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Monday, March 3, 2014

I CONFESS (1953)

Falling between two of Alfred Hitchcock’s best known titles from his uneven Warner Bros. days (STRANGERS ON A TRAIN/’51; DIAL M FOR MURDER/’54), this noirish thriller (with Neo-Realist leanings) is often classified as ‘minor’ Hitchcock.* A misplaced tag, perhaps stemming from a basic idea that’s too near Hitchcockian perfection to trust: After taking the confession of a murderer, a Priest finds himself Prime Suspect in the killing . . . yet can’t speak up without breaking Holy Vows. Yikes, talk about Catholic Guilt! That side of the story plays out beautifully, with glowering skies over cobblestoned Quebec and Montgomery Clift capturing the priest’s mental shifts with powerful restraint. (Hitch may have found method acting techniques a pain, and Monty may have been mystified by his Po-faced master, but the results are phenomenal, an absurdly underrated perf from a year that saw Clift later working under Vittorio De Sica & Fred Zinnemann.) With fine supporting perfs from O. E. Hasse & Dolly Haas as the guilt-ridden foreign-born couple, but also a secondary plotline that comes up short, a big Red Herring involving a past love affair between the pre-ordained Clift and Anne Baxter’s society wife. Apparently, stronger illicit activities (an on-going affair, a secret child) were ix-nayed by the very pro-Catholic Breen Commission censors, reducing the lengthy flashback scenes into dreamy filler with not enough at stake. Even Dmitri Tiomkin’s score only comes to life when he quotes the famous medieval Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) theme. File this under ‘good,’ rather than ‘great’ Hitchcock, but not ‘minor.’

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Have your own Priestly Cassock Fashion Showdown between wasp-waisted Montgomery Clift and the slightly more swaggering Jean-Paul Belmondo in Jean-Pierre Melville’s LÉON MORIN, PRÊTRE/’61. Such dashin' fashion.

DOUBLE-BILL: Unconventionally downbeat & documentarian, Hitch’s THE WRONG MAN/’56 took up similar concerns and was similarly underrated.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: *Early French autuerists, like Eric Rohmer & Claude Chabrol in their Hitchcock monograph THE FIRST FORTY-FOUR FILMS, never considered I CONFESS a minor work, rating it near the top.

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