I Confess (film)

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I Confess
I confess poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay by George Tabori
William Archibald
Based on the play Nos deux consciences
by Paul Anthelme
Starring Montgomery Clift
Anne Baxter
Karl Malden
Brian Aherne
O. E. Hasse
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography Robert Burks
Edited by Rudi Fehr
Production
company
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
  • February 12, 1953 (1953-02-12) (Quebec City)[1]
Running time
91 minutes
Country Canada
United States
Language English
Box office $2 million (US)[2]

I Confess is a 1953 film noir directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and starring Montgomery Clift as Fr. Michael William Logan, a Catholic priest, Anne Baxter as Ruth Grandfort, and Karl Malden as Inspector Larrue.

The film is based on a 1902 French play by Paul Anthelme called Nos deux consciences (Our Two Consciences), which Hitchcock saw in the 1930s. The screenplay was written by George Tabori.[3]

Filming was done largely on location in Quebec City with numerous shots of the city landscape and interiors of its churches and other emblematic buildings, such as the Château Frontenac.

Plot[edit]

Montgomery Clift in the I Confess film trailer

Father Michael Logan (Clift) is a devout Catholic priest in Ste. Marie's Church in Quebec City, he employs German immigrants Otto Keller (O.E. Hasse) and his wife Alma (Dolly Haas) as caretaker and housekeeper. Otto also works part-time as a gardener for a shady lawyer called Villette.

The film begins late one evening as a man wearing a priest's cassock walks away from Villette's house where Villette lies dead on the floor. Shortly afterward, in the church confessional, Keller confesses to Father Logan that he accidentally killed Villette while trying to rob him. Keller tells his wife about his deed and assures her that the priest will not say anything because he is forbidden from revealing information acquired through confessions.

The next morning, Keller goes to Villette's house at his regularly scheduled gardening time and reports Villette's death to the police. Father Logan also goes to the crime scene after hearing Mrs. Keller mention that her husband is there.

At the police station, two young girls tell Inspector Larrue (Malden) they saw a priest leaving Villette's house, this prompts Larrue to call Father Logan in for questioning, but Logan refuses to provide any information about the murder. Now suspecting Logan, Larrue orders a detective to follow Logan and contacts Crown Prosecutor Robertson (Brian Aherne), who is attending a party hosted by Ruth Grandfort (Baxter) and her husband Pierre (Roger Dann), a member of the Quebec legislature. Ruth overhears Robertson discussing Logan, and Larrue's detective discovers her identity by following her home the next day after she meets with Logan to warn him that he is a suspect.

Larrue calls Ruth and Logan in for questioning, and Ruth explains what happened, narrating a series of flashbacks: She and Logan fell in love when they were childhood friends, but he went to fight in World War II with the Regina Rifle Regiment and eventually stopped writing to her, and then she married Pierre, the day after Logan returned from the war, he and Ruth spent the day on a nearby island. A storm forced them to shelter for the night in a gazebo, and Villette found them there in the morning, recognizing Ruth as being Mrs. Grandfort, the next time Ruth saw Logan was several years later when he was ordained as a priest.

Villette recently asked Ruth to persuade her husband to help him escape a tax scandal, and when she refused, he tried to blackmail her by threatening to publicize the night she spent with Logan, she met with Logan on the night of the murder, and they agreed to visit Villette in the morning.

Anne Baxter in the I Confess trailer

Ruth's meeting with Father Logan almost provides him with an alibi, but Larrue has evidence showing that the murder occurred after their meeting, and the blackmail suggests a possible motive for Logan to have killed Villette.

Knowing he will be arrested, Logan turns himself in the next day at Larrue's office. Keller has planted the bloody cassock among Logan's belongings, and when Logan is tried in court, Keller testifies that he saw Logan enter the church after the murder, acting suspiciously.

