Blu-ray Review: Under Capricorn

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Kino Lorber

Release Date: June 19, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:57:14

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 16-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.33:1

Bitrate: 35.93 Mbps

Notes: This title was previously given a bare bones DVD release.

Title

Under Capricorn was made for Ingrid Bergman… but if I’d been thinking clearly, I’d never have tackled a costume picture. You’ll notice I’ve never done any since that time. Besides, there wasn’t enough humor in the film. If I were to make another picture in Australia today, I’d have a policeman hop into the pocket of a kangaroo and yell, ‘Follow that car!’” –Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

Many scholars have pontificated as to why Hitchcock chose to adapt Helen Simpson’s Under Capricorn as what was originally intended to be the première Transatlantic Films production. The major studios had all wisely passed on optioning the property. In fact, they had also passed on the other properties purchased by Sidney Bernstein and Alfred Hitchcock for Transatlantic. Under Capricorn, Rope, Stage Fright, and I Confess were all considered inappropriate material in which to build a suitable film script. Few if any of these historians seem to have given any consideration to the possibility that these “passed over” properties may have been the only ones that the budding production company could afford. It is doubtful that they would be able to outbid the major studios on more promising subjects (although Rope and I Confess are both incredibly underrated). This is only conjecture but it seems a reasonable possibility and one wishes that this avenue could be explored in more depth.

Alfred Hitchcock always claimed that he chose the property because he felt that Ingrid Bergman would respond to the material and that he was so absorbed with signing the actress to a film that this became his only consideration.

“I had no special admiration for the novel, and I don’t think I would have made the picture if it hadn’t been for Ingrid Bergman. At that time, she was the biggest star in America and all the American producers were competing for her services, and I must admit that I made the mistake of thinking that to get Bergman would be a tremendous feat; it was a victory over the rest of the industry, you see. That was bad thinking, and my behavior was almost infantile. Because even if the presence of Bergman represented a commercial asset, it made the whole thing so costly that there was no point to it. Had I examined the whole thing more carefully from the commercial angle, I would not have spent two and a half million dollars on the picture. At the time, that was a lot of money, you see… Anyway, I looked upon Bergman as a feather in my cap. We were making it with our own production company, and all I could think about was, ‘Here I am, Hitchcock, the onetime English director, returning to London with the biggest star of the day.’ I was literally intoxicated by the thought of the cameras and flashbulbs that would be directed at Bergman and myself at the London airport. All of these externals seemed to be terribly important. I can only say now that I was being stupid and juvenile.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

This makes sense when one considers that the director was enjoying his first taste of freedom after being emancipated from the shackles of his contract with David O. Selznick. It was more important for the director to distinguish himself as a producer than to satisfy his own creative interests (at least when it came to his material). Under Capricorn was to be a star vehicle to rival those that Selznick was so fond of producing, and the fact that Bergman had already refused to sign another contract with Selznick would have made this victory even sweeter.

Ingrid Bergman in a Publicity Still for 'Under Capricorn'

Publicity Still of Ingrid Bergman: “The film was done more or less for the benefit of Ingrid Bergman. That was a case of trying to find a subject to suit the star, which I don’t believe in. So, it was really a compromise…” –Alfred Hitchcock (John Player Lecture, March 27, 1967)

 WRITING THE SCRIPT

Unfortunately, Selznick had been able to procure prestigious properties and Hitchcock was stuck with a rather tedious novel that borrowed heavily from much better pieces of literature. Hitchcock’s film is thankfully much different than the convoluted mess that Simpson originally concocted. Her story is divided into three sections, and Hitchcock’s film only follows the first of these before providing a more coherent denouement. His final act has been criticized for being rather weak, but it must be said that reading the original novel gives one new respect for Hitchcock’s conclusion.

As mentioned, the film follows the first section of Simpson’s text rather faithfully, but the stories diverge at the Governor’s ball (which is a St. Patrick’s Day dance in the novel). This dance begins the second section of Smith’s novel, and it is at this point when her story becomes much more convoluted and tangential. Constantine Verevis gives a more detailed comparison between the film and the novel in an essay entitled, “Under a Distemperate Star” (although she takes a more appreciative view of the original novel than it really deserves). Her account of the rest of the book is a concise and more enjoyable way of comparing these two very different stories than actually having to read the book:

“The beginning of [section] two takes up the story—some three months after Adare’s arrival—on the occasion of the St. Patrick’s Day dance, the event Adare chooses to present the restored Lady Henrietta to social life… The Irish dance becomes the point of Hitchcock’s departure, setting up Henrietta’s emergence at the ball (as Adare’s first artistic creation) as the occasion of Flusky’s public reclamation of his wife. This event provokes—in the celebrated 9.5 minute sequence shot—Henrietta’s confession to Adare that it was she (not Flusky) who killed Dermont [James in the novel] in self-defense and sets up a number of confrontations that lead ultimately to the restoration of the married couple, Flusky and Henrietta. In order to effect this, Hitchcock excises from the novel Adare’s encounter at the dance with a young working-class woman much nearer his age—the locally born Susan Quaife—to whom he takes an immediate liking…

…Adare proceeds to court Susan, visiting her at her father’s barbershop on George Street. Around the same time, Adare enlists the help of ‘Ketch,’ the aboriginal leader introduced (none too sympathetically) following Adare’s first dinner with Flusky, to embark upon a treacherous journey north to Port Macquarie and then inland to unknown territory in search of gold. Milly has spread vile rumors that Adare and Henrietta are lovers, and Flusky (mildly suspicious of Adare) is quick to agree to fund the expedition. Convinced that Flusky has effectively delivered Adare (in repetition of her brother’s fate) to his death, Henrietta becomes despondent and turns to drink.

[Section] three thus begins with Henrietta again fighting her demons. Five months have passed with no word of Adare. Milly returns to assume control of the household, and this time it is Winter, the gentleman servant, who challenges Milly’s authority. Winter is soon expelled (given his ticket back to convict prison), but before leaving he passes to Henrietta a message left by Adare prior to his departure. The letter asks Henrietta to look up Susan Quaife, and upon doing so she invites Susan for an extended stay at the Flusky mansion, where Henrietta proceeds to groom the illiterate colonial girl in manner and appearance. Around the same time, Flusky is told that Adare has been found close to death but that he is recovering and is expected back in Sidney in December. After some weeks, Adare returns, declaring his love for Susan and [his] desire to stay and work honestly in the colony. This along with Susan’s exposure of Milly’s attempt to usurp Henrietta’s place, conclusively disrupts the romantic triangles and paves the way for a restored relationship between Henrietta and Flusky…

…Simpson does this by substituting the character of Susan Quaife for that of Charles Adare, whose search for gold happens entirely off-stage. Upon relocating to Minyago Yugilla, Susan not only proves herself an able match for the wily Milly, but also comes to function as a surrogate daughter to the childless Henrietta. Adare returns from the expedition matured by his experience on the land… [And] at this point, [he] asks for Susan’s hand in marriage and declares his dedication to the new continent. Simpson sets up the working-class Susan and the nobleman Adare as a parallel (cross-class) couple to Henrietta and Flusky, the latter stating (in anticipation of the young folks’ union), ‘It would be like us, only t’other way round,’ to which Henrietta replies: ‘With a better chance. Better hope. Both free.’” –Constantine Verevis (Under a Distemperate Star, Hitchcock at the Source, 2011)

Although, it goes without saying that Under Capricorn isn’t amongst Hitchcock’s best work, it is impossible not to admire how he transformed this convoluted mess into something that resembles a reasonably coherent narrative—although he may have been aided by an earlier dramatization (most likely written for the stage but never produced) by John Colton and Margaret Linden. Their play had also seen fit to jettison some of the book’s later subplots but also confined the action to the Flusky mansion. Having never seen or read this adaptation, it is best not to make any assumptions as to any similarities between it and the film version.

In any case, one completely loses interest after the first section of Simpson’s meandering novel, but Hitchcock and his writers were able to trade this nonsense for a resolution that examines some of Hitchcock’s pet themes regarding an innocent carrying the burden of a wrong that isn’t their own. It comes as no surprise that the French critics loved it! Unfortunately, the film’s pacing is constricted by the kind of long monologues that plague so many of the era’s costume dramas. The director was never able to find an appropriate writer and settled on inappropriate collaborators.

“My second mistake was to ask my friend Hume Cronyn to do the script with me; I wanted him because he’s a very articulate man who knows how to voice his ideas. But as a scriptwriter, he hadn’t really sufficient experience. Still another error was calling on James Bridie to help with the scenario. He was a semi-intellectual playwright and not in my opinion a very thorough craftsman. On thinking it over later on, I realized that he always had very good first and second acts, but he never succeeded in ending his plays. I still remember one of our working sessions on the script. The man and wife had separated after a series of terrible quarrels, and I asked Bridie, ‘How are we going to bring them together again?’ He said, ‘Oh, let them just apologize to each other and say, ‘I’m sorry, it was all a mistake.’” –Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

Hume Cronyn cited Hitchcock’s obsession with the film’s visual design as the source of the weaknesses inherent in the script:

“…I learned a lot from him and I have enormous admiration for him. He put together Under Capricorn image by image, and with all due respect, I think this method sometimes led him astray. He became so fascinated by these images that sometimes the direct line of the narrative would get lost or be bent, or there would be an awkwardness telling the story. He had of course been very revolutionary in the way he approached Rope, and it had been written to be shot in tremendously long takes. But when he came to his next film, it was to cover the vast panorama of colonial life in Australia. The difference in the quality of the two stories was the difference between a miniature and an enormous landscape. Yet, he decided to use the same approach, and I feel that was a mistake and got him into trouble.” –Hume Cronyn (as quoted in ‘The Art of Alfred Hitchcock,’ 1976)

This tendency to blame Hitchcock’s visual approach for the film’s failure is ridiculous, but there were certainly issues that should and could have been addressed and the director was well aware of them when the team was working on the script.

“In the year following Rope, Hitch asked me to do another treatment, this one based on Helen Simpson’s novel Under Capricorn… I went to London with Hitch to work on Capricorn. We would meet for our story conferences at Sidney Bernstein’s offices in Golden Square. From the beginning, the work was fraught with problems. On one particular morning, with Hitch at the end of the table and Sidney and I on the either side of him, Hitch suddenly reared back in his chair, scowling like an angry baby, and announced, ‘This film is going to be a flop. I’m going to lunch.’ And he stalked out of the room, pouting. I was appalled; Sidney was immediately solicitous. ‘Now, Hume, don’t be upset. You know Hitch: he’ll have a good lunch, come back, and everything will be serene.’ It was true; I’d seen Hitch suffer these tantrums before. He never had them on the set; by the time we got there, the whole film was already shot in his head, down to every cut and camera angle… But during a film’s preparation, he could become very mercurial; his emotional thermometer would soar to over a hundred degrees in enthusiasm, only to plunge below freezing in despair. We were alike in that, and I should have been more philosophical about the morning’s upset. The trouble was that in this particular instance I had the awful, nagging suspicion that Hitch’s premonition was accurate.” -Hume Cronyn (his memoirs as quoted in ‘Hitchcock’s Notebooks,’ 1999)

Interestingly, the director originally tried to engage Bridie to write the script to Under Capricorn after finishing his work on The Paradine Case (a Selznick production that has its own script issues) and turned the project down.

“I don’t mind helping to turn The Paradine Case from a bad book into a good film, but it is another story when the book is a good book but based on a philosophy that means nothing to me. If you get the right script writer, Under Capricorn ought to be really memorable. But it is not up my street.” –James Bridie (as quoted in ‘Alfred Hitchcock: A Light in Darkness and Light,’ 2003)

How anyone could judge Simpson’s novel as anything better than mediocre is a mystery, but perhaps this isn’t important since he later relented and agreed to work on the project.

THE PRODUCTION

The script wasn’t the only aspect of the film’s production that gave Hitchcock headaches and the director felt that the film’s casting compromised the film’s verisimilitude.

Under Capricorn was again the lady-and-groom story. Henrietta fell in love with the groom, and when Joseph Cotton was shipped to Australia as a convict, she followed him there. The main element is that she degraded herself for the sake of her love. Cotton wasn’t the right type; Burt Lancaster would have been better.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

This statement about the inappropriateness of Joseph Cotton in the role of Flusky isn’t merely the lamentations of a disappointed filmmaker who suddenly becomes aware of something after the fact. During the film’s pre-production, Hitchcock actively sought Burt Lancaster, but the actor required too much money and had other obligations. The production couldn’t be pushed back, and Bergman’s salary had already taken a considerable chunk out of the budget. He would have to find someone else, and that someone ended up being Joseph Cotton.

