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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If the transfer of culpability was a basic theme in Hitchcock's
"Strangers on a Train," it furnished the provocative dilemma to "I
A German refugee, Keller (O.E. Hasse), murders a lawyer named Vilette (Ovila Legare) when he is caught stealing... Keller thereupon confesses his crime to Father Michael Logan (Montgomery Clift), a priest at the Quebec church where he is a sexton...
Vilette was blackmailing Ruth Grandfort (Anne Baxter), who was in love with Logan before he was ordained and who continues to love him in spite of his religious vows and her subsequent marriage to Pierre Granfort (Roger Dann).
Keller wore a cassock when he committed the crime and Father Logan is unable to supply an alibi for the time of the murder - a series of coincidences which eventually find the priest on trial for murder...
The dilemma of "I Confess" relates to Catholic church law which specifically forbids the clergy from disclosing those sins exposed in the privacy of the confessional... Thus forced into complicity with the murderer, Father Logan behaves as though he is guilty despite his innocence in much the same way Guy Haines takes on some of Bruno's guilt in Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train." The film's tension derives from the audience's knowledge of the cleric's ethical problem and its desire to see him break his vows to save his own life...
Montgomery Clift makes the clergyman's inner torment apparent simply by the anguished expression in his eyes, and creates sympathy for a man who could be an object of mockery by maintaining his dignity...
Compassionate, grave, and restrained, Clift delineates the priest's conflicting emotions with the distinguished nuances of expression... His face, vulnerable but brighter by discerning yet kind eyes, reveals his suffering with eloquent intensity...
While a determined Karl Malden looks for every scrap of information to clear the murder, an embarrassing crown prosecutor (Brian Aherne) is in despair to establish a motive for the murder...
With moody atmosphere, set against the background of picturesque Quebec photographed in black and white, "I Confess" is solemn and entertaining, never getting out of control, with an overpowering sense of doom and enough amount of suspense in the manhunt of a killer...
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.
"I Confess" is one of Alfred Hitchcock's least famous films, and it's easy to see why: there is no mystery (we know who the killer is right from the start); there is some suspense but no major set-pieces; there is very little humor (no Cary Grant-type wisecracks here). The movie is a somber psychological drama, and the story of a forbidden love, and perhaps a Christ allegory (the priest has to suffer for another man's sins - he has to bear his own cross). I wouldn't rank it among Hitchcock's best, but it certainly has some of the best acting you can find in a Hitchcock film: Montgomery Clift is superb in a difficult role, Anne Baxter is warm and utterly believable as the woman who is consumed by her love for him, and Karl Malden is perfectly cast as the nosy (no pun intended) inspector on the case. (**1/2)
"I Confess" is the most under exposed/appreciated/rated of Hitchcock's films. It is as convincing (except for the minimal flashbacks) as "Shadow of a Doubt" in terms of both its art and its reality. Its mise en scene captures Quebec City, its specifically Catholic culture, its history, its moral dramas, and its character types. I think Clift and Baxter are perfectly cast, as are Aherne and Maldon. Keller and Alma truly hit home as Catholic parish staff and carry effectively much of the drama and suspense of this true Hitch sleeper, which is also a memorable romance. (There is indeed a great deal of genuine emotion and deep feeling in this very ordinary and convincing world).
"I Confess" is a strong candidate for Hitchcock's most forgotten film. It
never gets mentioned in any Hitchcock documentaries or when discussing
his movies. The film doesn't offer the usual amount of excitement or
thrilling entertainment than his better known ones ("North by Northwest",
for instance). In fact, there isn't much of "real" suspense at all, but
well-sketched characters, fine acting performances, and captivating plot
development are more than compensating matters.
"I Confess" is a very interesting piece of film making and should be viewed by any Hitchcock fan.
An Alfred Hitchcock film with very little action or suspense, this
moral issue- drama still maintains interest for the most part.
Montgomery Clift is intriguing as "Father William Logan," a Catholic
priest from Quebec who hears a murder confession, is charged with the
crime himself, and never wavers from his vow to keep confessions
The question Hitchcock apparently poses with this is is, "Is that still morally right when it means you leave a killer out on the loose?"
Complicating the matter is an old girlfriend, played by Anne Baxter, who still loves the priest. However, once again the cleric remains true to his vows and doesn't get involved with her.
Karl Malden, meanwhile, plays a gung-ho cop out to solve the crime.
This movie could use a little more suspense and action, plus a bit of the old Hitchcock humor, but still is more than passable.
This may not be one of Hitchcock's greatest movies, but it's still a
great film, since it was made by the master, who somehow managed to
survive beautifully in Hollywood for many years. It contains many of
his favorite things: lamps, the backs of people's heads, bedposts,
ladies pacing in front of mantelpieces, obvious symbolism,
architecture, performing arts halls, etc. More somber in tone than most
Hitchcock thrillers, it should not be missed by any Hitchcock fan.
