“I CONFESS” ( 1953 )

“O what a tangled web he weaves
When first we watch Hitchcock’s movies.”

 

( 1953 ) I CONFESS“I CONFESS” is gnarly. Yes I mean it in that surfer boy way of good, cool. (Do I have that right? I never dated a surfer). But I also mean gnarly in terms of messy, not smooth. That’s because the murderer weaves everything into a gnarled snarled mess. All the rela-tionships become twisted and locked in an oppositional battle akin to one immovable object meeting the unstop- pable force. Each person in the rela- tionship wants a different and opposite thing from the other person and they’re in a locked battle.

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HITCHCOCK’S  PREMISE:

A murderer confesses his crime to a priest. When Hitchcock is finished with the priest, he will have put him through Hell. Mont-gomery Clift plays Father Logan. He’s handsome, has his deep belief in his faith and      “I must confess to you. I want to make a confes-
is conflicted. ( Should I not            sion.”
have led with handsome? This
is not a theology class…we’re talking movies! ) Clift is perfect for this part because years after the movie, we’ll come to know the actor suffered much inner turmoil. I think it informs his performance. The confession tightens like a boa constrictor because the murderer (played by O.E. Hasse) taunts him about the confession; how Monty cannot tell what he’s heard. He’s galling actually, pushing and pestering and buzzing like a gadfly; in a way pushing him TO tell. He has Monty pinned to the mat of his convictions like a fly by its wings.

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The murderer put puts his wife in an untenable posi-tion as well when he lets her know what he has done. She’s played by Dolly Haas. Of course she’ll never tell because she  loves her husband… but she can not testify against him in a court of law anyway. She likes the priest, wants to tell him what’s going on, but does nothing. How clever is the murderer who ties both his wife’s and the priest’s hands to his crime. He alleviates his conscience while leaving them to bear the burden of his guilt.

“He cannot tell what he heard in the confesssional.”

Screen shot 2014-10-22 at 11.41.49 PMHitchcock also stirs Church vs the State into the mix. Now lines have been blurred by our wacky politics today but our Founding Fathers intended for these two bodies to be separate. Since the story takes place in Canada, I can only as-sume the French Founding Fathers believed in la même chose. Karl Malden is the detective investigating the case and he gets nothing out of the priest.
Screen shot 2014-10-22 at 11.40.48 PMTo make matters worse, Hitchcock ratchets up the garrote when evidence now points to Monty as the murderer; especially when the murderer feels safe enough to embellish (plant lies) facts to inextricably implicate Monty’s Father Logan. No matter how the Law presses, the priest answers truthfully, but stops short of confessing. How long will the            The Law could not see a murderer if it stood priest’s faith hold up now that he is       before him and bit it – that’s how Hitchcock being fingered?                                        rolls

The cherry on top of everything is the priest’s backstory. Seems Monty wasn’t always a priest. Seems he was a man in love. Our Hitchcock blonde this time, is the not-blonde Anne Baxter. Initially I wasn’t very comfortable with this choice of blonde. But there is an intensity and conviction to Baxter I’ve come to appreciate. ( Is it her whispery alto? )

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             A blast from the past…                                …sweeps into the flashback

Hitchcock flashes back to young love in bloom. Baxter comes down a winding staircase in slow motion, her white dress slightly billows as she descends ( “like an angel from heaven”? ) to greet a waiting Monty with a kiss. But the war comes and he joins. When he returns he’s a changed man. A man of the cloth.

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One of these relationships is not like the other. Can you tell which one?

             “I love you Michael. I’ve always been in 
              love with you. I know, I know it’s wrong,  
              but I can’t help it. I haven’t changed. I’ve 
              been married seven years and I haven’t 
              changed.”
 

Her loving him and pleading with him to no avail brought my mind to the interesting real-life sub-text of Clift’s life; possibly hearing this same thing from women whom he would never have a committed relationship with. It added to the scene, for me. Baxter’s character makes a confession of her own. As evidence begins to mount against him, Baxter confesses before Church, State ( represented by Brian Aherne ) and husband ( played by Roger Dann ) that Father Logan was with her at the time of the murder, offering herself as alibi. She is still in love with him. It’s tricky what Hitchcock does with Confession. Confession as rabbit hole. Confession begets more questions begets more confession demands more answers. The whole questioning of Baxter takes on a sort of prurient voyeuristic tinge even if the claim is to get at the truth. Her forthrightness is greeted with more questions.

I mentioned earlier that Hitchcock shows relationships where each person wants a different, an opposite thing from the other person they’re involved with. He makes these circles of relationships that intersect with other circles. In graphic form “I CONFESS” looks something like this:

I CONFESS ( PICTORIALLY )

In pictorial form, “I CONFESS” looks like this:

Screen shot 2014-10-22 at 11.53.00 PM Screen shot 2014-10-22 at 11.45.00 PM

MURDERER & WIFE: She wants her husband to go to the police but he won’t. Note the way Hitchcock has him in front of religious accoutrements of the Church. And even in the face of that…
MURDERER & PRIEST: He now is out in the open asking the priest what should he do, other than confess to the murder he committed. He doesn’t even need the confessional to speak about it.