Joseph Cotten VS. Burt Lancaster

Hitchcock had originally sought Burt Lancaster for the role of Sam Flusky as he believed Cotton too distinguished and charming to portray an ex-stable hand.

One can understand why audiences may have been unable to accept Cotton as an uneducated, manure smelling, brutish groom—but this isn’t such a problem for modern audiences. Frankly, Cotton’s portrayal frees the character from the sort of stereotypical trappings of such characters. Is it outside the realm of possibility that a poor stable-hand might also be intelligent and charming? In any case, this has never been one of the more troubling aspects of Under Capricorn. After all, it is rare to hear anyone complain about Ingrid Bergman’s accent as Lady Henrietta Flusky which isn’t convincingly Irish—a fact that wasn’t lost on the actress. Her inability to give her character a proper Irish brogue plagued Bergman throughout the film’s production and exacerbated an already stressful situation.

Ingrid Bergman and Alfred Hitchcock enjoyed a warm friendship that lasted their entire lives, but the production of Under Capricorn put a strain on their relationship. Bergman blamed the contention on various stresses created by the director’s long mobile takes, an approach he carried over from Rope. A series of letters to Ruth Roberts gives one an intimate glimpse into the troubled production. The first and lengthiest of these letters is dated August 06, 1948:

“…Oh dear! This is my seventh week waiting. [Under Capricorn] started O.K. [on] the 19th, but with Hitch’s ten-minute takes they were behind one week after one day’s shooting. The technicians here have very little or no experience—and they don’t seem to care. I have been waiting and waiting, but every day it is the same: ‘We didn’t get the shot today, but for sure we’ll have it tomorrow morning.’ Finally after four days I was told [that] Hitch had abandoned the shot and would start with my entrance. I was so happy. [We] rehearsed and at two o’clock the same day had the first take. During the second take all the lights went out, the electricians walked down the ladders and left. Strike! All afternoon we waited for them to finish their meeting, but they never came back. This morning I was up at six; at nine I was told they had not come back yet: ‘Just relax in your dressing room!’ I am outraged but the others seem to take it relaxed. Nothing new. After the war they always have a couple of strikes. The reason for the strike was that two men were fired because of bad work and coming late to work several times.

Hitch is trying to find an entirely new electricians’ crew. Until then, we’ll have no peace. This is their second walkout. The camera crew and sound crew are nice, but it is a hostile feeling on the set that just kills you. People hardly look or speak to you. When I had the first test, the crew were whistling and making funny remarks. I was stunned because you know how very good people have always been. Don’t think everybody is bad but you know if it is just a few they color the whole set. The script is interesting now [and] we’ve got a pretty good end but Hitch’s new technique I don’t like. I have had no experience with it yet, for my first entrance was just a normal shot. But I have watched him with the others. It is so frightening for actors and crew. If the least bit goes wrong, you know … I think Hitch and I will have some arguments. He wanted to shoot a whole roll of film, the camera following me everywhere and the sets and furniture being pulled away. It meant we had to rehearse a whole day without shooting and then shoot the scenes the following day. It made everybody nervous but he insisted. We already had one little argument about my entrance and I got my way. I know I always can with him, but I dislike the argument… To top the rest of the mishaps I have a slow hairdresser. I have to be here at seven thirty. Makeup is very fast—hardly any—and very grey: no lipstick, no ice-towels, and the rest of Jack Pierce’s fun. All the time is for hair, so already at nine a.m. I am sore, not only my behind… Look what a long letter the strike will give you. It is now eleven thirty. No move in any direction…” –Ingrid Bergman (My Story, Apr 01, 1983)

The long takes that she mentions in this letter did create a few problems—some of which were not an issue during the production of Rope. However, any objective analysis of these troubles will reveal that most were beyond Alfred Hitchcock’s control. Could he be blamed for the various strikes that halted production (or the time lost when Michael Wilding took ill with pleurisy)? Absolutely not.

In any case, the problems that were actually created by the long takes took a lot of ingenuity to solve. Jack Cardiff would often discuss his work on the film, and his memories weren’t happy ones.

“I had been much more involved than usual in the production planning. Usually, I tried to dream up ideas for dramatic lighting, but on Capricorn, I had for the most part to work out how on earth I could possibly light so many sets at once! I worked more closely with the director than usual… Practically all of Hitchcock’s dramatic ideas were visual. If a cameraman is supposed to ‘paint with light,’ Hitchcock painted with a moving camera…

…We would rehearse one whole day and shoot the next day. Good recorded sound was impossible: the noise was indescribable. The electric crane lumbered through sets like a tank at Sebastopol, whole walls cracked open, furniture was whisked away by panting prop men and then frantically replaced in position as the crane made a return trip. The sound department did exceptionally well just to get a ‘guide track.’ … When we had made a successful ten minute take, everyone had to leave the studio except the sound people, Hitch, the script girl, and the cast, who would then go through the motions with dialogue without the camera. Amazingly, by sliding the sound tape backward and forward, it all came together.” –Jack Cardiff (as quoted in ‘Hitchcock’s Notebooks.’ 1999)

This strategy took the cooperation and agility of everyone on the set and this included the actors.

“…Required to light as many as six sets for a single take, English cinematographer Jack Cardiff attached lights to cranes, dollies, boom mikes and even crew members to make them mobile enough to light a shot and then get out of the way of the cumbersome crane as it followed the actors to another part of the set. ‘It was a fantastic sight,’ he wrote in an article for American Cinematographer, ‘to see a lamp silently glide in through a window, or even in through a hole in the wall, twist and tilt and pan in several directions, then just as mysteriously disappear again.’

…The Regency table that production designer Tom Morrahan built for Under Capricorn [were] cut into fourteen sections. It came apart to permit the camera to pass through. ‘The actors often helped,’ Cardiff writes, ‘and as the camera approached them seated nonchalantly enough, it looked positively weird to see them suddenly grab a section of the table, with a candle or plate of food fixed on it, and fall wildly out of picture … with their own parts of the table clutched in their hands.’ Mattresses were placed strategically behind the actors to catch them when they toppled backwards.

A bed was made for Ingrid Bergman that could be made to tilt up at a 45-degree angle, permitting the camera to shoot ‘down’ at the actress. Despite the contortions this setup imposed, Bergman succeeded in conveying so many conflicting emotions in one shot where, lying in bed, she realizes she is being systematically driven mad by a jealous servant, that Eric Rohmer wrote he would give all of Stromboli (1950), her first film with Roberto Rossellini, for that shot, if cinema were ‘only’ the art of plumbing the depths of the human soul.” –Bill Krohn (Hitchcock at Work, 2000)

Needless to say, this kind of chaos can be a great handicap for actors trying to lose themselves in their role, and this eventually all became too much for Bergman and led to an infamous outburst which was discussed intimately in another letter written to Ruth Roberts towards the end of August, 1948:

Under Capricorn is half finished. The other day I burst. The camera was supposed to follow me around for eleven whole minutes—which meant we had to rehearse a whole day with the walls or furniture falling backwards as the camera went through—and of course that couldn’t be done fast enough. So I told Hitch off. How I hate this new technique of his. How I suffer and loathe every moment on the set. My two leading men, Michael Wilding and Joe Cotton, just sat there and said nothing—but I know they agree with me—and I said enough for the whole cast. Little Hitch just left. Never said a word. Just went home… oh dear…” –Ingrid Bergman (My Story, Apr 01, 1983)

Years later, Hitchcock himself remembered this exchange in his famous interview with François Truffaut:

“Ingrid Bergman got angry with me because of those long shots. And, since I never lose my temper and I hate arguments, I walked out of the room while her back was turned to me. I went home, and later on someone called to inform me that she hadn’t noticed my departure and was still complaining twenty minutes after I’d gone.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

She would try again while having drinks with the director and her two male leads. Somehow the conversation shifted to the long takes and she began complaining about the approach once again. Unfortunately, she made the mistake of turning away and he took this opportunity to leave her company. “That’s the trouble with Hitch,” the actress lamented, “he won’t fight!” This was true. Hitchcock loathed conflict and felt that drama should be reserved for the screen.

Even so, it should be made clear that Hitchcock didn’t always ignore Bergman’s protests. When it was possible, he preferred to placate her by offering some sort of compromise that would allow him to have his way while seeming to bend to her will.

“…They were shooting a drunk scene on the stairs and Bergman could not, or would not keep her marks. ‘Why should she anyway?’ she asked. She was supposed to be drunk. Couldn’t they just let her act the scene the way she felt it and follow her? This time, Hitch decided on a little demonstration, so he agreed to shoot the scene her way if she would play it his, and leave the decision of which version to use up to her. Once she saw the rushes of their respective versions she was in no doubt that Hitch’s was better and generously admitted as much.” –John Russell Taylor (Hitch: The Life and Times of Alfred Hitchcock, 1978)

Luckily, none of this had a lasting effect on their friendship, and Bergman would even admit that his approach had merit after seeing some of the footage. This admission first appeared in a follow-up letter:

“The picture is nearly finished. Some of those damned long scenes work out very well. In one nine-and-a-half-minute take, I talked all the time; the camera never left me and it worked fine. I must say much better than being cut up and edited.” –Ingrid Bergman (My Story, Apr 01, 1983)

This same sentiment would be repeated publicly in an essay written for the Toledo Blade that was published on August 27, 1949:

“…I know I put myself completely in [Hitchcock’s] hands. In the making of that picture Hitch was the boss—and, within the four walls of the sound stage, his word was law… Merely acting for ten minutes at a stretch is no problem to anyone with stage training, but doing a ten-minute tense emotional scene without a break for the screen is a different matter. Your positions and your movements must be correct to the fraction of an inch for camera focus. Walls and doors are constantly disappearing to make way for the camera as you move from room to room, Property men are crawling under foot removing obstacles in your path. And a Technicolor camera on a 30-foot crane is constantly pursuing you, coming in swiftly for a close-up and then sweeping away—all these make demands upon an actress that go far beyond the realms of mere acting. But a lot of people do exhausting work and are happy to do it because the results are gratifying. And that’s how it is with me. I have seen Under Capricorn and I know the experiment, if you care to call it that, has succeeded. Hitch sees, and commits to paper, every movement of the cast and camera six months before hand. He has the whole production in mind, from beginning to end, on the day the camera starts turning. And it is not only a general idea; it is the detailed development, with every camera angle and every movement, worked out to the last quarter.” –Ingrid Bergman (Ingrid Bergman Cables Story of Technique Used in Under Capricorn,’ Toledo Blade, August 27, 1949)

Joseph Cotton was more worried about weaknesses within the script and his dialogue. As a matter of fact, he referred to the project as “Under Crapricorn” or “Under Cornycrap” (depending on which version of the story you want to believe) within earshot of his director and James Bridie (who had come to the set to adjust some of Cotton’s dialogue). Of course, it is quite possible that this comment was born out of his insecurities as an actor (he was never able to handle an authentic Irish lilt) and personal issues that were not at all related to the production as he was going through quite a lot in his personal life. The lengthy takes only exacerbated these simmering issues.

The director himself may have privately cursed his sequence shots after having his toe crushed by the camera and the crane that held it. Perhaps this was a negative omen.

Alfred Hitchcock and the mamoth camera during the production of 'Under Capricorn.'

Alfred Hitchcock and the mammoth Technicolor camera used for the production of ‘Under Capricorn.’

RELEASE, RECEPTION, & LEGACY

Under Capricorn became the first British feature to have a world première at Radio City Music Hall on September 08, 1949 and had already accumulated $1,875,000 by this time on account of its world distribution rights. On September 17th, The Gloucestershire Echo reported that the film had already accumulated $2,000,000 but is unclear as to whether this amount includes the amount earned by selling these territorial rights (it is likely that it does). Either way, it seems that the film’s New York engagements were reasonably successful as the film played to “capacity audiences” for four weeks if newspaper reports can be believed. One assumes that the film was given a substantial boost due to the names of Alfred Hitchcock, Ingrid Bergman, and Joseph Cotton in the first week or two of release only to fall off in the following weeks. Whatever the case, Under Capricorn didn’t do enough business and was eventually repossessed by the bank that financed the project.

