill-suited to Hitchcock's playful, suspenseful directing style. A year previously, the director had made the thriller Rope, using experimental ten minute takes, and in this film he still seems to be in the habit of allowing scenes to go on and on (maybe not ten minutes, but some bits last for six or seven minutes without a single cut). Frequently, the film feels tediously unspooled as a result. The actors seem to over-act much of the time, but it's hard to see how they could've avoided this as much of the screenplay requires them to handle some horribly overripe dialogue and reactions. Under Capricorn is undoubtedly the least interesting film that Hitchcock ever made. Those who try to persuade us that it is a misunderstood masterpiece are, I'm sorry to report, well and truly kidding themselves.
While certainly uncharacteristic of Hitchcock's American films this film still has the Master's unmistakable imprint. Joseph Cotton is excellent in his role as a common man who resents the upper class of which he can never be a part. The rest of the actors do a fine job including Ingrid Bergman's turn as Cotton's drunk half mad wife. Perhaps the best and most interesting aspect of the film is the gorgeous Technicolor cinematography by Jack Cardiff. Cardiff who is probably best known for his work with Powell and Pressburger does a great job bringing the rich color of this period piece to the screen. The camera work is also characteristically Hitchcock with many long traveling shots with wonderfully complex compositions. The pace is slow and lacking suspense, but the characters and the situations are interesting and make the film work despite the pacing problems. Certainly not one of Hitchcock's strongest films, but definitely worth watching.
Under Capricorn, is along with Notorious, I Confess and Rear Window Hitchcocks greatest film. Under Capricorn has been greatly under appreciated mainly because it was a commercial failure and because Hitchcock talked the movie down saying that he only made it for Ingrid Bergman. The truth is that he had been working on getting it made for years, would he really put his production company under pressure on it's second project with a $2.5 million budget if he didn't care for it. Maybe part of its mixed reputation is because it's not a thriller, being a character driven movie, at just under two hours long its not you're typical Hitchcock movie. But the story is revealed in a wonderful way, with such a great romantic feeling that I'm amazed that it's not more highly thought off by the general public. If there ever was a more beautifully film movie I've never seen it. Ingrid Bergman is as she always is, brilliant; her 10-minuet scene in which she tells wilding the whole story of what happened is pure magic. Another great moment is when Bergman has locked herself in her room and wilding comes through her window. Joseph Cotton is also on top form. Really all that I've got left to say is if you haven't yet seen this film and you get the chance to don't waste that chance. I wish it would come out on DVD or video I've nearly worn my copy out.
As a lover of Hitchcock I couldn't take 2 viewings of this one. The story has potential but the characters are horribly developed. The acting is fine, since the cast was superb. However, I wouldn't have wanted to be an actor in this one. Without spoiling, there is just too much anger without explanation. Too many characters lack character. The utter blindness of the leads to the glaring and painful flaws in the antagonists is almost comical. Finally, the sudden restoration of everyone's honesty and peace in the last scene is intolerable. A story is believable if the characters act like real humans would act. This film is an attempt to fool the viewer into thinking that a leopard can change it's spots in the blink of an eye! It is interesting to note that, even in a melodramatic story driven piece, Hitch still found a place for the falsely accused in the plot. Hitchcock was great, there will never be an equal, but, even he made a dud.. makes me feel better about myself!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Soon after this film began, it was obvious why this is one of the least
famous of Hitchcock's films of the era. First, there really isn't any
mystery or suspense--it's just a costume drama. Second, and I am
surprised no one else seemed to pick up on this, but the film looked
ugly despite the nice costumes and sets. This is because it looks like
everything was shot in a sound stage--even the outdoor shots. In
addition, the matte paintings are among the least realistic and ugly I
have ever seen. It just too me out of the mood to see sloppy and flat
paintings which were supposed to be mansions.
