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Archive for the ‘Montgomery Clift’ Category

the movie poster for “I Confess” - Click for larger image

In the confessional boothMany people who have seen Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess (1953) say that it’s one his most underrated films. After seeing it last week, I have to agree with them although I wouldn’t be quick to say that it’s a great movie. It’s flawed, that’s for sure, but it’s also a good, solid film. I Confess is unlike any of Hitchcock’s movies since it lacks the mysterious glamour that’s found in his most famous works. The plot centers around a priest named Father Logan (played beautifully by Montgomery Clift), who is unable to tell the police about a murder since he is bound by the vow of confessional secrecy. Also complicating matters is the involvement of an old flame, Ruth (Anne Baxter) and a police inspector, Laurrue (Karl Malden), who is intent on finding out the truth.

There are two things that keep I Confess from being a great Hitchcock movie: the flashback romance between Father Logan and Ruth as well as the fact that we immediately know who the murderer is. While both ideas are necessary to the plot, their execution bogs the story down a bit.

Confessing to the wifeSince Hitchcock wastes no time in getting to the “who” and “why” of the story, you find out that Otto Keller (O.E. Hasse) is the murderer. Otto is an employee of the church as well as gardener for the man he killed, local lawyer, Villette. After confessing his sin to Father Logan in the confessional, Otto then tells his wife, Alma (Dolly Hass) why he killed Villette–he stole $2,000 because he was sick of watching her work so hard. During the confession, Father Logan told Otto that he must give the money back–an idea that terrifies him since he doesn’t want to be caught. Grief-stricken, Alma fears that Father Logan will go to the authorities and report the crime and suddenly Otto realizes that he is bound to his Catholic vow. He must keep the confession secret.

What’s interesting about this scene is watching Otto’s manner change from panicked and fearful to annoyingly confident. He is no longer frightened. You can literally see the weight of his guilt lift off his shoulders. Otto has gained a tremendous amount of power, knowing he can commit murder and get away with it. His eyes become wide and the expression on his face turns manic with an almost sick kind of glee. There are no doubts in his mind that Father Logan will not go to the police. Otto has faith in his strength as a man of the cloth, but what he doesn’t realize is that his actions will end up hurting the person he loves the most: Alma.

While it’s interesting to start off the movie with a bang, it lessens the suspense throughout. Even though Ruth (Baxter) gets involved halfway through and you find out that Villette was blackmailing her, you still know that Keller is the murderer. Part of the fun of a Hitchcock movie is the big reveal or a murder committed either halfway through or at the end: Anthony Perkins in Psycho, Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train or the “two” Kim Novaks in Vertigo. And while the ending of I Confess is definitely exciting, the middle of the film has a tendency to lag.

Flashback romance - Anne Baxter and Montgomery CliftPart of the problem with the Ruth subplot is that it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie. Anne Baxter is perfect for the part of Ruth. She does well with the material and she and Clift are well matched. But it’s the part itself that seems as though it was transported out of another movie, almost as though Hitchcock was trying to inject his brand of romance for the sake of adding it. For the most part, I Confess has a sharpness to it. The cinematography is fantastic and crisp, but with Ruth’s subplot it suddenly takes on a dream-like quality to reflect her obsessive love for Father Logan. Compared to the tightness of the rest of the script, it’s jarring, to say the least. Yet, Ruth flashback is essential to the plot since in trying to help him clear his name, she winds up doing more damage to his case.

Montgomery Clift

Montgomery Clift, an actor I’ve always liked, is beyond amazing in I Confess. I noticed that he doesn’t say much. Instead of dialogue, Hitchcock uses close-ups on Clift’s face to convey the emotions he’s going through. What’s amazing about his performance is that he expresses so much through his eyes. You see the agony that he’s going through, the internal struggle of wanting to tell the police even though he knows he can’t. Father Logan’s love for God and his devotion to the church is stronger than his own need.  As the story progresses and Otto becomes more and more aggressive, taunting Father Logan and lying about his own involvement, Clift does an amazing job at expressing his character’s fear of being arrested and hung for a crime he didn’t commit. I’ve seen quite a few of Clift’s films and I Confess is certainly one of his best. So much of the movie succeeds because of his performance. Clift’s Father Logan carries himself with a quiet dignity. There’s no doubt that he will honor the sacred vows he made when he became a Priest, no matter what the cost.

The heart of I Confess is rooted in the “C” word: Catholicism. After watching this and looking up various articles, I wasn’t very surprised to find out that Hitchcock was a Catholic throughout most of his life. If one is brought up in another denomination, the vow of Confessional secrecy that sets the plot into motion might not be familiar to some. Hitchcock uses various Catholic themes throughout, mainly religious fear, not to mention guilt, suffering and forgiveness. All the characters go through some sort of suffering throughout the film, but it’s Father Logan who receives the brunt of it. Here’s a man who devotes his life to God and winds up suffering for the sins of others (Otto’s murder and Ruth’s obsessive love for him despite being married) because he’s unwilling to break the promises he made to God. Hitchcock makes it quite clear that Father Logan is a Christ-like figure, most notably during the scene where he goes walking through the streets of Quebec. Clift is presented in a long shot, with a statue of Christ carrying the cross while being flanked by two guards in the foreground. It’s not subtle at all. This image is repeated later in the movie, during Father Logan’s trial. When you see him, he’s surrounded by two guards, while a large crucifix hangs on the wall across from his seat. It’s as though Hitchcock is setting up Logan by showing him what will happen if the jury finds him guilty: he will hang. Not only will he die for Otto’s sin, but Ruth’s as well.