In The Alfred Hitchcock Story, Ken Mogg proposes that Ingrid Bergman’s presence in the film may have contributed to its eventual failure.

“…Then another setback occurred. The previous year, when Under Capricorn was being shot in England, Bergman had flown to Paris with her husband Petter Lindstrom to meet the Italian neo-realist director Roberto Rossellini. The meeting lasted two hours. There and then, Bergman agreed to appear in Rossellini’s next film, and joined him in Stromboli just before Under Capricorn was released. In fact, it was also a rendezvous of another kind. News of their affair and the scandal it caused spread quickly. Catholic organizations in America reacted by banning the Hitchcock film, and many cinema owners were sufficiently outraged to follow suit. Hitchcock blamed Rossellini for what had happened and always remained bitter towards him…” –Ken Mogg (The Alfred Hitchcock Story, 1999)

This may have some merit. However, it seems likely that the film had probably already failed by this point (at least in America). It was March 14, 1950 when—at the height of the scandal—Senator Edwin C. Johnson denounced the actress on the floor of the Senate calling her a “powerful influence for evil” who had instigated a violent “assault on the institution of marriage.”

“Mr. President, now that the stupid film about a pregnant woman and a volcano has exploited America with the usual finesse, to the mutual delight of RKO and the debased Rossellini, are we merely to yawn wearily, greatly relieved that this hideous thing is finished and then forget it? I hope not. A way must be found to protect the people in the future against that sort of gyp!” –Edwin C. Johnson

Of course, the senator had an agenda as he was proposing a censorship bill based on the “moral compasses” of those who work on any particular film. Such a bill sounds like an excuse to take away the inalienable rights of those who do not think or believe the same as Mr. Johnson and others like him, but this neither here nor there. The point is that this was months after the film’s initial release and it is doubtful that it had any effect on the film’s box-office earnings. It may have been a factor in the bank’s decision to repossess the picture but this is merely conjecture.

Critics and audiences tend to excoriate films that don’t meet their expectations and have difficulty judging them on their own merits, so Under Capricorn never really stood much of a chance. Alfred Hitchcock often made mention of this in his interviews.

“[The French critics admired Under Capricorn] because they looked at it for what it was and not what people expected. Here you get a Hitchcock picture which is a costume-picture and not approached from a thriller or excitement point of view until towards the end. I remember some remark by a Hollywood critic who said, ‘We had to wait 105 minutes for the first thrill.’ They went in expecting something and didn’t get it. That was the main fault with that picture… Also I used a fluid camera—mistakenly perhaps because it intensified the fact that it wasn’t a thriller—it flowed too easily.” –Alfred Hitchcock (The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock, 1963)

This is probably a reference to William Brogdon’s awkwardly composed review for Variety:

Under Capricorn is fortunate in having a number of exploitable angles that can be used to parlay sturdy initial grosses. On the long pull, though, box-office will be spotty. Ingrid Bergman’s name will be a potent help and there are Technicolor, Joseph Cotton, and Alfred Hitchcock as added lures to get ticket sales going, even though it doesn’t appear likely [that] momentum will be maintained in the general market.

It is overlong and talky, with scant measure of the Hitchcock thriller tricks that could have sharpened general reception. A moody melodrama, full of long speeches and obvious movement, it uses up one hour and fifty-six minutes in developing a story that would have had more impact had not Hitchcock dwelt so tediously on expanded single scenes. He gives it some air of expectancy, but this flavor eventually becomes buried in the slow resolution of tangled human relationships into a happy ending… Miss Bergman’s scenes have their own particular brand of thespian magic. On their own, they glow, but when combined with the other lengthy sequences, the effect is dulled…

…In an opening sequence, Hitchcock plants the fact that Australian aborigines shrink the heads of their victims. One hundred minutes later he uses a mummified head as the single shocker in the footage. It will cause a round of horrified gasps. In between, he is just as obvious in the development, resulting in a regrettable lack of the anticipated Hitchcock subtleties… Margaret Leighton does the housekeeper, an unrelieved heavy so obvious that the other characters should have seen through her…

…Photography is another example of Hitchcock’s bent for an extremely mobile camera, playing long scenes in one take, but the moving camera is not a substitute for the dramatic movement that would have come with crisper story-telling…” –William Brogdon (Variety, September 14, 1949)

Other critics shared Brogdon’s opinion and echoed his sentiments, and British critics followed suit. This review in The Times sums up the majority opinion:

“Miss Ingrid Bergman, Mr. Joseph Cotten, Mr. Michael Wilding, Miss Margaret Leighton, and, as director, Mr. Alfred Hitchcock — there is clearly a team here, if not of all the talents, at least of a considerable number of them; and the question is, are they going to play well together? The answer, in the end, must regretfully be that they do not… and only occasionally is Mr. Hitchcock’s cunning and dramatic hand visible in the direction. The colour, especially while the camera is indoors, is admirable, but Under Capricorn lasts far too long and has far too many loose ends.” –The Times (Mr. Hitchcock’s New Film, October 05, 1949)

Many critics enjoyed the film but qualified their praise by pointing out that the material wasn’t up to the director’s usual standards. Usually, these reviews credited Hitchcock and his all-star troupe of actors for elevating the material. This review published in Harrison’s Reports is a case in point:

“Lavishly produced and photographed in Technicolor, this period melodrama with psychological overtones is an impressive entertainment of its kind. The story… is not unusual, nor are the characters, with the exception of the heroine, particularly sympathetic. Yet the acting of the entire cast is so competent that one’s interest is held well. Ingrid Bergman, as the wretched dipsomaniac who is victimized by a murderous housekeeper in love with her husband, comes through with another striking performance. The story is not without its weak points, particularly in that much of the footage is given more to talk than to movement, but Alfred Hitchcock’s directorial skill manages to overcome most of the script’s deficiencies by building up situations that thrill and hold the spectator in tense suspense…” –Harrison’s Reports (September 10, 1949)

Helen Williams wrote a similarly positive review for the Yorkshire Post:

“Mr. Alfred Hitchcock has exploited to the full the dramatic possibilities of Under Capricorn, Helen Simpson’s romantic story of Australia in 1831… He is ably supported by a brilliant cast… The probabilities in this melodramatic tale may not bear analysis, but the excellence of the acting and Alfred Hitchcock’s direction carry the film to a triumphant close…” –Helen Williams (New Film by Mr. Hitchcock, Yorkshire Post, October 07, 1949)

Of course, the French critics were enamored with the film and would eventually vote Under Capricorn into a list of the ten greatest films ever made in Cahiers du Cinéma. It’s hardly one of the ten greatest films ever made. Frankly, it isn’t even one of the ten greatest films in Hitchcock’s filmography. Unlike Vertigo, few Hitchcock scholars try to elevate the film’s reputation in the public consciousness. Books covering the director’s filmography tend to see it as a forgettable blemish on the face of the director’s career, and this is actually a pretty fair assertion. Unfortunately, the scholars making these assertions don’t seem to have any real understanding as to why the film doesn’t measure up to his greatest work.

A perfect example of this appears in The Art of Alfred Hitchcock:

“…The impressive long takes that sometimes move from floor to floor, through lengthy corridors, and several rooms make this a sporadically beautiful movie, but the obsession for this technique also inspired lengthy monologues and dialogues that became perilously arid. Too often motionless, the camera seems indifferent, as if actors had to keep talking until the film ran out… This results in very talky motion picture-making without a prevalent viewpoint. The conversation simply isn’t engaging or suspenseful, and the lack of cutting short-circuits tension and necessary visual narrative rhythm.” –Donald Spoto (The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, 1976)

Spoto makes the mistake of assuming that the lengthy monologues were inserted to cater to the director’s lengthy takes, but they really only complicated them. If one will think back to The Paradine Case (which was also adapted by James Bridie and then given another polish by Selznick), they will recall that the film had a similar tendency of employing longwinded monologues and constant dialogue. This is a characteristic of Bridies writing. Unlike Rope, Hitchcock wasn’t trying to get through an entire roll of film without cutting. He simply employed this technique when it best suited the material.

Robert A. Harris and Michael S. Lasky similarly complained in their book about the film’s excessive dialogue but do not blame the sequence shot for this weakness:

“If [Under Capricorn] proved anything, it was that Hitchcock was literally making ‘talkies.’ Ostensibly [it] is a costume epic with a suspenseful side story. It was Hitchcock in a terrain in which he did not belong… The plot of the film was as uninspiring as [the] nearly two hours of dialogue.” –Robert A. Harris & Michael S. Lasky (The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, 1976)

Patrick Humphries doesn’t elaborate on the film’s weaknesses, but he makes it clear that his opinion follows suit:

“At best Under Capricorn is an unholy cross between Jane Eyre and Rebecca, with the three witches from Macbeth thrown into the kitchen for good measure. At its worst, it is a turgid historical potboiler.” –Patrick Humphries (The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, 1986)

Stephen Whitty goes even further in his condemnation of the film:

“…The production design is cheap and unconvincing—the Flusky mansion a more-than-usually obvious matte painting, the waterfront and pier a cramped mock-up—and although Bergman is given a nice, dramatic entrance, there’s no standout sequence or memorable moment. It’s the sort of picture that Hitchcock always said he hated—pictures of people talking—and it marks the lowest point in a dull period of halfhearted efforts that stretched from The Paradine Case to Stage Fright.” –Stephen Whitty (The Alfred Hitchcock Encyclopedia, 2016)

Surprisingly, Ken Mogg seemed to disagree in his analysis of the film and gives it his enthusiastic praise:

Under Capricorn is one of several Hitchcock films of the late 1940s and 1950s that pleased few people at the time, but now seem full of interest… The result is a moody, stylized film where people talk endlessly while their real points stay unspoken. A key line is given to Flusky, who complains about the unfeeling legal process, which goes ‘on and on and on.’ The line is significant because beyond all the legality—and the talk—lies hope of something else, a return to a lost paradise. Under Capricorn may be Hitchcock’s finest film to explore that theme… [It] is more than a key Hitchcock film: it is one of his most lovely pictures. Its fluid design suggests life itself, sometimes wasting, sometimes being savored.” –Ken Mogg (The Alfred Hitchcock Story, 1999)

The truth—as is often the case—lies somewhere between these two extremes. Some films are neither brilliant nor terrible, but Under Capricorn was certainly a failure in the mind of its director, and Hitchcock’s tendency to adopt the prevailing critical opinion of his films has poisoned objective reevaluation.

FINAL ANALYSIS

“I made Under Capricorn because I wanted to apply the concepts of Rope to a different sort of story to see what that would yield.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Interview with Alfred Hitchcock, Cahiers du Cinéma, February 1955)

Obviously, many scholars seem to believe that the failure of Under Capricorn was due to the fact that Hitchcock insisted on carrying over the sequence shots he utilized in Rope, and these people aren’t thinking past the semi-formed opinions of other critics that plagued newspapers and magazines in 1948 when the film was released. The fact is that his approach to Under Capricorn is fundamentally different than the technique used in Rope, because: a.) This film wasn’t shot to look as if it was shot in real time, b.) Under Capricorn includes traditional cutting in conjunction with sequence shots while Rope consists only of sequence shots, and c.) it doesn’t make any effort to camouflage the film’s edits.

In short, the technique used in Capricorn is a refinement of the experiment that he used for Rope. He is searching for the proper equilibrium between two opposing techniques and some of the director’s future work proves that he found it (even if it wasn’t perfected in this particular film). Hitchcock realized that there were flaws in his approach to Rope and is testing the sequence shot as an added tool to use in conjunction with other techniques. One can see a difference in his aesthetic before he made the two Transatlantic films and those that he made after them. He grew from these experiments and never completely abandoned the sequence shot. He confessed that he still admired the technique in a 1955 interview with Cahiers du Cinéma and this won’t come as a surprise to those who truly pay attention to his later work.

