Under Capricorn (1949)
Under Capricorn (1949)

Genre: Romantic Drama and Psychological Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 57 min.

Release Date: October 8th, 1949 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Alfred Hitchcock Actors: Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, Michael Wilding, Margaret Leighton, Cecil Parker, Denis O’Dea, Jack Watling




n 1770, Captain Cook discovered Australia. 60 years later, the city of Sydney had grown rapidly, importing unjustly convicted prisoners, who would be integral in shaping the land. In 1831, a new governor was sent by England’s King William to rule the colony, which is where the story proper begins. After a somewhat unwelcome welcoming ceremony, Irishman the Honourable Charles Adare (Michael Wilding), a cousin of the governor, meets with New South Wales bank manager Cedric Potter (John Ruddock), who wishes to advise the influential young man with his future fortunes.

At Potter’s office, Adare meets with the wealthy, shrewd, curt, tight-lipped magnate and emancipist Samson Flusky (Joseph Cotten), who immediately pushes the inexperienced yet ambitious Irishman to engage in a slightly shady land purchase. Wherever Adare goes, people warn of dealing with Flusky, but these admonishments only heighten his curiosity – and encourage him to seek further interactions. “A man’s past is his own business.”

As this is an Alfred Hitchcock picture, there are plenty of odd happenings and unsettling bits of foreshadowing – some far more conspicuous than others – to suggest that nothing is quite what it seems surrounding Flusky and his estate. From the appearance of a grisly shrunken head to a dinner party at which not a single invited female guest attends, it’s soon obvious that a great many things are amiss. It may not be a particularly involving mystery, but it’s certainly Hitchcockian, particularly when the frail Lady Henrietta “Hatty” Flusky (Ingrid Bergman) arrives, behaving strangely and hallucinating, as if under a black-magic spell.

Like many of his productions, “Under Capricorn” builds up a specific group of people in a picturesque (or striking) setting amid unusual circumstances. There’s even an icy, manipulative housekeeper (Margaret Leighton as Milly), an inclusion difficult to dismiss as overly reminiscent of “Rebecca”; plenty of secrets regarding past relationships and cloying ignominy; strained hopes for redemption and rescue; and evil plans for familial destruction – a la “Notorious.” Unfortunately, the characters here, as well as the mysteries, aren’t nearly as absorbing, while the road to Hatty’s mental restoration is slow and repetitious.

The love story (or triangle, as it begins) is comparably less substantial, largely because Bergman’s damsel-in-distress struggles to remain sympathetic; she’s simply too weak and ineffective at the start, regardless of the fact that she’s scripted to be pointedly sensitive. And Cotten’s role is just as anemic, steadily deteriorating from cagey working-class success to total impotence and jealousy through embarrassing self-destruction. Likewise, the scheming is far too on-the-nose. And, ultimately, the minimally tense, excessively apparent conundrums are routinely suppressed by ordinary drama, making them feel extraneous, as if added out of expectations. Fortunately, a few notes of amusing humor arise, intermittently balancing out duller sequences. But by the end, it’s not enough; “Under Capricorn’s” plot and pacing crawl along, unable to keep up interest, trudging through exposition even when unsurprising revelations finally come – and despite a rather satisfying conclusion.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10