The jury barely finds Father Logan not guilty, but the crowd outside the courthouse harasses Logan as he leaves, this upsets Keller's wife so much that she starts to shout out that her husband is the murderer, but he shoots her, resulting in her death. He then runs away and is pursued by police officers. Larrue finally guesses that Keller is the murderer, corners him in the grand ballroom of the Château Frontenac, and unknowingly tricks him into confessing his sins as well as his previous reconciliation. A police sharpshooter kills Keller when Keller tries to shoot Logan, and Keller calls to Father Logan in extremis and dies immediately after Logan absolves him of his sins.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

I Confess had one of the longest preproductions of any Hitchcock film, with almost 12 writers working on the script for Hitchcock over an eight-year period. (Hitchcock had taken time off for the wedding of his daughter Patricia Hitchcock in 1951, and Hitchcock was in the midst of dissolving his partnership in Transatlantic Pictures with Sidney Bernstein.) In the original screenplay, following the source play, the priest and his lover had an illegitimate baby, and the priest was executed at the end of the film. These elements of the script were removed at the insistence of executives at Warner Brothers who feared a negative reaction.[4]

Hitchcock first hired Anita Björk as the female lead after seeing her in Miss Julie (1951). However, when she arrived in Hollywood with her lover and their baby, Warner Bros. insisted that Hitchcock find another actress.[5]

Shooting took place in Hollywood and Quebec from August 21 to October 22, 1952.[1] Hitchcock had planned on using Quebec-area churches at no cost. When the local diocese read the original script by George Tabori, it objected to the priest's execution and rescinded its permission. When Tabori refused to change the script, Hitchcock brought in William Archibald to rewrite it.[6]

Hitchcock, as was his custom, created detailed storyboards for each scene, he could not understand Clift's Method acting technique and quickly became frustrated with Clift when he blew take after take for failing to follow Hitchcock's instructions.[7]

Cognizant of the difficulty non-Catholics would have in understanding the priest's reluctance to expose Keller, Hitchcock said,[8]

We Catholics know that a priest cannot disclose the secret of the confessional, but the Protestants, the atheists, and the agnostics all say, 'Ridiculous! No man would remain silent and sacrifice his life for such a thing.'

Alfred Hitchcock's cameo appearance occurs during the second minute—right after the opening credits—as he walks across the top of a steep stairway.

Reception[edit]

The film received mixed to negative reviews from critics. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times faulted an "obviously padded" and "nigh suspenseless script," explaining that "only the most credulous patron will be worried for very long that the hero will not be delivered from his dilemma by some saving grace. And this realization well unburdens the situation of any real suspense." Crowther's review concluded that "Mr. Hitchcock does manage to inject little glints of imagery and invent little little twists of construction that give the film the smooth, neat glitter of his style. Shot on location in Quebec, it has a certain atmospheric flavor, too, but it never gets up and goes places. It just ambles and drones along."[9] Variety wrote that the film was "short of the suspense one would expect and overlong on talk," although it did note "a number of top-flight performances."[10] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post wrote in a negative review that the film "asks for more than the usual suspension of disbelief" because "the priest is not helpless, a fact which the writers and director attempt to forget at the cost of the film's credibility from the earliest reel. It would certainly seem that so young a priest's superiors would have had more to do with his problem, if not at first, surely before the matter came to public trial ... So promising an idea as is the use of the confessional in framing a murder case and respectful as the picture appears to be of matters ecclesiastic, the basic conception is false, the result is a tricked-up picture unworthy of the suave master of movie thrillers."[11] John McCarten of The New Yorker was also negative, writing: "Presumably, this is meant to be a kind of mystery drama. What it actually amounts to, though, is an exposition of the difficulties a priest can get into by keeping the secrets of the confessional inviolate, the theme is prinked up with murder and romance, but neither, as represented here, makes for suspense or entertainment ... it is possible that Montgomery Clift, who plays the part, was ill-advised to portray the priest as a sort of bemused juvenile, plainly too abstracted to lead one lamb, let alone a flock."[12]