“Certain people thought it was a mistake and that it wasn’t truly cinema. Yet it’s pure cinema because you must do the editing in your head in advance. Then the movement between the scenes is made continuous by the movement of the actors, not of the camera alone, but of the actors and the camera together. Thus the camera roams about while the actors change positions, and together they establish various framed compositions. In my opinion, it’s a purer cinema but not enough people agreed.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Interview with Alfred Hitchcock, Cahiers du Cinéma, February 1955)

This is an important point that seems to be lost on most critics and scholars. Hitchcock incorporates a wide array of shots into these long takes. The wide master, the two shot, the close-up, the extreme close-up, and the insert shot are all utilized. It isn’t as if he were simply pointing the camera at the actors and allowing the scenes to play out as if this were a play. What’s more, his use of this technique adds power to a number of the film’s traditional edits.

Some of the cuts in Under Capricorn are dramatic solely because they happen to follow a sequence shot. Take, for example, Bergman’s introduction. We follow Adare as he meets other guests after arriving at the party, Flusky gives instructions to Milly regarding Mrs. Flusky (which makes the viewer curious about her), and the men finally sit down to enjoy a meal and say grace. Soon the guests notice something that is happening just outside the scope of the frame, and Flusky notices their attention and nervously begins turning his head to see what has captured their gaze. We then cut to Bergman’s bare feet as they move into the room and carry us back to Sam Flusky as she places her hand on his shoulders. Finally, we move to the intoxicated face of Ingrid Bergman. It’s quite the introduction.

Hitchcock never abandons his devotion to the visual in this experiment, he simply expands and adds to the language of the medium. If Under Capricorn fails, it is due to the weak script and an arguably less interesting subject. It does not stand with Alfred Hitchcock’s best films—or even his second-tier titles—but it was an essential phase in his artistic evolution. What’s more, it isn’t any worse than a number of other overwrought and syrupy costume melodramas being made at around that time. One wonders if the film wouldn’t have a different reputation if another director’s name were written on it.

SS01

The Presentation:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Kino houses their Blu-ray in a standard Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve that offers a choice of film related artwork.

Reverse Cover Artwork

The default art is taken from the film’s original American One Sheet while a more lurid foreign poster was used for the reverse as an alternative. The American one sheet is the superior choice.

Menu

In fact, Kino must agree with us on this point since it is this artwork that has been carried over for the disc’s static menu.

SS02

Picture Quality:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Kino’s 4K restoration transfer is a huge improvement over the previous DVD editions of the film, and the improvement isn’t merely due to the added resolution. However, it must be said that the final result is less that completely satisfying and will probably disappoint some collectors. This doesn’t seem to be the fault of the restoration or the transfer but is instead the unfortunate symptom of the ravages of time. Damage and debris is evident, but the most significant problem here stems from the various color elements in the Technicolor print which has resulted in slight haloing. Luckily, this never becomes distracting. In fact, most people won’t notice it and will instead pick up on the obvious improvement over earlier transfers in terms of both vibrancy and clarity. Motion is also greatly improved upon here (something especially important considering the mobile nature of the image). Best of all, we get quite a bit more information in the frame in this new transfer. This is likely the best this film is going to look on home video at this point.

SS03

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

The 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio is an admirable representation of the film’s original source elements. It doesn’t offer the dynamic sonic experience one expects from more recent films, but no one should really expect this. The film’s dialogue is well prioritized and clearly rendered and the music is given adequate room to breathe thanks to the high definition transfer. Fans should be pleased.

SS04

Special Features:

3.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Audio Commentary by Kat Ellinger

Kat Ellinger has provided commentaries for a wide variety of films in recent years. As editor-in-chief for Diabolique magazine, she has a reasonably deep well of general knowledge to aid her in this track—but those expecting any in-depth information will be somewhat disappointed. Some of her analysis is interesting enough to keep the listener engaged, but it isn’t an especially focused discussion about the film (which she insists is underrated). She has a tendency to overlook important points and there are a few questionable statements along the way. This is par for the course with third-party “scholarly commentaries.” It is nice that she has included some general information about the careers of various cast and crew, and this is really the best reason to give the track a listen.

Hitchcock/Truffaut: Icon Interviews Icon (Audio) – (12:23)

Absolutely essential is this excerpt from Alfred Hitchcock’s infamous interview with François Truffaut as it finds the director speaking candidly about Under Capricorn. Those who have already read the book won’t learn anything, but it is nice to hear the director discussing this often overlooked film. It is illustrated with a still photograph of the two filmmakers that was taken during the interview sessions in 1963.

A Cinema of Signs: Chabrol on Hitchcock – (26:42)

The disc’s best supplement is probably this half-hour program that finds Claude Chabrol discussing a variety of Hitchcock related topics, including Cahiers du Cinéma’s infamous Hitchcock issue that would help change critical opinion of Hitchcock’s work, the equally important book that he penned with Éric Rohmer (Hitchcock: The First Forty-Four Films), an analysis of a scene from Under Capricorn (which was taken from the text of this book), Truffaut’s book-length interview Hitchcock, and his own analysis of scenes from Marnie and Frenzy. Fans will find this material fascinating even if they find themselves in disagreement. It offers food for thought and is a welcome addition to Kino’s package.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:04)

While trailers for other Hitchcock titles are much more interesting and original than the rather standard approach used to market Under Capricorn, it is certainly nice to have the trailer for this film finally available on home video.

We are also given a number of other trailers, including one for Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case (1947), Bergman’s Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939), Cotton’s A Portrait of Jennie (1948), and a remake of The Lodger (1944).

SS05

Final Words:

“If I seem doomed to make only one type of picture, the movie audience is responsible. People go to one of my films expecting a thriller, and they aren’t satisfied until the thrill turns up.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Core of the Movie—The Chase, New York Times Magazine, October 29, 1950)

This quote frames our parting thoughts admirably. Those who expect a typical Hitchcockian suspense story are bound to be disappointed. Under Capricorn is probably one of the director’s five weakest American films but it certainly wasn’t a waste of his time. In fact, it was an extremely important step in Alfred Hitchcock’s creative evolution.

Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray includes the best transfer of the film currently available on home video and a very nice supplemental package.

Review by: Devon Powell

One Sheet

Source Material:

Ingrid Bergman (Ingrid Bergman Cables Story of Technique Used in ‘Under Capricorn, Toledo Blade, August 27, 1949)

Staff Writer (The Times, August 31, 1949)

Staff Writer (Harrison’s Reports, September 10, 1949)

William Brogdon (Variety, September 14, 1949)

Staff Writer (Gloucestershire Echo, September 17, 1949)

Staff Writer (Mr. Hitchcock’s New Film, The Times, October 05, 1949)

Helen Williams (New Film by Mr. Hitchcock, Yorkshire Post, October 07, 1949)

Staff Writer (Amusements: Ingrid Bergman in Australian Romance, Western Morning News, February 14, 1950)

Staff Writer (The Cinema World, Yorkshire Post, February 28, 1950)

D.J. (Derby Daily Telegraph, March 14, 1950)

David Brady (Core of the Movie—The Chase, New York Times Magazine, October 29, 1950)

François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol (Interview with Alfred Hitchcock, Cahiers du Cinéma, February 1955)

Peter Bogdanovich (The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock, 1963)

François Truffaut (Hitchcock/Truffaut, 1966)

Bryan Forbes (John Player Lecture, March 27, 1967)

Donald Spoto (The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, 1976)

Robert A. Harris & Michael S. Lasky (The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, 1976)

John Russell Taylor (Hitch: The Life and Times of Alfred Hitchcock, 1978)

Michael Haley (The Alfred Hitchcock Album, 1981)

Ingrid Bergman (My Story, Apr 01, 1983)

Patrick Humphries (The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, 1986)

Leonard Leff (Hitchcock and Selznick: The Rich and Strange Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick in Hollywood, 1987)

Sidney Gottlieb (Hitchcock on Hitchcock, 1995)

Dan Auiler (Hitchcock’s Notebooks, 1999)

Ken Mogg (The Alfred Hitchcock Story, 1999)

Bill Krohn (Hitchcock at Work, 2000)

Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)

Barton Palmer and David Boyd (Hitchcock at the Source, 2011)

Constantine Verevis (Under a Distemperate Star, Hitchcock at the Source, 2011)

Lesley L. Coffin (Hitchcock’s Stars, 2014)

Sidney Gottlieb (Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Volume 2, 2015)

Stephen Whitty (The Alfred Hitchcock Encyclopedia, 2016)

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Blu-ray Review: I Confess

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Release Date: February 16, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 01:34:27

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio:

2.0 French Dolby Digital

2.0 Spanish (Castellano) Dolby Digital

2.0 Spanish (Latino) Dolby Digital

2.0 Polish Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish (Castellano), Spanish (Latino), Czech, Polish

Ratio: 1.37:1

Notes: This title was previously released (and is still available) in a DVD edition.

Title

“I feel that both I Confess and The Wrong Man suffer from a lack of humor. The only question then is whether one should always have a sense of humor in dealing with a serious subject. It seems to me that some of my British films were too light and some of my American films were too heavy handed, but it’s the most difficult thing in the world to get just the right dosage. It’s only after the film is done that one can judge that properly.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut, 1966)

I Confess does lack the humor that is usually present in Alfred Hitchcock’s films, but this seems appropriate for the subject matter. It is based on what François Truffaut called “a very mediocre play” by Paul Anthelme entitled, “Nos Deux Consciences” (Our Two Consciences). It was a rather obscure play that was written in 1902, but it had elements that interested Hitchcock despite any dramatic weaknesses inherent in the property. Louis Verneuil was responsible for bringing the play to the director’s attention.

“Verneuil came along with this play, and I guess he must have done a good sales job, because I bought it! Now, when I buy a story, that doesn’t mean I’m taking on the theme as well. They tell me the story, and if I feel the subject is suitable and the situation lends itself to what I want, the theme of the film will be worked out later on.” –Alfred Hitchcock(Hitchcock/Truffaut, 1966)

The film was originally planned as a Transatlantic release before the production company crumbled. However, Warner Brothers bought the property from the company for Hitchcock to direct. A number of writers were courted to collaborate with Hitchcock—including Graham Greene (who couldn’t have been less interested). It seems that Victor Peers and Lesley Storm made a few early contributions to the scenario (though some of this was obviously tossed). Peers wrote a letter to Sidney Bernstein that discussed the trouble they were having with the script:

“Dear Sidney, We met last night—Hitch, Lesley Storm, Peggy Singer, and myself. Before Lesley Storm’s arrival, I sensed that Hitch wasn’t too happy with the story line, which is enclosed here. He did not care for the first scene at the Grandford home and the scene of the priest going to Malotte’s home is apparently out of the question from the Catholic point of view.

Lesley Storm, however, argued her point so well that Hitch was obviously most interested and suddenly turned to me and said that he would like her to return with him to CA and to work with him on the actual scenario…

…From my angle, Storm appears to be getting hold on the story and thinking constructively and, in clarifying the characterization, for example, she thinks that in their youth it is Ruth who is much more in love with Michel than he with her. He leans toward priesthood and it is because she is afraid that she may lose him that she gives herself to him in an effort to keep him.

It is the parents, of course, who destroy this plan.

This idea of characterization impressed Hitchcock very much indeed. The position then is that Storm will wait until the end of this week for word from you as to whether 1) she continues and 2) she goes to America.

Hitch is certainly very low in spirit… Moreover, he has been working continuously and late hours and undoubtedly needs a rest…” –Victor Peers (Letter to Sidney Bernstein – as reprinted in “Hitchcock’s Notebooks” by Dan Auiler)

It seems that Storm was discharged because she was uncommunicative with her collaborators. Hitchcock and Bernstein were left waiting to hear word from her after one of their script meetings. Storm was to work on the changes discussed in the meeting, and return a revised treatment. Weeks passed without any word from her.

Paul Vincent Carroll also worked on the project for a short time before Hitchcock finally commissioned George Tabori to collaborate with him. He got along quite well with Hitchcock during their collaboration, and the resulting screenplay seemed to satisfy both Hitchcock and Tabori. The script was a lot darker than the final film, and it had a number of controversial elements that were just begging to be eradicated by someone—be it the studio or the Catholic Legion of Decency. The screenplay ended with Father Logan being hanged for Keller’s crime (and only after his death was his innocence established). What’s more, the backstory involved an illegitimate child that Father Logan doesn’t know about! As anyone can guess, censorship won the day. Somehow, though, Tabori was bemused when changes had to be made. Actually, Hitchcock scholarship seems equally bemused. It seems that there are various opinions as to who censored the film.

