I Confess (1953) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 today for violence and themes
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter, Karl Malden, O.E. Hasse, Dolly Haas, Brian Aheme, Roger Dann, Charles Andre, Judson Pratt, Ovila Legare, Gilles Pelletier
Cameo: Alfred Hitchcock
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: George Tabori, William Archibald (Based on the play, "Our Two Consciences", by Paul Anthelme)
Review published April 9, 2008
Set in contemporary Quebec, Montgomery Clift (From Here to Eternity, Red River) stars as Father Logan, an upstanding Catholic priest who listens to a confession from the church housekeeper, Otto Kellar (Hasse, State of Siege), that he had just murdered a local lawyer as he was robbing him of $2,000. Sworn to secrecy for what is said during the confessional, Father Logan can speak to no one about what Kellar has told him. As circumstantial evidence comes in, signs begin to point in the way of Father Logan himself, who has no solid alibi, as he fights desperately to keep under wraps the confession, as well as his relationship with a pre-priesthood former flame, the unhappily married Ruth Grandfort (Baxter, All About Eve), who has something to hide of her own.
Based on the 1902 French play which translates to "Our Two Consciences", by Paul Antheleme, I Confess is not generally considered one of Hitchcock's best films, especially sandwiched between such greats as Strangers on a Train and Rear Window, although those who study the director as an auteur (especially the French New Wave, who championed Hitchcock as more than just an entertaining filmmaker) find it worthy of great note for Hitchcock's attempt to delve a bit into his own Catholicism as a source. Bolstered by an interesting Stoic performance by Clift, whose method style of acting reportedly didn't mesh well behind the scenes with the meticulous planner, Hitch, it remains a strong entry that holds up today with a good thematic premise and tension that builds without many of Hitchcock's trademark flourishes or any semblance of a sense of humor.
By today's standards, it's difficult to resolve why Ruth is so reticent about divulging the events of her past, especially since, by comparison to the looming murder rap, it barely approaches the level of magnitude. It is reported that censorship minimized the true story of the relationship of the younger couple (sexual liaison and illegitimate child nixed). Nevertheless, all ends in tidy enough fashion, with Hitch exploring more of his "innocent man accused" themes with the additional element of Catholic guilt to freshen up the context. Underrated by most, I Confess may not be a masterpiece in the Hitchcock tradition, but it definitely merits a look for its beguiling moral questions, beautiful cinematography, Clift's presence, and Hitchcock's commitment to telling his story with admirably delicate restraint.
©2008 Vince Leo