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 <email@example.com>
It's never been satisfactorily explained why this wasn't a commercial success. It's not a bad film. Nor is it good in an inaccessible way. Hitchcock's explanations for its failure aren't at all convincing... Non-Catholics don't know about the seal of confession, he said; they can't believe that a priest will sacrifice his freedom and career just to keep a secret. Rubbish. They can and they do. EVERYONE knows about the seal of confession, and Montgomery Clift makes Father Logan's sacrifice perfectly plausible. (Besides, I've never had much time for the objection that a lead character is "too good".) The one thing some people don't know about the seal of confession is that the priest can't mention the sin even to the guilty party, but this is made clear enough in the film in one of the confrontations between Keller and Logan. (All such confrontations are excellent, by the way.) Hitchcock also complains that audiences missed the point by hoping for Logan to tell the police what he knows, a complaint which betrays a misunderstanding of audience psychology. We NEVER hope that the hero will "get out of jail" by doing something dishonourable or morally wrong; so long as there is some other way for the plot to be resolved, THAT'S what we're hoping for. Besides, it's obvious that Logan will never break his vows. Another reviewer says that Logan should simply say to the police: "The seal of confession prevents me from answering your questions"; but the film makes it clear he can't say even this. It would put the police on Keller's scent, and Logan feels - rightly or wrongly, but at any rate plausibly - that his vows force him to be genuinely silent, not nudge-nudge wink-wink silent. I'm on his side here. It's hard to feel much sympathy for the "I won't say who did it, but I WILL drop a hint" attitude adopted by the priests of modern police dramas.
So what IS wrong with "I Confess"? Too much "Teutonic[?] gravity", as some have alleged? "Not enough humour"? Please. those imposing shots of stony Quebec MAKE the film. And let's face it: Hitchcock isn't funny. Give me this kind of thing over the leaden levity of "North by Northwest" any day. No: the short answer is that there's NOTHING, or nothing to speak of, wrong with "I Confess"; certainly nothing that explains its unpopularity.
A few things weaken it a little. If Montgomery Clift plays one of Hitchcock's most likeable characters, Anne Baxter plays one of the least likeable ones; I found it hard not to hope that Ruth would fall into the sea, or walk in front of a bus, or induce a casual passer-by to strangle her. This is okay: the fact that she's irritating helps the story. All the same, her explanatory flashback DOES tend to drag, and one wishes her scenes could be speeded up a little. Then there's Dmitri Timokin's score. It's a fine score, in its way, but it DRONES. Tiomkin is never allowed to get a crescendo out of the orchestra; instead, the sound engineer turns up the volume every so often.
Not that any of this matters much. Overall it's one of Hitchcock's more engaging films. The worst that can be said of it is that it's not a masterpiece, nor is it among his very best. Try it if you think that all the critical carrying-on over such films as "Foreign Correspondent", "Notorious", "Strangers on a Train" and "North by Northwest" is a bit much, and you long for something that isn't so theory-driven.
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