Some scholars believe that the Catholic Church was responsible for the changes:

“…There was a hitch when Catholic authorities saw George Tabori’s original script and stopped all use of their churches in the city, because in the original draft Clift’s character was found guilty. Rather than fight the Catholic fathers, Hitchcock instructed Tabori to alter his script. Tabori later recalled, ‘I felt betrayed. I walked out in the middle of a story conference with the excuse of having to take a leak, went straight for the airport, to New York City, and never came back.’ Unworried, Hitchcock simply commissioned William Archibald to alter the script to his satisfaction.” –Patrick Humphries (The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, 1986)

This version of events doesn’t seem entirely out of the realm of possibility, but there are those who insist that Warner Brothers was responsible for the alterations to the script:

“Bernstein took the lead in talks with religious authorities, seeking their approval; and surprisingly the Canadian Church found I Confess profoundly catholic—for the priest, in spite of his illegitimate child and execution, was greatly ennobled by the script. The Transatlantic partners wisely employed a local priest with a doctorate in theology, Father La Couline bridged the discussions with the Church, reading the script to authenticate the ecclesiastical reality and recommending trims to avoid censorship.

It was Warner Bros. that finally rebelled. For years Hitchcock had staved off the studio’s nervousness, hoping somehow to slip his ideas onto the screen. But as the midsummer start of filming loomed, Hitchcock was forced to circulate the latest script by Tabori, and studio officials were shocked to discover that the wrong-man priest still had an illegitimate child in the story—and still was destined to be executed at the end of the film. In late April, the studio put its foot down: it couldn’t produce such a film, which was bound to provoke an overwhelming outcry in America.” –Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)

Some combination of both of these stories is probably true. Either way, it is certainly clear that Hitchcock was forced to change the script (and the director was probably even more disappointed than Tabori). This change altered what was originally a perfect allegory, although the similarities to the story of Christ are still quite obvious in the final film.

Archibald would be the final writer to work on the film, but there is ample evidence to suggest that Alma Hitchcock worked on the script along with the famed director and his writing team. In the end credit was given to Tabori and Archibald for the compromised final version of the screenplay. Of course, the script was simply one of many compromises concerning I Confess that would be forced upon Hitchcock before production commenced. One of the largest compromises concerned the casting of an actress to portray Ruth Grandfort. Jennifer Jones was discussed and the idea tossed before Hitchcock settled on his choice—and his choice wasn’t Anne Baxter.

Anne Baxter Publicity Photograph for I CONFESS

This is a publicity photograph of Anne Baxter that was used to promote “I CONFESS.” The actress was not Alfred Hitchcock’s preferred choice.

“I didn’t want Anne Baxter to play the feminine lead; I wanted Anita Bjork, who had played Miss Julie, However, Warner Brothers decided against her, sent Anita Bjork back to her fiords, and I was informed by a phone call that Anne Baxter had been assigned to the picture. I met her for the first time a week before the shooting, in a dining room of Quebec’s Hôtel Château Frontenac. When you compare Anita Bjork and Anne Baxter, wouldn’t you say that was a pretty awkward substitution?” –Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut, 1966)

The reason for Bjork’s dismissal is that she showed up with her lover and illegitimate child, and Warner Brothers didn’t want a scandal on their hands. (The Ingrid Bergman – Roberto Rossellini scandal was fresh in Hollywood’s mind.) Whatever one might think about Anne Baxter’s performance, we will agree that she doesn’t have quite the same qualities as Anita Bjork. It is difficult to believe that she is a part of Quebec society. Perhaps Hitchcock’s disappointment was palpable, because Baxter seemed to feel somewhat rejected by what she considered the director’s apathetic treatment of her. The director dyed the actress’s hair blonde and altered Bjork’s wardrobe to fit Baxter, but he was unable to turn her into a convincing Quebecer.

Anita Bjork (originally cast)

Alfred Hitchcock had originally cast Anita Bjork as his female lead. She was replaced, because Warner Brothers feared a scandal.

Many actors were discussed as being suitable to play the role of the tortured Father Logan (including James Stewart and Laurence Olivier), but it is difficult to picture anyone other than Montgomery Clift in this particular role. Of course, the process of actually working with Clift was not without its problems. The actor had many personal demons and a habit of trying to drown them in a bottle (or with narcotics). His neurosis were certainly problematic on the set of I Confess, and his particular working methods were at odds with Hitchcock’s.

“…Hitchcock had problems communicating with Montgomery Clift, who was then at the apogee of his career and steeped in the Method school of acting which was just manifesting itself in Hollywood… After Brando, Clift and James Dean were the foremost exponents of the method, which primarily meant that the actor got inside his character, and concentrated on motivation and background to deliver a fully rounded portrayal of the person, not just as the camera caught him for a specific scene, but where he had come from, where he was going, what impelled him to be there – the very antithesis of Hitchcock’s methods. Clift’s biographer, Robert LaGuardia, wrote that Hitchcock ‘simply couldn’t understand the fanatical intensity of Monty. He complained constantly about ‘all that preparation … Over and Over, Hitch had to stop and explain to Monty why, at the end of a certain scene he had to look up at a church or suddenly turn around. He wasn’t used to having to explain to his actors that he intended to edit in a shot of a clanging bell or some such event.’ The contrast between actor and director manifested itself early in the shooting, when blue-eyed Clift insisted on wearing brown contact lenses because the script stated that Father Logan’s eyes were brown. Hitchcock found this totally incomprehensible, not least because I Confess was shot in black and white.” –Patrick Humphries (The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, 1986)

I Confess - Montgomery Clift and the Method

Montgomery Clift’s method acting sometimes conflicted with Alfred Hitchcock’s cinematic style. The actor had trouble looking up so that Hitchcock could cut to his perspective during this series of shots.

Hitchcock’s efforts certainly weren’t in vain. Clift really adored the script—the original script that ended in the Father Logan’s unjust execution. He began preparing for the role with enthusiasm and spent a week doing research in a monastery before filming. Unfortunately, he was less enthusiastic about the changes that had been made to the script when he arrived in New York for his camera tests. He was at least in agreement with his director on this issue (not that it did either one of them any good).

There were other minor issues concerning Montgomery Clift that perturbed Hitchcock, but none that caused the director any real aggravation.

“Clift had his drama coach, Mira Rostova, close by at all times; she had been made part of his contract, and was umbilically attached to his performance. Rostova rehearsed with the sensitive actor daily, and then stood just out of sight whenever cameras rolled. Clift waited for her nod of approval, not Hitchcock’s, before moving on. [Karl] Malden thought that Rostova’s presence created ‘a deep division and tension’ on the set, a gulf between the star and the director—but if so it remained a largely unspoken gulf. Hitchcock left Clift and Rostova alone… If anything, Hitchcock was extraordinarily patient, exceptionally polite, as he went about collecting his shots and angles.

The director realized that, if anything, Rostova helped the production by soothing Clift’s wounded psyche. Although Hitchcock dubbed her the ‘little pigeon,’ he treated the drama coach with elaborate courtesy, and made a point of including her in the cast dinners he hosted at the Château Frontenac in August and September, and later at Bellagio road.” –Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)

Chances are that Rostova’s presence was a larger thorn in Malden’s side than in Hitchcock’s. The actor felt that Clift and his coach were somehow conspiring against him. It is impossible to know whether or not this is the case, but the two friends had a cooler relationship on the set that was usual. Perhaps this is “the method” at play once again. After all, their characters were against one another in the film. In any case, Clift’s performance is extraordinary (even if several critics denigrated his performance upon the film’s release).

He seemed to embody the character of Father Logan. He is an actor that always seems to be hiding secret emotional wounds, and this characteristic was particularly appropriate for this role. Clift’s priest quietly carries his burden with a grace and dignity that should endear him to audiences. Truffaut pointed out that Father Logan is constantly in forward motion. This motion is part of the film’s design and illustrates visually the character’s integrity. It is impossible to think of any other actor pulling this off quite as effectively.

Hitchcock was always one to fill the frame with rich detail, but this fact has never been more evident that it is when one watches I Confess. Hitchcock even explained to one of the extras precisely how he wanted her to eat an apple in an angry mob scene. This is a detail that might very well be missed by casual viewers, but these small details were important to Hitchcock. Of course, most of the visuals fit a particularly interesting design that is often discussed by scholars.

The Apple Eater

Alfred Hitchcock showed the “apple eater” exactly how he wanted her to eat the apple.

“The film is rich in religious imagery. In one shot the camera catches Father Logan walking tormented past a Church, the camera placed high above one of the Stations of the Cross, as if making the point that Father Logan too is undertaking his own journey to Calvary. The film’s opening shot is an elliptically angled view of a looming church, darkly brooding and sinister. Clift’s lonely inner struggle to sacrifice himself rather than his beliefs is contrasted with the killer’s pathetic need to confess, as if by telling of his sin his guilt will be absolved.” –Patrick Humphries (The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, 1986)

Stations of the Cross

One wonders if Humphries is mistaking Quebec’s ‘Le Château Frontenac’ for a church. If he is, this doesn’t lead one astray. The city’s churches do loom large over the film. However, none of Hitchcock’s “religious imagery” is merely imagery. It is symbolism. Let us use the same example that Humphries uses of Father Logan walking tormented past a church as he is seen through a statue of Christ carrying his cross to his own crucifixion. Isn’t Father Logan carrying his own cross to his own crucifixion—and for the very same reasons (the burden of sins that aren’t their own)! He could very well die for someone else’s sin. This is a direct parallel to the story of Christ.

If this isn’t enough, Hitchcock uses another image during the trial sequence. Father Logan is being questioned by the prosecution, and a large crucifix hangs on conspicuously on the wall above him as he is shot in profile. This reminds audiences what might potentially happen to Logan, while reminding Logan about his own beliefs. It is an effective shot. The crucifix seems to be a weight on top of the priest throughout the entire rest of the sequence.

Crucifix & Father Logan at the Trial

Another particularly interesting bit of religious imagery occurs at the very beginning of the film. We see a man exit a building in a priest’s cassock before walking down an alley. Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Burks do interesting things with composition and lighting. The scene is lit in such a way that the man’s silhouette forms a cross. This is interesting enough, but the man also casts a long shadow in the shape of an inverted cross. This tells the audience that the man is pretending to be a Holy man of God, but that his real nature is perhaps malicious. The man turns out to be Otto Keller (the film’s murderer).

Cross Image in shadow

There are many such examples in the film. When one considers the film as an allegory that mirrors Christ’s crucifixion, it becomes clear why Alfred Hitchcock and George Tabori fought for the original ending. However, many scholars and critics believe that the film’s final ending is even more appropriate. Patrick McGilligan seems to side with these critics.

I Confess smolders without ever catching fire. Hitchcock is most comfortable with the secondary characters (the Brian Aherne scenes are especially playful), the brooding Quebec City and Catholic atmosphere, [and] the dreamlike flashback. (These silent interludes, depicting the idyllic prewar romance between the priest and his girlfriend, seem almost to achieve the kind of hyperrealism Hitchcock had wanted from Salvador Dalí for Spellbound.) Perhaps the best part of I Confess is the Hitchcockian ending—‘which is liturgically and thematically right (transference of guilt healed by confession),’ in Bill Krohn’s words—although it was virtually imposed by the studio as an alternative to hanging the priest.” –Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)

Unfortunately, the film was released to somewhat disenchanted reviews. Warner Brothers made a small profit off of the film, but it was not the success that many other Hitchcock had been. Hitchcock later believed that making the film was a mistake.

“…Aside from the public, there were many of the critics who apparently felt that for a priest to guard a secret at the risk of his own life was absurd… If the basic idea is not acceptable to the public, it compromises the whole picture. And this brings up another generalization: To put a situation into a film because you yourself can vouch for its authenticity, either because you’ve experienced it or because you’ve heard of it, simply isn’t good enough. You may feel sure of yourself because you can always say, ‘This is true, [and] I’ve seen it.’ You can argue as much as you like, but the public and critics still won’t accept it… That’s the trouble with I Confess. We Catholics know that a priest cannot disclose the secret of the confessional, but the Protestants, the atheists, and the agnostics all say, ‘Ridiculous! No man would remain silent and sacrifice himself for such a thing.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut, 1966)

One shouldn’t take Hitchcock’s opinion on this particular matter as gospel. This reviewer isn’t Catholic and understood and admired the priest’s resolve regardless. It is difficult to say whether or not this was a valid argument. However, it should be said that the director was selling himself short when he went on to tell Truffaut that the film “comes under the heading of an old-fashioned plot.If anything, I Confess was years ahead of its time. One could imagine the likes of Martin Scorsese tackling just such a subject.