The film is set in 1831 in the colony of Australia. Oddly, the film stars an American (Joseph Cotton), a Swede (Ingrid Bergman) and an Englishman who plays an Irishman (Michael Wilding). Wilding is a poor relative of the new Governor and is looking for a way to earn his fortune in this new land. He meets up with the brooding Cotton--who is immensely wealthy and an ex-convict (of course, MOST of Australia was settled by convicts during this period). But, when he goes to dinner at Cotton's home, he sees that he knows the man's wife (Bergman). Sadly, she is an alcoholic--and a pathetic one at that. So, Wilding makes it his job to help rehabilitate her--and obviously falls for her in the process. Standing in the way is the contemptible Milly--the housekeeper who does a great job of keeping house but also seems to enjoy keeping the mistress of the house drunk and ineffectual. She is a viper--and much like the crazed housekeeper in "Rebecca". In addition, the husband is a deeply screwed up man--and this becomes obvious the more his wife tries to regain normality. In other words, he and the housekeeper both seem to be working very hard to keep her an emotional invalid.
This is a pretty dull and ponderous film from start to finish. While it could have been interesting, oddly it wasn't. Intense music and great twists, signs of Hitchcock, are strangely absent in this slow, slow, slow film. It just lumbers along to its conclusion. Truly a disappointment and indifferently made --and you just can't believe a director as talented as Hitchcock could make such an uninspired film. It's not terrible...just not very good or interesting.
In 1831, the new Governor (Cecil Parker) arrives in Sydney, Australia,
with his noble but broken Irish cousin Charles Adare (Michael Wilding).
On the next morning, Charles unsuccessfully goes to the local bank
expecting to raise money to start a business and he meets the powerful
landowner Sam Flusky (Joseph Cotton), an ex-convict that has raised a
fortune in the colony. Sam proposes a business with lands with him and
invites Charles to have dinner with him at his farm.
Charles learns that Sam is not accepted by the local society but he goes to the dinner party, where he meets Sam's wife Henrietta Flusky (Ingrid Bergman), an old acquaintance of his childhood in Ireland. Sooner Charles discovers that Henrietta is alcoholic and a totally unstable woman controlled by the housekeeper Milly (Margaret Leighton), and Sam was the groom of her family in Ireland. They had fallen in love with each other and Henrietta elopes with Sam. However, her brother hunts them and Sam kills him and is deported to Australia. Charles stays in Sam's farm to help Henrietta and sooner he falls in love with her. Meanwhile Sam is manipulated by Milly and his jealousy gets him into trouble and discloses dark secrets from his past with Henrietta.
"Under Capricorn" is a melodramatic romance by Alfred Hitchcock set in Australia in 1831, in the period of colonization of this great nation by convicts from the United Kingdom. The genre is unusual in the career of the master of suspense, but supported by magnificent cinematography and cast, highlighting Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotton, Michael Wilding and Margaret Leighton in a small but very important role. This film is not among my favorite Hitchcock's film and could be shorter. However it is worthwhile watching it to see some aspects to the colonization of Australia. My vote is six.
Title (Brazil): "Sob o Signo de Capricórnio" ("Under the Capricorn Sign")
Unusual genre change for Hitchcock, a suspense-less western, crossed
with romance and costume drama/ stage play, in the Land Down Under.
Long and lumbering mess of a movie, with Hitchcock more interested in setting up lengthy tracking shots than anything else. In the previous year's Rope, Hitchcock used the same trick to good effect, but here it seems to have no purpose, no relation to the story. In Rope, the long, unedited takes resembled an unblinking, all seeing eye.
Here, it seems like the same unblinking, all-seeing eye refuses to look away, even though it knows it should have looked away long ago.
The long, unedited takes look like master shots, or even just raw footage. It becomes somewhat hypnotic, dulling the senses to the dull screen story. It feels like we are just blankly staring into space, completely unaware of what is happening, but too bored to even look away. (Is that what the cinematographer felt?) It's like we are carrying on a dull conversation with someone, and that someone refuses to break eye contact, like they are waiting for us to suddenly become interested in the proceedings. A few close-ups were needed to bring out more detail, in the settings and performances, but as it is, it seems like the filmmakers couldn't even bother to do much editing.
The set designs and costumes all look good, but that cannot support the entire movie on its own. The film could have benefited (slightly) from on-location photography, but everything was filmed on soundstages in California.
Starts slowly, but then it looks as though it may get going and become interesting, but then it fizzles away, all within its first half hour. It doesn't really even have Hitchcock's usual sense of humour to liven the proceedings. A complete waste. Probably one of the few Hitchcock films that I could not sit through a second time.
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