Carrying the CrossModern symbolismDelievering the verdict
The religious symbolism throughout I Confess 

The tension between Father Logan and Otto is really what elevates the premise of I Confess. It’s almost unbelievable how brazen Otto becomes in taunting Father Logan, reminding him of his confessional vow as well as lying to the authorities and basically selling out the man who is protecting him. At first his faith in Father Logan is solid. At the beginning of the story, Otto tells Logan, “I have abused your kindness…you gave my wife and me a home–even friendship, so wonderful a thing for a refugee, a German, a man without a home.” But it becomes easier and easier for Otto to transfer his own guilt to the priest, therefore making him less and less sure of Father Logan in the process.

O.E. Hasse and Brian AherneDolly Hass as Alma
In the courtroom: Otto on the stand and Alma in the seats 

Father Logan isn’t the only one suffering at the hands of Otto–his wife, Alma also suffers as well. At first, she’s overly nervous, especially whenever she comes into contact with him. But it’s during Logan’s trial that the guilt of knowing her husband’s secret really begins taking it’s toll. When Otto testifies against Logan, and lies about the events of the night leading up to his confession, the dismay is clear on Alma’s face. With every negative testimony put against him, she grows more and more shaken. She knows the truth, but telling it would result in the death of the man she loves.

the fateful momentDolly Hass is wonderful as Alma. There’s a meekness about her that makes her perfect for the role, although in the penultimate scene, she drops it and shows a boldness in her quest do the right thing. In so many of his films, Hitchcock attempts to show you that every man has good and evil coursing through his veins and I Confess is no exception. After Father Logan receives his “Not Guilty” verdict (which is delivered with a few disparaging remarks by the foreman and judge), the crowd that waits outside the courtroom is hostile. As Alma and Otto watch Father Logan get shoved by the angry mob, Alma can take no more. Her love for Otto is trumped by the torment of wanting to do what’s right: clear an innocent man’s name. When she pushes her way through the crowd and approaches a police officer, Otto’s sense of fear takes over. He has no other choice but to shoot Alma to keep her quiet.

Here is the most interesting twist in the entire film: since Father Logan can no longer die for Otto’s sin, it’s Alma that winds up dying for it instead. She suddenly becomes the Christ-like figure in Hitchcock’s world. After suffering for her husband’s guilt, she winds up paying for it with her life. It’s a rather dark move, made even darker by the fact that this one of of Hitchcock’s only films that’s completely devoid of humor. It’s also important to note that in the original play on which this is based, Father Logan does die at the end, which would have made his Christ-like transformation complete.

Forgiveness - O.E. Hasse and CliftDuring the final moments of I Confess, Otto winds up falling into his own trap and thinking that Father Logan has told the authorities, winds up indicting himself. After shooting at the police, they shoot back and Otto is struck. As he lays dying, he finds out that Alma has died and asks forgiveness from Father Logan. It’s amazing that his love of Alma is what drove him to steal and murder, only to turn around and murder the woman he loved in order to save himself. This realization is what causes Otto to ask forgiveness before he dies, because if one is truly sorry for their actions, then forgiveness is granted. The workings of the Catholic church do come full circle in I Confess, which I thought was nicely done. You’re to believe that Otto, while not a truly bad man, got swept up in his own fear to the point where he became someone else entirely. Under the right circumstances, anyone can change.

a chance encounter between Logan and RuthWatching I Confess in today’s world, I find it interesting that Father Logan is made out to be a good priest and a good man. Even in his darkest hour and after aimlessly walking the streets of Quebec, he makes his way to a church and turns to God for solace and comfort. There’s nothing shifty about Father Logan, although the sudden appearance of Ruth does make you wonder a bit, but only momentarily.  Yet, if I Confess were made today amidst all the church scandals, there would be no doubting that Father Logan is guilty of something, in any way, shape or form. When Ruth and Logan meet at the crime scene and she utters the words, “We’re free!”, you can’t help but think something really tawdry is going on between them. You even doubt Otto’s confession for a moment, thinking that perhaps there was some kind of twist and Father Logan had done something to Villette before Otto arrived and finished him off. It’s amazing how modern thinking and controversies can shape one’s opinion on a movie that was made almost 50 years ago!

Karl Malden and Anne BaxterBut despite all it’s flaws, I Confess is still a good, solid Hitchcock movie. The cinematography by Robert Burks and score by Dimitri Tiomkin (who both worked on several Hitchcock classics) only elevate it above the standards of a normal film. Also worth mentioning are the strong performances of Karl Malden (to be honest, he’s always good) and Brian Aherne as Willy Robertson, a friend to Ruth and her husband and the prosecutor who grills Father Logan during the trial.

In my opinion, I Confess is one of Hitchcock’s most personal movies. In later interviews, he felt that I Confess was a disappointment, possibly due to it’s not being well-received at the time of it’s release. During the early 50’s, Catholics were not well liked throughout England and perhaps Hitchcock took their refusal to see I Confess (as well as many of his other films from that era) personally. I will never get the notion of disliking someone because of their personal beliefs, unless that person is trying to shove it down your throat. Perhaps audiences felt that’s what Hitchcock was trying to do with I Confess–which he wasn’t. Hitchcock was merely trying to tell the story a wronged priest and with the exception of the opening scene, not once is Father Logan shown consoling other parishioners on the rights and wrongs of the world. He’s just another wronged man, made guilty in the eyes of others because of uncontrollable circumstances and his devotion to God. He could fit in right next to Cary Grant in North by Northwest or Henry Fonda in The Wrong Man. It’s an interesting twist to a standard mystery. Combine that with the outstanding performance put in by Montgomery Clift and that’s exactly why I Confess, despite some weak points, still manages to hold up today.

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