The critics didn’t care for the film upon its release. Variety’s staff critic did manage to summon some positive remarks about the film, but led in criticizing the film for its lack of the director’s trademark suspense.

“An interesting plot premise holds out considerable promise for this Alfred Hitchcock production, but I Confess is short of the suspense one would expect. Hitchcock used the actual streets and buildings of picturesque Quebec to film the Paul Anthelme play on which the screenplay is based…

…While Hitchcock short-changes on the expected round of suspense for which he is noted, he does bring out a number of topflight performances and gives the picture an interesting polish that is documentary at times. Clift’s ability to project mood with restrained strength is a high spot of the film, and he is believable as the young priest. Physically, he doesn’t have as mature an appearance as the role opposite Baxter calls for, but otherwise, his work is flawless.” –Variety (December 31, 1952)

Other critics were less kind to I Confess. It is evident that Bosley Crowther was too wrapped up in his personal expectations about what an Alfred Hitchcock should be to appreciate the dark story that the director had to offer. His review in the New York Times betrays a shallow mind that is nearly incapable of forward thinking. His review attacks everything from the script to Montgomery Clift’s wonderful performance. I suppose that the actor’s subtleties were lost on critics in 1953.

“Alfred Hitchcock’s famous talent for brewing a mood of fine suspense with clever direction and cutting is spent on a nigh suspense-less script in I Confess, his latest picture for Warners… And even though moments in the picture do have some tension and power, and the whole thing is scrupulously acted by a tightly professional cast, the consequence is an entertainment that tends to drag, sag and generally grow dull. It is not the sort of entertainment that one hopefully expects of ‘Hitch.’

The trouble, of course, is that the audience is told near the start of the film that the hero is not guilty of the murder with which he is subsequently charged. The murderer, we know, is a fellow who confesses his act right away to the irreproachable hero, a Roman Catholic priest. And the issue is in the dilemma of the priest, when suspicion falls on him and he is unable to clear himself in a jiffy because he is bound to silence by what is known as ‘the seal of the confessional.’

This makes for a nervous situation that George Tabori and William Archibald have prolonged through a considerable amount of incidental plotting in their obviously padded script. They have ominously piled against their hero so much heavy circumstantial evidence that it seems he can never get around it and avoid the penalty of loyalty to a creed. But only the most credulous patron will be worried for very long that the hero will not be delivered from his dilemma by some saving grace. And this realization well unburdens the situation of any real suspense… In short, the plotting of the story through its long middle section is dull.

Finally, the off-beat possibility of making something of the anguish of the priest in this unhappy situation is not only missed in the script but it is barely realized and suggested in the performance of Montgomery Clift. Under Mr. Hitchcock’s direction, Mr. Clift rather walks through the role with a slightly bewildered expression and a monotonously taciturn air. He seems neither tormented nor frightened—nor, for that matter, really to care.

As the matronly lady of the old romance, Anne Baxter gives an eloquent show of feeling sorry for herself and breathing heavily, but the ease with which she abandons both and resumes a dutiful attitude toward her husband (Roger Dann) is a bit disheartening. Karl Maiden as a stubborn detective, Brian Aherne as a prosecutor, O. E. Hasse as the twitching murderer and Dolly Haas as his wife are all good.

And, of course, Mr. Hitchcock does manage to inject little glints of imagery and invent little twists of construction that give the film the smooth, neat glitter of his style. Shot on location in Quebec, it has a certain atmospheric flavor, too. But it never gets up and goes places. It just ambles and drones along. Bosley Crowther (New York Times, March 23, 1953)

Well, we will admit that Mr. Crowther should know quite a bit about ambling and droning along if his reviews are any indication. This particular reviewer has never cared for him, so it is probably better to keep my commentary to myself. It would be highly biased. In any case, the film was met with similar criticisms in Hitchcock’s native London.

This film is directed by Mr. Alfred Hitchcock and it lacks two things normally connected with his name and work -first, that moment when he springs a surprise on the audience, a respectable man, as it were, suddenly rounding on a friend with a drawn revolver, and, secondly, the careful building up of suspense. Suspense, in a measure, there certainly is, and Mr. Hitchcock loses no time in making it clear what form it will take, but it is suspense without its mainspring…

…The wisdom of introducing, a sacred subject into a ‘thriller’ is dubious, and the film seems conscious of disturbance and disharmony at the centre of balance. A conventional chase through a luxury hotel is an admission of the failure of the original idea to survive intact, and never does Mr. Clift suggest a man in any touch with the things of the spirit…” –The Times (April 20, 1953)

Opinion hadn’t changed a great deal when Robert A. Harris and Michael S. Lasky wrote The Films of Alfred Hitchcock in 1976. Instead of reanalyzing the film for a new generation, Harris and Lasky adopted Alfred Hitchcock’s apathetic attitude towards the film.

“The screenplay adaptation was somber and lacked the subtle humor found in most Hitchcock films. The result is that the story is both frustrating and tedious… Of course, the entire premise upon which the film rests is that a priest’s first obligation is to God and the holy vows of the church. It is precisely this concept that annoyed non-Catholic viewers. ‘Why wouldn’t he just speak up to save his life?’ is the question.” –Robert A. Harris & Michael S. Lasky (The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, 1976)

One can wrap their minds around the director’s attitude towards the film. After all, it doesn’t represent his original vision. It is sometimes difficult for an artist to see beyond his own compromises. Actually, the film was further compromised in Quebec after the film was released. The Legion of Decency slapped it with a rating of ‘Morally Objectionable for Adults’ despite the fact that the Catholic press raved about the film. As a result, Quebec’s Censor Bureau insisted on cutting three minutes out of Anne Baxter’s flashback story. These little aggravations tend to add up in one’s mind. It probably became quite difficult for Hitchcock to look at I Confess in the proper perspective.

In the end, I Confess is another dark and deliberately paced Hitchcock offering. While it isn’t perhaps at the same level as other underappreciated works (such as The Wrong Man), it’s probably even more fascinating. It is certainly rich in subtext and one’s experience is enhanced exponentially with each viewing.

Confession - Father Logan 2

The Presentation:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

The disc is protected in a standard Blu-ray case with film related artwork. This artwork seems to utilize vintage promotional material (though it isn’t the same artwork used for the film’s original one sheet). It really looks quite fabulous!

The menu utilizes the same art that is on the cover, and it is accompanied by an excerpt from Dimitri Tiomkin’s score.

Menu

All of this makes for a presentation that is much better than what one usually expects with home video releases (especially for older catalogue titles).

Confession - Otto Keller

Picture Quality: 

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins 

This is an incredibly gorgeous transfer of I Confess. Fine detail that went unseen in the previous DVD release of the film can now be admired in all its intended glory. Contrast is also wonderfully rich with deep blacks that never seem to crush detail. The film has a noir-esque quality that demands well rendered blacks with a sharp rendering of all the shades of gray that lies in between the lightest and darkest areas of the frame. It is nice to see that the transfer doesn’t disappoint on this issue. There is a healthy layer of grain that betrays the film’s celluloid source, but many film buffs will see this as a good thing. It is certainly preferable to overzealous DNR. There doesn’t seem to be any distracting digital anomalies that could be distracting to the viewer. This is a truly lovely transfer.

Otto Confesses to Alma

Sound Quality: 

4 of 5 MacGuffins 

The English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is surprisingly clean for a film released in 1953. Dialogue is consistently crisp and clear, and this is married with well rendered ambience and intelligible sound effects. This is important, because Alfred Hitchcock uses sound in very interesting ways. The sounds are realistic and draw viewers into the film. Dimitri Tiomkin’s score is given adequate room to breathe for a 2.0 mix, but one must qualify this statement to indicate that one must consider when the film was shot. This isn’t the sort of dynamic track that one might expect to find on a Blu-ray release of a contemporary film. It is simply a faithful rendering of the film’s source elements.

Anne Baxter as Ruth

Special Features:

3 of 5 MacGuffins

Hitchcock’s Confession: A Look at ‘I Confess’ – (SD) – (20:39)

Laurent Bouzereau provides another quasi “making of” documentary that provides more commentary than actual “making of” information (although one can see a small amount of rare color “behind the scenes” footage of the cast and crew shooting the dream sequence). Pat Hitchcock even shares some brief memories about visiting the production in Quebec. However, this is really more of an appreciation of the film that slowly turns into a love letter to the late Montgomery Clift. Jack Larson (a friend of Clift’s) shares information about his friend’s experiences on the film as the other participants celebrate his performance. It is always engaging and certainly appreciated, and the generalized critical commentary by Peter Bogdanovich, Bill Krohn, Richard Schickel, and Robert Osborne might enrich the casual viewer’s appreciation of the film. It is certainly worth the viewer’s time.

Gala Canadian Premiere for ‘I Confess’ – (SD) – (00:56)

Warner Brothers also includes a vintage newsreel about the Canadian premiere of the film. One can see Alfred Hitchcock and Anne Baxter arriving at two different premieres. It is obviously a piece of vintage promotional fluff, but the vintage nature of the piece makes this a rather interesting addition to the disc.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:47)

The trailer is also happily included on the disc. This is a rather typical example of trailers from this era, but many will be interested to see how the marketing department attempted to sell this film to audiences.

Father Logan

Final Words:

I Confess is for audiences with a predilection for dark allegorical mood pieces. While it isn’t a typical Hitchcock offering, it is well worth one’s time. Warner Brother’s new Blu-ray release is the perfect way to view the film on one’s home entertainment system.

Review by: Devon Powell

Father Logan - Otto Keller's Final Confession

Source Material:

Staff Writer (Variety, December 31, 1952)

Bosley Crowther (New York Times, March 23, 1953)

Staff Writer (The Times, April 20, 1953)

Peter Bogdanovich (The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock, 1963)

François Truffaut (Hitchcock/Truffaut, 1966)

Robert A. Harris & Michael S. Lasky (The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, 1976)

John Russell Taylor (Hitch: The Life and Times of Alfred Hitchcock, 1978)

Michael Haley (The Hitchcock Album, 1981)

Patrick Humphries (The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, 1986)

Dan Auiler (Hitchcock’s Notebooks, 1999)

Ken Mogg (The Alfred Hitchcock Story, 1999)

Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)

Lesley L. Coffin (Hitchcock’s Stars, 2014)

Blu-ray Review: Rope

Cover

Distributor: Universal Studios

Release Date: 04/Jun/2013

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:20:48

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 24-bit)

Alternate Audio: French Mono DTS Audio

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Ratio: 1.35:1

Bitrate: 32 Mbps

Notes: This title has had a number of DVD releases and is also available on Blu-ray as part of a boxed set entitled The Masterpiece Collection. The transfer used for the boxed set is the same one that is included here and the disc includes the same special features. The artwork on the actual disc is the only thing different about this release.

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“…I abandoned pure cinema in an effort to make the stage play mobile. With a flowing camera, the film played in its own time. There were no dissolves [and] no time-lapses in it. It was continuous action and I thought it also ought to have a continuous flow of camera narrative as well. I think it was an error technically, because one abandoned pure cinema for it. But when you take a stage play in one room, it is very hard to cut it up.” –Alfred Hitchcock

One cannot blame Alfred Hitchcock for feeling experimental after being under contract to David O. Selznick. The director had already established a production company with Sidney Bernstein called Transatlantic Pictures in anticipation of his emancipation from Selznick. Rope ended up being the first of two films made for Transatlantic before the company was dissolved.

In a Popular Photography article that was published in November of 1948, the director explains his reasoning behind shooting the film in long uninterrupted takes:

“A long time ago I said that I would like to film in two hours a fictional story that actually happens in two hours. I wanted to do a picture with no time lapses — a picture in which the camera never stops.

In Rope I got my wish. It was a picture unlike any other I’ve ever directed. True, I had experimented with a roving camera in isolated sequences in such films as Spellbound, Notorious, and The Paradine Case. But until Rope came along, I had been unable to give full rein to my notion that a camera could photograph one complete reel at a time, gobbling up 11 pages of dialogue on each shot, devouring action like a giant steam shovel.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Popular Photography)

These uninterrupted takes are the focus of a lot of debate and is the primary focus of nearly everything that is written about the film (and for good reason). It was a first in cinema. An accomplished director was essentially risking his future success in order to advance his art and his understanding of cinema (even if he did not realize it). The production wouldn’t be an easy one. Even the subject matter was risky! The script needed special handling in order to get the unusual content past the censors.