 

 

 

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THE DETECTIVE & D.A.: There is a slight bit of tension between the Police ( specifically the Detective Malden plays ) and the District Attorney ( Aherne ). They both want to get at the facts…the truth. But the D.A. is close friends of Baxter and her husband. The detective lords it over the D.A.’s office about a case in point.

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THE D.A. & THE PRIEST’S EX: He has a conflict of interest being friends with this couple. Both men don’t realize a bomb-shell awaits
THE DETECTIVE & PRIEST’S EX: Her husband tries to defend her. She’s an- swered all questions, but the police want to know more

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THE DETECTIVE & PRIEST’S EX: He grills her in front of the priest, her hus-band and the D.A. and her answers are still not enough for him
PRIEST’S EX & HER HUSBAND: She sacrifices her and her husband’s repu-tation to offer an alibi for Father Logan

 

 

 

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Screen shot 2014-10-23 at 12.33.07 AM   ANNE BAXTER CONFLICTED

Father Logan sits there while Baxter throws her reputation and life away to provid him the alibi he will not claim for himself. Is he a coward? Is it we who are of little faith? She’ll speak up and risk everything to protect him, while conversely he does NOT speak up and risk everything to protect the confession of a murderer. Is Father Logan protecting a murderer, or protecting his Faith? Monty speaks volumes while saying nothing. He’s the perfect tortured actor for this role. He conveys a character’s internal life…for eternal life?

Screen shot 2014-10-22 at 11.51.20 PMScreen shot 2014-10-22 at 11.51.03 PMYou know Hitchcock. Everything has a pur-pose, skewed for a reason. During the trial with Clift not talking, Baxter talking too  much and the murderer’s taunts stretching things to a breaking point, the young priest’s faith is tested to its limit. Will he betray his faith by talking? Shall he pay for a crime he did not do? Surely the murderer’s guilty conscience forces HIM to speak. Or will his wife give him up in a court of law. Confession is good for the soul, but who’s soul? You really want to leave that question up to Hitchcock?

Screen shot 2014-10-22 at 11.50.54 PM MONTY as PRIEST Screen shot 2014-10-22 at 11.51.12 PM

Here is a 4-minute video I found on YouTube that someone crafted for “I Confess.” I think it’s a pretty darned good job too. Please check it out:

 

Did his not speaking up, cost others?

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7 thoughts on ““I CONFESS” ( 1953 )

  1. A stimulating discussion, Theresa, beautifully presented. I haven’t seen I Confess for a very long time but, like all the best film criticism, your analysis makes me want to see it again very soon! A great way to start a snowy Sunday morning in the sticks!

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    • “I Confess” was never a big ticket item for me. But I happened upon it recently and I was totally thunderstruck. So much so that I immediately watched it again. Clift was perfectly cast even though I believe I’ve read it was a difficult pairing Clift & Hitch. Clift is an internal actor and this fit right in with the young priest’s struggles. Anne Baxter did a good job too. I like my Hitchcock blondes blonde…but Baxter brought a wonderful intensity to the part of a woman in love with a man she’ll never have. I hope you get a chance to check out the movie again. Thanks for your comment, Bob.

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      • I’m ashamed to admit that saw I Confess for the very first time this year.I don’t think it was well received when it first came out,and some of Hitch just leaves me cold…But boy was I in for a shock on this one.Always a huge Clift fan,I think the real life tension between him and Hitch only helped him give a much more layered performance and as for Anne Baxter…really what can’t she pull off? I will watch this film again and thank you Theresa for giving it a new perspective.

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      • Hi Bob. I’m so glad you’ll give this another chance. Believe me, I was shocked as all get out as I sat with this how much I liked it that I immediately had to watch it again. ( I did that with “A Canterbury Tale.” ) Yes, I recall reading the film wasn’t well-received and the stuff about a priest and a church didn’t thrill me like say, a crazy uncle, a man in love with an illusion, some birds stalking kids, a windmill turning backwards, a man who knew just a little too much, a suspicious wife and on and on. But I should have never doubted Hitch. He poses a question, puts himself in a box and then makes us punch our way out of it. Amazing. Since you know the film this won’t be a spoiler. How crazy is it that the man who does the confessing…puts the screws to the man who listened, taunts him, bedevils him…all in an effort FOR the priest to tell. Amazing movie. Hitchcock, how could I have doubted you?

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  2. Pingback: THE PARADINE CASE ( 1947 ) | CineMaven's ESSAYS from the COUCH

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