All film fans have their dark secrets. I’m going to admit to one right now. Deep breath…though several Hitchcock films are among my favorite films, my experience with the master of suspense is not as deep as I would like it to be. Hey, he directed an awful lot of films…so cut me a little slack. Besides, this week I’m making an attempt to remedy that slightly by looking at his 1953 thriller I Confess.
The film begins with a murder…it’s Hitch, after all. A man named Otto Keller (O.E. Hasse) killed a lawyer named Villette during an attempted robbery. Needing to clear his soul, he confesses that he committed the crime to his priest, Father Michael Logan (Montgomery Clift), who is, of course, not allowed to reveal information learned during confession. The next day, Logan goes to the home of Vilette and meets the investigating police officer, Inspector Larrue (Karl Malden). Unfortunately, Larrue quickly become suspicious of Logan when he sees him meeting with a woman, Ruth Grandfort (Anne Baxter), at the scene. It doesn’t help matters that two young girls claim to have seen a priest emerge from Vilette’s home shortly after the time of the murder.
It turns out that Ruth was a former lover of Logan, before he entered the priesthood. She’s actually still in love with him. Not only that, Vilette was blackmailing her for having seen the two together. In fact, Ruth and Logan were together on the night of the murder discussing what to do about Vilette. Even when she shares that info with the police, it’s not enough to keep Logan from being put on trial for the murder. Through it all, the priest remains silent about the identity of the real killer…but will it end up costing him everything?
I Confess is a solid thriller, yet it does lack a real standout moment like many other Hitchcock films have. There’s no shower scene…or birds attacking the town…or climbing down the face of Mt Rushmore type moments. It’s a pretty quiet film, but its dilemma of will he or won’t he talk is enough to keep the viewer quite engaged. As the story starts to unfold, it’s inevitable that viewers will start to draw their own conclusions about where the story will go. I guess it’s a product of living in a more cynical time that my mind went to much darker places than the film went. Though I really enjoyed the story, I think the end result may have a bit more bite had it gone a bit darker. Supposedly the original play the film is based on is quite a bit more controversial when it comes to the relationship between Father Logan and Ruth, but the studio insisted on softening things up a bit. That’s a bit disappointing but the drama still has that Hitchcock quality that succeeds in sucking the viewer in.
The film does bring some really nice performances. Montgomery Clift bring a real quiet dignity to his role and he has good chemistry with Anne Baxter. The highlight of the cast, though, is Karl Malden as the stop at nothing police investigator. His character almost comes across as blood thirsty. He draws his conclusion about who committed the murder quickly and ultimately seems to not really care whether he’s right or wrong, he just wants to see someone hang.
The film has some beautiful black and white photography. It was shot primarily in Quebec City which comes across as quite picturesque. There are a few elements of the film that falter a bit. There is a lengthy sequence in which Anne Baxter recounts the backstory of her relationship with the future-priest that is done through some pretty dry and slightly clunky flashback sequences. I also didn’t really like that the third act pretty much just becomes a courtroom drama. Luckily there is a pretty thrilling final showdown that saves the end of the film from coming across like an episode of Law & Order. It may not be one of the ultimate examples of Hitchcock’s work, but I Confess had enough of that Hitchcock touch to be intriguing.