To help him adapt Patrick Hamilton’s play into a usable screenplay (where the action is moved from London to New York City), the director chose his friend Hume Cronym. Changes were made from the original play. For example, the theatrical tickets that provided an essential clue in the play were omitted in favor of initials in a hat that does not fit Rupert’s head. Characters from the play were also omitted (or traded in for new characters) and names were changed. Once a treatment was written, Hitchcock was ready to work on the screenplay:

“Broadway playwright Arthur Laurents wrote the screenplay, the first time a scenario was written without time lapses. Laurents’ scenes were unnumbered and there was almost no camera direction, merely indications of the changing camera position at major points throughout the story.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Popular Photography)

Laurents would combine dialogue from the play with his own dialogue. His script handled the subtext of homosexuality extremely carefully in order to appease the censors. However, the censors would not be Hitchcock’s largest obstacle. His new method of shooting would require a set that would accommodate his huge Technicolor camera.

Set Drawing

Surprisingly, the apartment itself was the least of his worries. The New York skyline that can be seen from the apartment window also created challenges, and these challenges only stimulated the director’s excitement for the project.

…The most magical of all the devices was the cyclorama — an exact miniature reproduction of nearly 35 miles of New York skyline lighted by 8,000 incandescent bulbs and 200 neon signs requiring 150 transformers.

On film the miniature looks exactly like Manhattan at night as it would appear from the window of an apartment at 54th Street and First Avenue, the locale of the play. And since all the major action of Rope takes place in the living room of this apartment, with the spectators constantly viewing the background, it was impossible to use process shots or a backdrop. Both would have been too flat. We had to remember the core of the arc of view. So we had to employ the scale cyclorama and devise a “light organ” that not only would light the miniature and its panorama of buildings, but also could give us changing sky and cloud effects varying from sunset to dark — all seen from the apartment — to denote the passing of time…

…That electrician who sat high on a parallel behind the camera manipulating the light organ controlled the lighting of the miniature like an artist at a console. He could illuminate an entire building or just one window at a time. He could, at the exact and rehearsed line of dialogue which gave him his cue, flood the Manhattan skyline with light from 200 miniature neon signs. By the time the picture went from the setting of the sun in the first reel to the hour of total darkness in the final denouement, the man at the light organ had played a nocturnal Manhattan symphony in light…”  -Alfred Hitchcock (Popular Photography)

Some of the director’s lighting issues were solved by a surprising source:

“There was one rather knotty problem that Jimmy Stewart, recalling his experiences in the Air Force, helped us solve. In the final moments of the story when the body is discovered and the killers are trapped, the apartment living room is flooded at intervals by great pulsations of light from a huge neon “Storage” sign just outside the window. I wanted the effect to add dramatic tension, much like the increasing crescendos of an orchestra at the climax of a symphony.

But for a while our electrical experts were stumped. They knew that in order to get enough light into the room during the sign’s pulsations, huge arc lights would have to be hooked up on a special parallel with the actual sign – then synchronized. Then Stewart thought of the bomb release switch used in heavy bombers during the war. This switch controlled electrically the split second intervals during which bombs were dropped over the target. So we bought a bomb release at a war surplus store, adjusted it to synchronize the alternate flashing of the neon “Storage” sign with the opening and closing of these shutters on the three huge floodlights, and got exactly the effect we wanted.

Those 200 miniature neon signs in the New York skyline cyclorama helped me solve a little problem of my own. It’s traditional, with me at least, that I appear fleetingly in every one of my pictures. But Rope, with a cast of only nine people who never leave the apartment, looked like the end of the Hitchcock tradition. There was just no way that I could get into the act.

Then someone came up with a solution. The result? The Hitchcock countenance will appear in a neon ‘Reduco’ sign on the side of a miniature building!” –Alfred Hitchcock (Popular Photography)

Hitchcock Posing with Rope's Clouds

Even the clouds that were seen through the window managed to create problems:

“Searching for what I demanded in a natural-seeming sky, I rejected the two routine methods of getting clouds. We could have painted them on the cyclorama, or we could have projected the clouds on the backdrop by means of painted lantern slides. But we did neither. I wanted the clouds to look like clouds even from ten feet away.

It was Fred Ahern, our production manager, who found the solution to the puzzle. Ahern came up with the perfect light-reflecting substance — spun glass. (Cotton wouldn’t do because it soaks up and deadens light.) Five hundred pounds of spun glass were woven by scenic artists into chicken wire molds. Then actual clouds were photographed in all kinds of weather. We discovered that clouds are never the same even when the weather is constant, and it makes no difference what shape they are. Finally we decided on the cumulus or storm cloud, because it is white and fleecy before it turns gray and formidable. Every possible shaped cloud was created out of spun glass: wispy and full; fragile and menacing, circular and long.

Rope shows eight complete cloud changes during its nine reels. (The spun glass clouds were hung on standards and on overhead wires behind the buildings in the cyclorama – then slightly varied after each reel.) As a final check on our meteorology, we asked Dr. Dinsmore Alter of the famed Griffith Observatory for his opinion…” -Alfred Hitchcock (Popular Photography)

Set Drawing full article

The set for the apartment itself was so unusual that Look’s review of the film included a diagram of the apartment set:

“Naturally, in rolling a camera back and forth in a three-room apartment for 10 minutes without a halt (from living room to kitchen and back) we had to have a collapsible apartment. Actually, the basic element was the series of wild walls. (“Wild” is a term used to designate moveable or detachable flats.) In Rope the walls were quite literally wild. They rolled on overhead tracks heavily greased with Vaseline to soundproof the skids. A separate crew stood by to roll each wall at a given cue, admitting the camera when the actors had gone through the door. When the players returned in the same shot, the wall closed and the Technicolor camera dollied back to pick up a new angle during the split second needed to make the room solid again.” -Alfred Hitchcock (Popular Photography)

Obviously, the shooting required an unbelievable amount of planning. There were many technical considerations to consider before production could commence. Hitchcock usually preferred the 50mm lens, but Rope required a different approach:

“Joe Valentine and I decided that one lens — a 35 mm — would give us all the coverage we needed, since it would be impossible to change lenses because of the continuous camera movement. Paul Hill, our Technicolor consultant, solved the problem of parallax, successfully modifying the camera for close-ups so that we could move in close enough to shoot the inside of a man’s hat and the label on a hatband. And instead of following the camera with a mike boom, which would have created an insurmountable problem, we decided that the simplest solution was not to follow it. Instead, we set up four separate booms and two additional microphones up high. Operated by six sound men, these mikes picked up dialogue anywhere the camera wandered within the three-room apartment.” -Alfred Hitchcock (Popular Photography)

Despite this new method of recording the dialogue, getting usable sound was one of the more difficult aspects of the production. James Stewart elaborated about the sound issues in an interview with Donald Spoto:

“We had a lot of rehearsal, but the noise of the moving walls was a problem, and so we had to do the whole thing over again for sound, with just the microphones, like a radio play. The dialogue track was then added later.” –James Stewart (The Dark Side of Genius: The Life and Times of Alfred Hitchcock)

In addition to the dialogue, Hitchcock was able to achieve an incredibly realistic ambience that featured the life of New York’s street life in the distance. This also posed a challenge for the director:

“I made them put a microphone six stories high and I gathered a group of people below on the sidewalk and had them talk about the shots. As for the police siren, they told me they had one in the sound library. I asked them, ‘How are you going to give the impression of distance?’ and they answered, ‘We’ll make it soft at first, and then we’ll bring it up loud.” But, I didn’t want it done that way. I made them get an ambulance with a siren. We placed the microphone at the studio gate and sent the ambulance two miles away and that’s the way we made the soundtrack.” – Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

Music was also handled in an unusual manner. David Buttolph was the unaccredited composer of music heard in the film’s opening and closing credits, but only diegetic music is heard throughout the rest of the film. Therefore, we only hear music when Philip (Farley Granger) is seen playing Poulenc’s Perpetual Motion on the piano. One might notice that the title of the piece of music is rather revealing. The camera and the characters are almost always in motion, as are the minds of the two murderers and their guests.

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None of these challenges seem to compare to the obvious challenge of actually shooting the film. In order for all of these elements to come together, actors and crew members would have to do their jobs perfectly for ten minute stretches. This required an extended rehearsal period:

“Instead of reading the script through once or twice, the cast spent two weeks walking through the action from the beginning to the end, much like a stage play. Remember we weren’t shooting just a line at a time, nor shifting our camera setup after a one-minute take. There were ten to eleven pages of dialogue on each shot. Actually, for the camera rehearsals we used no stand-ins as such. The stars themselves acted as puppets for the camera. After the camera movement rehearsals there were intensive dress rehearsals, when everyone’s job, from script supervisor to prop man, was coordinated… The maximum number of takes on any single reel was six and the minimum was three.” -Alfred Hitchcock (Popular Photography)

The rehearsals were apparently not a cure all for human imperfection because Hitchcock was given a glimpse of what he was up against in the very first take:

“…I was so scared that something would go wrong that I couldn’t even look during the first take. For eight minutes of consecutive shooting everything went smoothly. Then the camera panned around as the two killers walked back toward the chest, and there, right in camera focus, was an electrician standing by the window! So the first take was ruined.” – Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

This isn’t surprising. The obstacles that the cast and crew faced seemed almost infinite. There were so many little things that could go wrong at any moment:

“…In the studio, the stage (actually a stage within a stage, made noiseless by constructing a special floor one and one-half inch above the regular one, soundproofed with layers of Celotex and carpet) was marked with numbered circles. These indicated where each specific camera stop had to be made, and when. Each camera movement — and there were as many as 30 separate ones — had its predetermined focus. Because of this the crew men operating the camera had to hit the floor markings exactly on cue and without deviations. The entire floor plan was laid out in foot squares so that in the event of retakes we could go back to the exact spot.

For the actual take the door markings were removed and plotted on a board. Holding the cue board the script supervisor signaled the camera crew on every movement during the 10-minute take. It was like one of those fabulous “Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance” triple plays. To cue each separate camera movement (and everything had to be done in utter silence) the script supervisor would check his cue board – then nod to a crew man on his left who held a long bamboo pointer. This crew man placed the end of the pointer on a predetermined spot on the floor. His action triggered Morris Rosen, the head grip, who dollied the camera to the new position, while the focus puller on the camera crane, watching his own cue sheet, simultaneously changed the focus on the camera lens…” -Alfred Hitchcock (Popular Photography)

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The camera wasn’t the only inanimate object that had to be in nearly constant motion in order to accommodate Hitchcock’s revolutionary new shooting method:

“Every piece of furniture on the stage — every table, chair, plate, dish, and drinking glass — had to be moved on cue just like the wooden chest. Once, while the characters in the play were eating a buffet supper, Joan Chandler, who played the feminine lead, had to put her wine glass down on a table. But the table was gone. Joan merely put the glass down where the table should have been, one of the crouching prop men (unseen by the camera, of course) raised his hand and Joan’s glass found a resting place in it. Another time an actor had to reach for a plate off the unseen table. Again a prop man moved in, handed the actor a plate, and the action went on. It really was uncanny.” -Alfred Hitchcock (Popular Photography)

This particular challenge was especially difficult for Dick Hogan (the actor who played David):

“…This chest with the body inside of it was always in the center of the living room — so far as the audience is aware.

Yet, actually every time the camera crossed the room the chest had to be rolled off stage just in advance of the camera crane. (We couldn’t stop to make new camera setups.) Moving the chest was the assignment of the four prop men crouched on their hands and knees beneath the camera. Not only did they have to move the chest aside on cue but they also had to get it back into the scene again as the camera returned.

