Combustible Celluloid
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With: Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter, Karl Malden, Brian Aherne, O.E. Hasse, Roger Dann, Dolly Haas, Charles Andre
Written by: George Tabori, William Archibald, based on a play by Paul Anthelme
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 94
Date: 02/12/1953

I Confess (1953)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Gore and Priest

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

American critics consider this 1953 effort one of Hitchcock's least films, but French critics consider it one of his very best. On a technical level, it's superb; it contains perhaps the most flagrantly beautiful black-and-white cinematography of any Hitchcock film (only The Wrong Man comes close to it). The film keeps up its icy sheen throughout, though a couple of minor problems contribute to its lesser status.

Father Logan (Montgomery Clift) hears the confession of a murderer, but cannot disclose the information to anyone, at any time, for any reason. It turns out that the murder victim was blackmailing Father Logan over a former love affair he shared with Ruth Grandfort (Anne Baxter), and all signs begin to point to him as the prime suspect. Logan's passiveness fails to drive the film; it's frustrating and anti-climactic to watch a character who refuses to take action; it works against the film's energy. And though Clift may have been a great actor, his frozen, stiff portrayal of Father Logan only emphasizes the film's inaction.

Additionally, when Hitchcock optioned the original play in 1953 it was already 50 years old and a little dated. Now it's 100 years old and very dated. Even so, a lesser film by the master is much better than any of today's cheap knockoffs, so it's still very much worth watching. The DVD from Warner Home Video comes with a making-of documentary (featuring Peter Bogdanovich and others), newsreel footage of the world premiere and a trailer. Optional subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French.

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