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Warner Home Video presents
Robertson: Do you have any idea who put that cassock in your trunk?
DVD ReviewAlfred Hitchcock never made a film noir per se, but with I Confess he came close. Within the framework of his traditional "wrong man" scenario, Hitchcock employs many core noir elements—deep shadows, stark photography, gritty location shooting, and a brooding sense of fatalism. Strangely lacking, however, is the director's trademark tension and suspense. Somber, serious, and painfully slow-moving, I Confess lacks the energy and intensity of most Hitchcock films, despite a fine cast and fascinating premise.
Montgomery Clift portrays Father Michael Logan, a young Catholic priest in Quebec City, who late one evening encounters caretaker and German refugee Otto Keller (O.E. Hasse) in the pews of his church. Father Logan at once notices Keller's severely troubled state and tries to counsel him. Keller initially resists, but soon begs to bare his soul, and within the private confines of the confessional he admits he killed a man during a failed robbery attempt. Keller later unburdens himself to his repressed yet supportive wife (Dolly Haas), sharing his fears of impending capture, trial, and execution—until it dawns on him that Catholic law forbids Father Logan from betraying his confidence. Knowing the priest must respect the sanctity of confession allows Keller to brazenly continue leading a normal, guiltless life, as long as he believes Father Logan will adhere to his vows.
Complications arise when Inspector Larrue (Karl Malden) interviews witnesses who recall seeing a man in a priest's robe leaving the scene of the crime. Larrue questions Father Logan, who, for personal reasons, refuses to account for his whereabouts around the time of the murder. Now targeted as the chief suspect, Logan faces an impossible dilemma: Either he rejects religious law and exposes Keller or risks conviction for a crime he did not commit. Logan never wavers, bravely resisting the temptation to save himself, but as Larrue tightens the noose, the film poses a potent question: Which laws deserve more respect—those made by man or by God?
I Confess plays more like a straight drama than most Hitchcock films. The director consciously strives for depth and introspection, and seems to relish exploring the film's central moral conflict. Worried we might miss the point, Hitchcock lends his picture an almost threadbare, less-is-more feel, forcing us to focus on ideas instead of technique. He often employs an off-kilter camera to emphasize the skewed morality Father Logan must follow, but generally stays out of the story's way. An undercurrent of tension simmers throughout, but the lethargic pacing prevents it from reaching the full boil we expect and desire. Aside from a climactic chase, the action is confined to terse conversations and a plethora of close-ups showing characters wrestling with their tortured psyches.
Of course, no actor depicts inner turmoil better than Clift, who, along with contemporaries Marlon Brando and James Dean, beautifully balances gut-twisting angst with an almost child-like sensitivity. A most unlikely Hitchcock hero, Clift lacks Cary Grant's polish and James Stewart's regular guy demeanor, but brings to I Confess the quiet intensity required to make the story believable and the priest's moral quagmire wrenching. The role's constraints keep Clift from scaling the heights he achieved in A Place in the Sun and From Here to Eternity, but he mesmerizes nonetheless.
Anne Baxter portrays Father Logan's old flame, Ruth Grandfort, whom he courted before becoming a man of the cloth, and who still carries a torch for the priest. She also holds his alibi, but revealing it to police would compromise her marriage to a local politician and further sully Logan's tarnished reputation. The bleached blonde Baxter gives a sympathetic performance, but her breathy line deliveries reek of Eve Harrington in All About Eve, especially during an extended flashback in which she recounts her affair with Logan. The film's best work, however, comes from Hasse, who masterfully depicts Keller's evolution from a frightened, repentant killer to an ice-cold manipulator willing to do whatever it takes to protect his freedom.
Despite flashes of brilliance, I Confess never bowls us over like we hope it will. Plot contrivances rescue the characters and allow justice to prevail, but by abandoning the play's original downbeat ending, Hitchcock robs his film of power and resonance. Stylistically, Hitch rarely drops the ball, but frequent fumbling prevents I Confess from maximizing its potential. Although we root for its success throughout, this most intriguing Hitchcock film leaves our prayers unanswered.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The excellent full-frame transfer benefits from vibrant contrast and a crisp, clear image that brings out the best in Robert Burks' cinematography. Rich, inky blacks predominate, but lots of gray level variance adds texture and depth to the Quebec streets and numerous close-ups of the principals. Even the lengthy soft-focus flashback remains stable and vivid, with the slightly blurred edges adding a tender timbre to this dark film. A bit of occasional murkiness clouds certain exterior shots, but seems to be an intentional Hitchcock choice. Fans of I Confess will be delighted with this top-notch effort.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Any defects on the DD 1.0 track have been scrubbed clean, leaving us with smooth, bright sound and balanced levels. Even Clift's mumbling and Baxter's whispers are easy to understand, while Dimitri Tiomkin's dramatic score enjoys a nice fullness of tone.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
The disc also contains the film's original theatrical trailer (in excellent condition) and some brief newsreel footage of the snowy Canadian premiere, which shows Hitchcock and Baxter (who defies the freezing temperatures in an off-the-shoulder evening gown) greeting a throng of admirers outside the theater.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsDespite my admiration for both Hitchcock and Clift, I must confess that I Confess never gripped me like I hoped it would. The film's potent issues may inspire spirited debate, but its plodding pace often dulls any tension. Collectors will appreciate the fine transfer and solid extras, but lovers of traditional Hitchcock may be disappointed.
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