A French intelligence agent becomes embroiled in the Cold War politics first with uncovering the events leading up to the 1962 Cuban Missle Crisis, and then back to France to break up an international Russian spy ring.
Otto Kellar and his wife Alma work as caretaker and housekeeper at a Catholic church in Quebec. Whilst robbing a house where he sometimes works as a gardener, Otto is caught and kills the owner. Racked with guilt he heads back to the church where Father Michael Logan is working late. Otto confesses his crime, but when the police begin to suspect Father Logan he cannot reveal what he has been told in the confession. Written by
Col Needham <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"I Confess" is merely an average entry in Alfred Hitchcock's filmography, but it is a pretty good film by any other standard. It has some basic weaknesses, but also some major strengths that make it worthwhile. The basic story is established early: Catholic priest Father Logan (Montgomery Clift) hears a confession from the church caretaker, who has just killed a man. Circumstantial evidence leads to Father Logan himself being suspected, but he is bound by the seal of the confessional and is unable to clear himself, putting him in serious danger of being wrongly convicted.
Two basic weaknesses keep "I Confess" from being one of Hitchcock's better works. First, too much of the plot hinges on the priest's confessional responsibility. In itself, this is an interesting plot device, leading to an interesting twist on one of Hitchcock's favorite themes, the wrongly accused man. But there are not enough other significant plot elements, and this one point cannot bear the load that it has to carry. In particular, a non-Catholic viewer, without an intuitive sense of the importance of confessional, will find it difficult to remember just how impossible it is for Father Logan to clear himself. This could have been established somehow earlier in the film - Hitchcock could be very creative when demonstrating things like this - but as it is, it is assumed that we already appreciate its importance.
The two leads also are less than ideal in their roles, making it harder for the audience to develop the deep identification with them that makes Hitchcock's best movies such exciting experiences. The ever-brooding Clift is very believable as a priest, but his acting range is too limited to make us fully appreciate his dilemma, nor can he make the romance angle as compelling as it could have been. Anne Baxter is also too melodramatic as Logan's old friend who wants to clear him. Baxter is a good actress in the right part - for example, her breathlessness is ideal in "All About Eve" - but her character here really called for something different.
Yet there are some strengths to "I Confess". One that stands out is the wonderful black-and-white photography. The film was made on location in Quebec, and Hitchcock masterfully uses a careful selection of shots throughout the picture that establish Quebec's distinctiveness and its stark beauty. It is one of Hitchcock's best pieces of location filming, rivaling the French Riviera scenery of "To Catch a Thief", although of course with a much different tone. In both films, the location nicely complements the story.
Karl Malden is good as the inspector assigned to the case. Malden must accept the usual role of a Hitchcock policeman - hard-working, honest, and earnest, but not very perceptive. Malden makes what could have been a bland character come to life.
There is also a fine climactic sequence: Father Logan is finally put on trial, and the verdict sparks public outrage and a carefully filmed and suspenseful chain of events. The climax is perhaps less satisfying than those of Hitchcock's best films, but that is mainly because we never learned to identify very much with the characters; it is not a fault of the ending itself. There are some fine Hitchcock touches here that you have to catch on repeat viewings.
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