September 1, 2016
I Confess (1953) starts with a couple shots of the city and, probably on the third cut, we see the Hitchcock cameo. At this point in his career, Alfred Hitchcock was worried that fans looking for him in the frame all the time could be distracted from the main storyline. A great aspect of this introductory scene, is how signs in the street are pointing to where the setting of the movie is occurring. We finally get there. Surprise! A dead body lies on the ground. A stranger exits the scene. Obviously he’s the killer.
I Confess is rarely seen in top 5 lists of the best Hitchcock movies. And it has a great story indeed. It is also very sad. And sensible people may have a hard time digesting the tragedies that occur inside the characters. We meet Father Logan (Montgomery Clift), who is a good-looking guy, educated and courteous. He seems to have no flaws. The person we suspect is the killer enters the church. He confesses the murder. He is Otto Keller (O.E. Hasse), a German immigrant whom father Logan has helped along the way to adapt in Quebec City after World War II.
This is a contrary formula of the Hitchcock film. Usually, in his suspense-mysteries, we last the whole film wondering who the murderer was. Here we know who the killer is from the first scene. Instead of putting the viewer in doubt, Hitchcock raises a nervous tension towards the whole movie, which turns it into more of a film-noir than a suspense movie. Father Logan naturally needs to keep his mouth shut because of his silent vote to the church. We see preoccupation in his face throughout the whole film.
The police start investigating the murder. And here’s the thing: Father Logan is deeply in love with a lady in the town (this fact made the movie be banned in England at the time) and the police see him with her in a scene talking. The lady was close to the lawyer who was murdered, Mr. Villete. Plus: some lady says she saw a priest walking around town at the time of the killing. Logan becomes the first suspect. They even take him into de precinct for questions. “Too much mystification might lead one to believe that both priests were one and the same, mightn’t it?” A Richard-Nixon-like inspector Larrue (Karl Malden) tells him furiously. Logan simply answers that he can’t talk. He, however, states he is innocent.
It is easy for the police to consider him the killer. Inspector Larrue continues investigating. They finally bring him with the lady, Ruth, played by the dainty Anne Baxter, and we go into a flashback of how she and father Logan were in love before he went to war but when he came back she was married and hence he became a priest (he told her not to wait for her and that becomes maybe his biggest regret in life, he never states his feelings in the whole film). And she tells them that the night of the murder the priest was with her ‘till 11 p.m. After the long story, they leave the room. The inspector tells the policemen that there is proof in the autopsy that the murder was made after 11; the priest is still a suspect.
Another character in the movie that I found rather strange is Pierre, (Roger Dann), Ruth’s husband. He knows she is still deeply in love with the priest. And Pierre couldn’t do anything in a million years anything to make her love him the same. He seems, however, to know this but also to take good care of her. Why? Love blinds the innocent, I guess. But he is a respectful character and father Logan does not hold any grudges against him and vice-versa (at least on the outside).
It is astonishing how Alfred Hitchcok places objects in his frames to indicate character feelings. Most of the times we see father Logan feeling grief or impotence, we see in the background an image of Jesus. In one scene he is walking preoccupied and as soon as he stops, we see him from a point of view of a church with a giant cross cornering him. He is trapped indeed. The final part of the film is the trial of the father. Another clever aspect about Hitchcock here is how he never concludes the ending in the expected way. One is to believe that he will be found guilty after the trial and that will be it. But he is considered innocent. Then, one thinks he will be killed by Otto (who at this time has gone nuts and plans to kill the father if he plans to say something) but he isn’t. This farrago of thriller scene brings them to the wretched conclusion.
After the trial, the movie turns into an action flick. Imagine the scene in “The Birds”, Hitchcock’s Horror masterpiece (not a personal favorite) where hundreds of birds are standing still looking at our main characters. Change the birds for people, and you get an amazing shot in I Confess. After the trial, everyone is looking at the priest with anger. They think he is the killer and he can’t do anything about it. Otto, however, looses control, his actions self-condemn him forever.
One of the matters, or maybe the main matter in the film is whether father Logan is satisfied with his life or not. He seems to be relentless and to mean right with everybody. But at the same time he has an expression of suffering throughout the whole film. He doesn’t smile a single time (this serious character is recurring in his other films, Red River, From Here to Eternity, A Place in the Sun, The Bif Lift, The Misfits). He went to war; he left the love of his life, and told her not to wait for him. Going deeper into the theme it might be. And another point is that Otto the antagonist is German. Is this suggesting a deep message that war took everything from a great individual or is it just Hitchcock’s ever-present strange ironic humor?
In the end, father Logan’s dignity is released and the movie fills its every hole with conclusions. It is not only a Hitchcock masterpiece but also one of the great Hollywood Classics. The tension in the film could drive the nerves of a sensible viewer to explode. Call me exaggerated but there are many sensible viewers out there (I’ve seen them!). Before concluding the story Otto tells father Logan that he is a lonely priest and that he is not happy and he would do him a favor if he shot him for once and for all, “put him out of his misery” as they say. Is he right? My guess is he is. He won’t tell anybody but the father Logan seems to be one of the unhappiest men alive. What a movie.