“ O’ what a tangled web he weaves
When first we watch Hitchcock’s movies. ”
“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 relationships become twisted and locked in an oppositional battle akin to one immovable object meeting the unstoppable force. Each person in the relationship wants a different and opposite thing from the other person and they’re in a locked battle.
A murderer confesses his crime to a priest. When Hitchcock is finished with the priest, he will have put him through Hell. Montgomery Clift plays Father Logan. He’s handsome, has his deep belief in his faith and is conflicted. ( Should I not 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.
The murderer put puts his wife in an untenable position 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.”
Hitchcock 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 assume 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.
To 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? )
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.
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
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:
In pictorial form, “I CONFESS” looks like this:
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.
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?
You 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?
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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