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I Confess  (1953)


Rating: NR

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Release Date: September 7, 2004
Review posted: September 15, 2004


Reviewed by Dylan Grant




Father Michael Logan (Montgomery Clift), apparently a model of clerical piety, hears a killer’s confession.  Eyewitnesses point to a priest as the murderer, and the sacrament of penance forbids Logan to speak out – even in his own defense – when circumstantial evidence targets Logan as the prime suspect.




Alfred Hitchcock was a devout Catholic his whole life.  Raised and schooled by strict Jesuits, the teachings of the Catholic Church not only inform his personality, but also the imagery of his films.  (The shower scene in Psycho, for instance is, before it is one of his most shocking murder scenes, is also a scene of baptismal cleansing.)  I Confess brings those themes to the front of Hitchcock’s work in a more overt way that had been seen before.  Adapted from a play Hitchcock had seen in London years before, it is one of his most serious films, without the levity and comic relief he so commonly injected.  Upon its release, it was an immediate favorite of the French New Wave critics (who, or course, became the French New Wave directors, Godard, Truffaut, etc.).  Too often overlooked, I Confess is one of Hitchcock’s best and most personal films.


One of the first things we notice about I Confess is the dark, film noir look that drenches the film.  That was not something common in Hitchcock’s work previously.  The expressionistic mood is perfect for this material.  Father Logan, alone in the church one night, agrees to hear confession for Otto (O.E. Hasse), an older man who works in the church rectory.  Otto confesses that he has killed a man.  Things become more complicated when the police get involved.  This is another break from the previous Hitchcock trend.  In his past films, the police were always shown as buffoons, incapable of solving any real crime and certainly not a force to be relied upon to protect anyone from crime.  In I Confess we see something totally different.  The police, headed by Inspector Larrue (Karl Malden), are a sinister force, pushing the clumsy wheels of justice to trap Logan, regardless of the truth.  This sinister portrayal of police figures more accurately echoes Hitchcock’s lifelong fear of police.


The performances in I Confess are strong throughout.  Malden is great as the lead inspector, and Clift is deeply affecting as the conflicted priest.  The other stand out is Anne Baxter as Ruth, who was in a relationship with Johnny before he joined the priesthood and never got over her deep love for him.  In one of the film’s crucial scenes, she lays out the details of their relationship.  As she talks, we go into a flashback that is probably the most unabashedly romantic thing Hitchcock ever filmed.  The flashback is Ruth’s story, entirely her side, entirely from her point of view.  In this way, this is kind of a false flashback, akin to what Hitchcock was doing in Stage Fright.  The effect is slightly different here because while her story is not a lie, it is not the whole truth either.  The scenes real cruelty comes later, when we learn that Her story provides no alibi for Logan, and that Larrue knew that before she opened her mouth.  She made her statement, humiliated herself at the hands of the police, for nothing.  This is one Hitchcock’s harshest, most direct indictments of police power.


I Confess is a powerful film.  In a way it is a trial run for a film Hitchcock would make only a few years later, The Wrong Man.  Both deal with the theme of a man accused of a crime he did not commit, caught in the grind of the wheels of the justice system, and finally cleared when the real culprit confesses.  Both are remarkable films, but I Confess stands on its own as a testament to the height of filmmaking power that Hitchcock was capable of, and was routinely reaching at this time in his career.




I Confess is presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  The picture is beautiful, the expressionistic, noir photography has been fully retained.  The presentation is crisp and translates well to DVD.




This DVD is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono.  The presentation is solid, and all the effects comes through well.




Hitchcock’s Confession: a look at I Confess: a look at the making of this film and what it meant to the devoutly Catholic Hitchcock.  Also discussed is the play from witch the film was adapted.  (20:00)


Gala Canadian premiere for I Confess: a vintage Warner Pathe News newsreel showing the film’s opening in Quebec, where the picture was shot.  (1:00)


Theatrical trailer: the original trailer.




One of Hitchcock’s better, more personal films, often overlooked, but now ripe for rediscovery with this amazing DVD release.  The film is stunning, with great performances all around, and the special features are insightful.




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