I Confess (Alfred Hitchcock, 1953)

A minor and unremarkable, and frankly a surprisingly uneven, effort from Hitchcock.  It involves a wrongfully-accused man just like so many other Hitchcock films do – murderer confesses his crime to a priest, the priest attracts the attention of a detective at the crime scene, detective starts to suspect the priest of the crime, and the murderer thinks the priest is ratting him out to the detective, in an interesting little triangle of suspicion where nobody really knows what’s going on.  Despite this film not standing out in any real way like Hitch’s more well-known films, the protagonist of this one has one of the more interesting conundrums I’ve seen in a while: as a priest he’s taken a vow of silence, so he can’t rat out the murderer, though he’s all too aware that that truth he’s vowed to keep silent is the only thing that can both exonerate him of a murder and bring the actual perpetrator to justice, and it’s tearing him apart inside.  It’s just too bad there’s no real hook that’d make such a premise live up to its potential.  Montgomery Clift is engaging as the stoic yet conflicted priest, and Karl Malden has his moments as the detective, but that’s about it – Anne Baxter is particularly awful as the priest’s love interest from years before who still has feelings for him and conceals a secret involving the murder victim that can either clear the priest of wrongdoing or further implicate him, depending on how you look at it.  Actually, the whole subplot involving Father Logan and Ruth, complete with overly-melodramatized flashbacks, just seemed completely superfluous, for the sake of runtime and every movie from the era needing a tacked-on romance, even though it ties directly into the murder investigation in terms of a possible motive – pretty impressive feat of storytelling futility, wouldn’t you say?

“I Confess” was entertaining enough, complete with a well put-together courtroom scene, but other than Hitch’s trademark cameo, nearly nothing would indicate that this was a work by the Master of Suspense.  Where’s the suspense?  Hitch’s stylistic quirks like the weird angles and moving camera that focuses on a vital clue and evocative lighting have never really bothered me before, ‘cuz they contribute fully to deepening a mystery or increasing suspense…but “I Confess” is so nondescript compared to Hitch’s masterpieces of atmosphere and subjective points of view like “Rear Window” and “Psycho” that when it does utilize Hitchcock-esque style, it stands out like a sore thumb and seems like overkill.  Many shots are simply low-or-Dutch angle shots of churches or other buildings in Quebec, as if Hitchcock was trying to portray Quebec the way Carol Reed portrayed Vienna in “The Third Man,” but Reed’s Vienna became a shady character in and of itself, while Hitchcock’s Quebec is just an uninteresting place where characters do shit, with some low angle shots thrown in.  And then of course there are the painfully obvious uses of visual symbolism meant to represent Father Logan’s inner struggle and having the weight of the world on his shoulders, like the shot above and this not-so-subtle little motif:

Yeah, we get it, Father Logan’s got a predicament and his faith is being tested; visually comparing it to the most famous execution in history to make absolutely sure we know that is overkill, to say the least.  And those weird visuals just stand out too much in a film where otherwise, nothing much stands out – okay performances, interesting premise that asks whether faith has any place in an otherwise secular society and judicial system, but a lousy cookiecutter ending where everything’s resolved as justly as possible in about 2.6 seconds, that nevertheless features a long tracking-in shot in a spacious auditorium that I actually liked very much.  This movie ain’t bad at all, and I was engaged enough to recommend it, but all at once it’s too bland and too stylistically eccentric.  Strange combo.


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