Nor by any Montgomery Clift fan. At one point Clift is juxtaposed against a statue of Christ dragging his cross, taunted by soldiers. This could be the impishly sadistic Hitchcock poking fun at the "plugged-up" persona that Clift was developing for himself, but Clift is nevertheless excellent as the brooding, sensitive priest trapped by his own devotional vows. And of course he's physically beautiful: the hair, the eyes, the eyebrows.
Less effective, although she has her moments, is Anne Baxter who was a replacement for a European actress. It's too bad, because it's hard to buy Baxter as the luscious Hitchcock blonde. Her hairdo is awful (well, it was 1953, so it's not entirely her fault)and she does that line reading that she does in every movie, including "All About Eve," where each line fades to a whisper, or starts as a whisper and stays that way. Once you become aware of it, you can't not notice it! She does, however, have at least one great Orry-Kelly dress and the way she snaps "Yes" at her husband was worth a rollback for a second viewing.
The new DVD is excellent. It has a little documentary which is enjoyable, if you can stand Peter Bogdanovich doing his Hitchcock impersonation. Hitchcock's daughter is also in the documentary. It's amazing how she seems to not really understand what her father was up to sub-textually, but she continues to enjoy his success.
I Confess's story takes place in Quebec City, Canada is adapted from
the French story Nos Deux Consciences. And the whole thing is about a
priest's conscience. Does he keep his vows even at the cost of his own
freedom and maybe his life, certainly his reputation.
That is what Montgomery Clift is faced with. German actor O.E. Hasse who Clift worked with on The Big Lift is the caretaker of a church where Clift is assigned. He takes the priest's garments and commits murder in them. And then offers confession to Clift. Clift knows the murder victim as well and could have his own reason for doing him harm. Of course police detective Karl Malden suspects him.
How this all gets resolved is the plot of the story. But let me give you a hint. The title of the original story is Our Two Consciences. And the consciences referred to are Monty Clift's and someone else's.
Clift and the rest of the cast do a fine job in this minor Alfred Hitchcock film. But the acting honors in this go to O.E. Hasse, an really oily malevolent villain who is enjoying the predicament he's put the priest in. You won't forget him.
Fans of Hitchcock and Clift will be entertained and others will enjoy it as well.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have read the other comments on this film and nobody seems to have grasped the single essential point that makes it timelessly relevant, and that lifts it, in that respect, above all other movies: its portrayal of an individual of total spiritual integrity. All candidates for the priesthood should view this film and then decide whether they can live up to the standard set by this priest - if not they might as well give it up and become auto mechanics or carpet cleaners. Montgomery Clift's priest believes utterly in the essential worth of all human beings, regardless of their spiritual condition - and believe me Otto Keller is not in good condition. Clift is willing to take his integrity to the electric chair - who does this remind you of? Only by sheer accident is he vindicated - if had he not been, and been executed, it would not have made the slightest bit of difference to his destiny. Here is a man who has his house in order. Forget about the romantic subplot, and look at this movie as spiritual education -- just set your lights by this man and your problems are over.
I Confess (1953)
This is one of Hitchcock's darkest films, and one of the best for seamless believability--it lacks some of the breaks from verisimilitude that bigger hits like Psycho and Vertigo famously use. It also has the incomparable Montgomery Clift, who took intensity to new heights as the first in a series of great method actors in the 1950s. He really wasn't a Hitchcock kind of actor (the director liked the artifice and changeability of a Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart much more), but he makes the film what it is, and Hitchcock surely knew it, and made the most of it. When the camera (in the hand of Robert Burks) sweeps up to a full screen view of Clift's face and you see those glowing, brooding eyes, you fall under their collective spell. Yeah, it's great stuff.
The plot is pretty simple and amazing--a priest (Clift) learns something in a confession that come to haunt him in unexpected and very threatening ways. Hitchcock manages to push the envelope a little, as usual, in this case by having an illicit-seeming sexual affair be one of the keys to the plot. This implication naturally complicates the priest's life, but during the main plot of the movie and in a cheery flashback for backstory. Anne Baxter, the principled, strong woman (also not a Hitchcock forte) is terrific throughout, terrific the way Ingrid Bergman was in Notorious. Unlike most of Hitchcock's output, there is essentially no comic relief here, and the light and camera-work are equally dark--and truly gorgeous.
The French New Wave directors really admired this particular film of Hitchcock's, and you can see why. But it is also just a great, fast, distressing American melodrama set in France. It's not sensational, but it is spectacular, one of my favorites among many by this odd, brilliant auteur.
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