A mixed review in The Monthly Film Bulletin declared the film "rather less successful than Strangers on a Train and a good deal more so than anything else Hitchcock has done since the ill-fated Rope ... The final chase through the huge Chateau Frontenac seems a touch that Hitchcock could not resist: out of keeping with the generally somber tone of the film, it provides a showily melodramatic climax, the unresolved split between the straightforward thriller technique and the more penetrating psychological study of character, indeed, makes itself felt as a weakness at intervals throughout the film."[13] The Chicago Tribune was also mixed, declaring that "While it has scenery and carefully allotted bits of tension, the film is crowded and devious plot-wise and doesn't rank with Director Hitchock's previous bests, the finale is slightly overdone, even if it does manage to bring in a famed hotel."[14]

Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times wrote one of the positive reviews and declared that Hitchcock "has fashioned an absorbing screen drama, one of the solidest and most expertly made of recent weeks; in his careful treatment Hitchcock has gone deeper into human relationships than is usual with him, relying less on the physical chase or on theatrical props like trains and merry-go-rounds than on the interplay of faith and doubt to create his famous brand of suspense."[15] Harrison's Reports wrote, "Living up to his reputation as a master of the suspense film, Alfred Hitchcock has fashioned a powerful dramatic entertainment in 'I Confess.' ... It is not a cheerful picture, but it holds one tense throughout."[16]

The film was banned in Ireland because it showed a priest having a relationship with a woman (even though, in the film, the relationship takes place before the character becomes a priest).[17]

The film was entered into the 1953 Cannes Film Festival.[18]

I Confess was a favorite among French New Wave film makers, according to filmmaker/historian Peter Bogdanovich.[19]

Film critic Sarah Ortiz, has described I Confess as "the most Catholic film of Hitchcock's films."[20]

Adaptations[edit]

I Confess was adapted to the radio program Lux Radio Theatre on September 21, 1953, with Cary Grant in Montgomery Clift's role.

See also[edit]

The Confessional (Le Confessionnal), a 1994 film which dramatizes the filming of I Confess as the backdrop for a thematically related story.

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b "I Confess - Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved July 20, 2018. 
  2. ^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1953', Variety, January 13, 1954.
  3. ^ TCM: I Confess notes Linked June 9, 2013
  4. ^ Mcgilligan, P. (2002). Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. HarperCollins. p. 456. ISBN 9780060988272. Retrieved January 1, 2015. 
  5. ^ Coffin, Lesley L. (2014). Hitchcock's Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 97. Retrieved November 18, 2015. 
  6. ^ LaGuardia, Robert (1977). Monty: A Biography of Montgomery Clift. New York, Avon Books. (paperback edition). p. 98.
  7. ^ LaGuardia, p. 99.
  8. ^ Cohen, P.M. (1995). Alfred Hitchcock: The Legacy of Victorianism. University Press of Kentucky. p. 97. ISBN 9780813108506. Retrieved January 1, 2015. 
  9. ^ Crowther, Bosley (March 23, 1953). "The Screen In Review". The New York Times: p. 28. 
  10. ^ "I Confess". Variety: p. 6. February 11, 1953. 
  11. ^ Coe, Richard L. (February 27, 1953). "The Warner Offers Hitchcock's Latest". The Washington Post: p. 36. 
  12. ^ McCarten, John (April 4, 1953). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: p. 82-83. 
  13. ^ "I Confess". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 20 (232): p. 67. May 1953. 
  14. ^ Tinee, Mae (March 23, 1951). "New Hitchcock Film Not Quite Up to His Best". Chicago Daily Tribune. Chicago: p. B6. 
  15. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (February 28, 1953). "Hitchcock Guides Powerful Drama". Los Angeles Times: part II, p. 7. 
  16. ^ "Film review: I Confess". Harrison's Reports: p. 22. February 7, 1953. 
  17. ^ "Irish Film Institute". irishfilm.ie. Retrieved January 1, 2015. 
  18. ^ "Festival de Cannes: I Confess". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved January 22, 2009. 
  19. ^ Hitchcock's Confession: A Look at "I Confess", featurette included on the I Confess DVD
  20. ^ Gray, Sadie. "Faith | The Times". The Times. Retrieved January 1, 2015. 

Additional references[edit]

  • I Confess DVD documentary

External links[edit]

Streaming audio[edit]