Upon viewing in a current day context, it is a genuine shame that I Confess, visionary director Alfred Hitchcock's follow up to his smash hit Strangers on a Train, was greeted with such a stigma of controversy and negative reaction. While it is true that having a priest as the lead character in what was essentially marketed as a suspense thriller may have been a storytelling trait slightly ahead of its time, (the religious connotations must have no doubt caused some mumblings of discontent back in 1953) but it does lead to a simply brilliant and unique story premise: Father Michael Logan (Clift) hears the confession of a murder from a man working in his rectory, but due to the sanctity of confession, can break his trust and tell no one, even when he himself is framed for the murder, unable to clear his own name.
Hitchcock is in familiar territory here as he revamps his trademark "wrong man" plot, but with the interesting tweaking of the lead role - instead of the protagonist fighting to clear his name when he is wrongfully accused, Father Logan must instead struggle in silence, dutifully refusing to breach the confidentiality of confession. This submission of the lead character did not sit well with audiences, nor Hitchcock himself when the film was first released,but this is ultimately what makes I Confess stand out among so many of Hitchcock's similar thrillers, without ruining the plot in the slightest - the suspense element is still there, albeit slightly more serious (there are no light heated wisecracks here) and subdued, as the audience still clings to the edge of their seats, wondering how Father Logan's name will be cleared without him personally attempting to clear it. And despite the complaints in regards to the film's 'forced religious messages', it is hard to comprehend the reputation as there are none really, apart from the lead character being a priest. Hitchcock handles his subject matter, (including the priest character being suspected of murder and having an alleged love affair) with just as even a hand, and as careful and classy a touch as in all his other efforts.
Also, I Confess proves to be not only Hitchcock's last film in black and white (except for Psycho seven years later) but also one of his strongest films in terms of visual style and feel for the film. The Quebec location and sets are pitch perfect throughout, and Hitchcock and cinematography director Robert Burks deploy subtle but innovative cinematography techniques throughout to heighten the mood, making more liberal use of camera movement and extended shots of behind characters heads, as if hiding their inner turmoil from the audience - a superb touch. Composer Dimitri Tiomkin's score toes the line of becoming too dramatic, but it settles as being suitably powerful and affecting. The screenplay by George Tabori and William Archibald is an intelligent piece, not afraid to push social boundaries given the time period, though it is disappointing that the motivation of Clift's character is more often than not chalked up to martyrdom, when the real intent was to demonstrate his struggle to remain faithful to his principles and faith.
As usual, Hitchcock also proves to be an expert actor's director, as the cast turn out universally excellent performances, each one emoting surprisingly genuinely and proving particularly convincing in their roles. Montgomery Clift gives a superb performance as the priest in question, Father Logan, remaining subtle to the point of seeming not to emote throughout, yet hinting at surging emotions kept carefully under a facade of calm. Anne Baxter is also a notable presence, one of the more memorable of Hitchcock's icy blondes as the mysterious woman connected with him, and she manages to retain interest enough to keep the audience interested through a long and potentially hazardous and tedious voice-over flashback sequence. Karl Malden is charismatic and engaging as the police officer investigating the murder case, and Brian Aherne is perfectly cast as a suave yet sleazy prosecutor. German actor O.E. Hasse debatably steals the show as the actual murderer, switching from despairing, to coldly logical, to sadistically enjoying Father Logan's plight as he is accused of the murder they both know he did not commit.
All things considered, it is a real shame I Confess is one of Hitchcock's more overlooked films, as the sheer quality and inventiveness bursting out of every frame should be easily enough to cement the film alongside other classic thrillers and dramatic films of the decade. Don't let the alleged religious connotations and occasional bad reviews steer you away - this is one of Hitchcock's strongest works, as the unique variation on his time worn themes, combined with a visually sumptuous look, a quick and intelligent script and a consistently impressive cast easily make the film worth a watch.
6 out of 8 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.