I Confess (1953)
I Confess (1953)

Genre: Crime Drama and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 35 min.

Release Date: February 28th, 1953 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Alfred Hitchcock Actors: Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter, Karl Malden, Brian Aherne, O.E. Hasse, Roger Dann, Dolly Haas

 


 

L

awyer Villette has been bludgeoned to death in the middle of the night. At that ungodly hour, refugee Otto Keller (O.E. Hasse) goes to the Quebec church where he picks up steady, odd jobs, to confess to the crime. Abbe Michael Logan (Montgomery Clift) agrees to hear the avowal, involving the robbery and unintended murder of Villette, which was meant to alleviate the financial woes of Otto and his wife Alma (Dolly Haas). It’s quite the conundrum; Logan must now deal with the weight of the knowledge of the manslaughter.

There’s death, blackmail, a police investigation (led by Karl Malden’s Inspector Larrue), a stunning blonde (Anne Baxter), and plenty of noirish silhouettes and shadows, but director Alfred Hitchcock’s signature suspense isn’t as abundant (flashbacks and montages, however, are frequent). Instead, the central premise is one of a moral and religious dilemma. Nevertheless, the elements of mistaken identities, a wrong man, and hard questioning are soon introduced (the perfect precursor to “The Wrong Man,” debuting three years later), shortly after it’s admitted that suspects and motives are elusive. “Don’t be so mysterious.”

Can a mere confession absolve a man of murder? Certainly the law would disagree. And so might the audience, especially since they’re given all the details long before the police catch up. Additionally, Keller isn’t sympathetic – made less so by his efforts to avoid suspicion and responsibility. And this is followed by his antagonism – and the distance he maintains – after Crown Prosecutor Willy Robertson (Brian Aherne) fingers Logan as the killer. A scandal, a secret love affair, and political embarrassment complicate the scenario, but Logan’s adherence to his beliefs – and the rules of the confessional – make these developments not so shocking. The intricacies of personal dramas can’t overtake the murder and the murderer, which are vexingly set aside to cover this new ground.

“You can do a lot of things in 30 minutes.” Once a lengthier interrogation gets underway, greater stretches of history are chronicled, giving viewers the whole story – along with the pointlessness of the defamation attempt, which fails to provide an alibi and doesn’t even create a fuss between the involved parties. At least Dimitri Tiomkin’s music is unusually thrilling.

Despite the clear-cut villain and the obviously innocent priest, there’s another adversary at play here – that of Logan’s interpretation of piousness (or his devotion to both it and his career). Would it be righteous for him to take the blame for another’s misdeed, solely to preserve the Sacrament of Penance? The film culminates in a courtroom showdown, though this too is devoid of much of the anticipated theatrics; lawyers can’t seem to drag the truth out of a man confused about what he should and shouldn’t reveal (Logan dodges not only the contents of Keller’s confession, but also the fact that it took place at all). In the end, the climax provides some excitement – but only due to a bit of chaos and a colossal contrivance rather than a clever form of sleuthing or justice.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10