And all the time the young actor who played the strangled youth had to remain inside the chest! Since there were no time lapses or camera cuts in the usual scene, he was inside the chest for a full ten minutes, the shooting of 950 feet of film. After the third take, this actor began to get, well, a little tired. ‘I hope to God they get it on this take,’ he said fervently. ‘Those ten minutes seem like ten hours.’” -Alfred Hitchcock (Popular Photography)

Hogan had it much easier than the rest of the cast. He only had to be in that trunk for one reel. The rest of the cast had to flawlessly say their lines and hit their marks for ten minutes with walls and furniture moving at random all around them. James Stewart was extremely uncomfortable with this new shooting. As a matter of fact, the process was so stressful that the actor was unable to sleep at night:

“Stewart, of course, claimed that Rope was the toughest job an actor ever had. And I agreed with him. He told me that he wasn’t sleeping nights. ‘What this means,’ Jimmy said, ‘is that if the rest of the cast is perfect and I fluff a line at, say 895 feet, it becomes the colossal fluff in screen history. The only way it can be reshot is to do the whole scene over again.’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘that’s exactly why I picked you for the lead.’

As it was, Stewart had to hang around the set 18 days before making a bona fide entrance for the rolling camera. It was the final dress rehearsal for Reel 3 in which Jimmy makes an entrance while Farley Granger is playing the piano. The piano stopped and silence ensued, as all eyes went to Stewart. He just made it into the room and was ready to open his mouth. ‘Just a minute,’ I said. ‘I’d like you to make your entrance differently.’

Jimmy punched the air in a defeated gesture. ‘Hey, look,’ he complained, ‘I’ve waited three weeks for this!’” -Alfred Hitchcock (Popular Photography)

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Of course, the films huge Technicolor cameras didn’t make the process any easier:

“Technicolor helped but it wasn’t the star of the picture. Rope, incidentally, is the first time I’ve ever directed a Technicolor picture. I never wanted to make a Technicolor picture merely for the sake of using color. I waited until I could find a story in which color could play a dramatic role, and still be muted to a low key. In Rope, sets and costumes are neutralized so that there are no glaring contrasts. The key role played by color in this film is in the background. I insisted that color be used purely as the eye received it.” -Alfred Hitchcock (Popular Photography)

If Hitchcock decided to make the film in color in order to give himself another new challenge to overcome, he succeeded admirably:

“Towards the last four or five reels, in other words, by sunset, I realized that the orange in the sun was far too strong, and on account of that we did the last five reels all over again…The cameraman on Rope [Joseph Valentine] simply said to himself, ‘Well, it’s just another sunset.’ Obviously, he hadn’t looked at one in a long time, if ever at all, and what he did was completely unacceptable; it was like a lurid postcard… After four or five days the cameraman went off ‘sick.’ So I wound up with a Technicolor consultant, and he completed the job with the help of the chief electrician.” – Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

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Obviously, there was little editing to be done on the film once the re-shoots were complete. The completed film is made up of eleven shots (if one includes the opening credits).

The following is a list of shot lengths:

Shot #1 (Opening Credits) – 02:30

Shot #2 – 09:34

Shot #3 – 07:51

Shot #4 – 07:18

Shot #5 – 07:08

Shot #6 – 09:57

Shot #7 – 07:33

Shot #8 – 07:46

Shot #9 – 10:06

Shot #10 – 04:37

Shot #11 – 05:38

One can see that the common belief that all of the shots were ten minutes long is quite untrue. It is also untrue that the director masked every cut by having someone or something pass in front of the camera. The projectors of the era only held two magazines of film at a time. It was necessary to include a traditional cut on every other reel. This reviewer feels that these traditional cuts are less noticeable than those that are masked. For better or worse, the film was finished and all the director could do at this point was hope for success. A lot was riding on the film. Transatlantic Pictures and the director’s ego were in jeopardy.

Alfred Hitchcock told Francois Truffaut that the film was well received, but a look at the major reviews written at the time of release tells a slightly different story. To say that reviews were mixed is being charitable.

Bosley Crowther’s review encapsulates the film’s critical reception nicely:

“The fondness of Alfred Hitchcock for cinematic tours de force is admirable evidence of the agility and aggressiveness of his mind. But it is also a disposition which sometimes leads him to stick out his neck and place it, professionally speaking, in positions of evident peril. It is in such a delicate position that his neck now appears to be lodged as the consequence of his having stretched it in his new film, an item called ‘Rope…’

…The novelty of the picture is not in the drama itself, it being a plainly deliberate and rather thin exercise in suspense, but merely in the method which Mr. Hitchcock has used to stretch the intended tension for the length of the little stunt. And, with due regard for his daring (and for that of Transatlantic Films), one must bluntly observe that the method is neither effective nor does it appear that it could be.

For apart from the tedium of waiting or someone to open that chest and discover the hidden body which the hosts have tucked away for the sake of a thrill, the unpunctuated flow of image becomes quite monotonous. And the effort of application to a story of meager range becomes intense. The physical limitation of the camera to one approach compels it to stay as an eavesdropper on lots of dialogue and lots of business that are dull. And the yarn, by the nature of its writing, is largely action-less…

…Also — and this may be simply a matter of personal taste – the emphasis on the macabre in this small story is frightfully intense. And it seems to this public observer that time could be better spent than by watching a waspish cocktail party in a room with a closely present corpse, placed there by a couple of young men who have killed for a thrill and nothing more…

… The use of Technicolor makes for realism in contrasting hues, but maybe the mood of this story would have come over better in black-and-white.

At all events, the picture takes on a dull tone as it goes and finally ends in a fizzle which is forecast almost from the start.” –New York Times (August 17, 1948)

The only point that this reviewer tends to agree with is that the film might have been better served by black and white photography. One assumes that the film was shot in color in order to enhance the effect of the lighting (such as the sunset outside of the window that caused so many problems during the production). Many of the major publications wrote similar reviews, but the film was able to make a minor profit. Unfortunately, the profit was not so great that it altered the opinions of John Q. Public and the film was perceived by many to be a failure. This is likely the reason that Hitchcock was so critical of the film and his methods during his 1962 interview with Francois Truffaut:

“I undertook Rope as a stunt; that’s the only way I can describe it. I really don’t know how I came to indulge in it…When I look back; I realize that it was quite nonsensical because I was breaking with my own theories on the importance of cutting and montage for the visual narration of a story.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

Truffaut recognized Hitchcock’s tendency to dismiss the projects that he perceived as failures and disagreed with the director’s dismissal of his experiment:

I don’t agree that Rope should be dismissed as a foolish experiment, particularly when you look at it in the context of your whole career: a director is tempted by the dream of linking all of a film’s components into a single, continuous action.  In this sense, it’s a positive step in your evolution.” -Francois Truffaut (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

I agree with Truffaut. Scholarly opinion seems to be split today, but one feels that Rope cannot be discounted as ‘nonsensical.’ A look at the director’s work will show that the two films made for Transatlantic served the director well. Hitchcock’s style evolved because of his approach to these films. Rope is perhaps just as essential to the development of Hitchcock’s style as his move from Britain to America.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

This disc is available as part of The Masterpiece Collection boxed set and as an individual disc.

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The Masterpiece Collection is given a tasteful book-style presentation with a page for each film that includes a folder for each disc. Some might prefer that each disc come in its own standard Blu-ray case. These folder style compartments do not always protect the discs and very often cause scratches.

The individual release presents the disc in a standard Blu-ray case with film related artwork.

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The menu on the disc contains footage from the film accompanied by music in the same style as other Universal Blu-rays.

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Picture Quality:

3.5 of 5 MacGuffins

While Universal’s 1080p transfer is certainly disappointing, it is a major improvement on previous home video releases of the film. Much of the film plays in medium or full shots, so the film benefits greatly from the added resolution. The 35mm photography is sometimes soft, but detail is often impressive in closer shots. The muted color pallet sometimes looks as if it isn’t properly represented, but this never becomes an obvious issue. There is occasional haloing and film damage is noticeable at times, but these issues are never distracting. One doubts that the film will ever look any better a home video format without a substantial amount of money being thrown into a restoration. The transfer looks much better than it has on any DVD release and fans will likely feel that it is worth upgrading to this disc.

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Sound Quality:

3.5 of 5 MacGuffins

The included two-channel DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix isn’t perfect either. Voices sometimes sound quite thin and the music tends to sound a bit muted at times. These issues never become a major problem, and dialogue is always clear and intelligible. There is little to no audible hiss to speak of either. The track will probably suit the requirements of most casual consumers.

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Special Features:

3.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Rope Unleashed – (SD) – (32 min)

Any documentary on the making of Rope is certain to be interesting. Hume Cronyn discusses adapting the play into a treatment with Hitchcock, and screenwriter Arthur Laurents discusses his work on the screenplay, as well as the rather risque subtext of homosexuality in the film. This is an extremely informative documentary and its only flaw seems to be that there isn’t more information included about the unusual method that Hitchcock employed to shoot the film.

Production Photographs – (SD)

This gallery offers promotional stills, posters, behind the scenes photographs, and lobby cards.

Trailer – (SD) – (2 min)

Rope has an extremely interesting trailer that uses very little footage from the film. Instead, we see a glimpse of David and Janet before the former’s tragic death. James Stewart then addresses the audience as he discusses the case.

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Final Words:

Fans of the master of suspense and students of cinema should not be without this film in their collection. The importance of the film makes up for the slightly disappointing transfer (which is an improvement over previous home video releases).

Review by: Devon Powell

DVD Review: Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache

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Distributor: Milestone Films

Release Date: 18/May/2010

Region:1

Length: 57 min

Video: NTSC, SD

Main Audio: French

Subtitles: English (hard coded)

Ratio: 1.33:1

Notes: These shorts are not currently released on Blu-ray in North America. They are currently only available on DVD and this disc is the only release currently in print.

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“I felt the need to make a little contribution to the war effort, and I was both overweight and overage for military service. I knew that if I did nothing, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. It was important for me to do something and also to get right into the atmosphere of war… but it wasn’t too easy to get to England in those days. I flew over in a bomber, sitting on the floor, and when we got halfway across the Atlantic, the plane had to turn back. I took another one two days later. In London, my friend Sidney Bernstein was the head of the film section of the British Ministry of information. It was at his request that I undertook two small films that were tributes to the work of the French Resistance.” -Alfred Hitchcock

In 1940, Hitchcock’s former boss, Michael Balcon, had criticized his former employee in the press. Without naming names, he made his point clear by describing a “plump young junior technician in my studios whom I promoted from department to department. Today, he is one of our most famous directors and he is in Hollywood, while we who are left behind short-handed are trying to harness the films to our great national effort.”

The criticism hurt Hitchcock, who had left the country before the London bombings in order to work for Selznick. He responded in the press, claiming that “Balcon’s view is colored by his own personal experiences with Hollywood… He’s a permanent Donald Duck… The British government has only to call upon me for my services.”

In 1943, the British government took him up on this offer. Selznick was a bit reluctant to allow his meal ticket to leave for England, but the producer eventually allowed the director to leave under the condition that he would work on the scenario for their next collaboration (which was based on Francis Beeding’s novel, “The House of Doctor Edwardes”).

The British Ministry of Information was responsible for releasing information to the public that would benefit the war effort (and suppressing any information from the British public that might damage moral). This department is responsible for several infamous  moral boosting posters, which were distributed around the country.

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Hitchcock’s shorts were to be the cinematic equivalent of these posters and the director seemed more than pleased to make them.

After his extremely uncomfortable voyage to his home country, Hitchcock was able to begin work on the shorts.

“…the idea was to show them in parts of France where the Germans were losing ground in order to help the French people appreciate the role of the Resistance.” -Alfred Hitchcock

The details of the scenarios were worked out by Hitchcock and his long-time associate, Angus McPhail in Hitchcock’s suite at Claridge’s. Bon Voyage was then scripted by Arthur Calder-Marshall and Aventure Malgache was primarily the work of J.O.C. Orton. Claude Dauphin helped the writers with the french dialogue.

Sidney Bernstein had arranged that the Molière players (a theatrical company built with exiled French actors) perform in the film. He also used actual members of the French underground. None of these actors were individually credited in the film, as it would have been extremely unsafe for them. Hitchcock elaborated on this in one of his interviews of the period:

“I had to round up every available French actor in London, but there were not enough of them. Most of the players were members of the underground and fighting French who had never had any stage or screen experience. It was incredible to find myself working with men who, only a day before, had been in Paris.” -Alfred Hitchcock

Stages for the shorts were built at the Associated British Studios at Welwyn Garden City with very little money. Hitchcock and his cinematographer, Günther Krampf, began shooting the the two shorts in extremely quick succession on January20, 1944.

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“The first short was Bon Voyage. It was a little story about an RAF man who is escorted out of France through the Resistance channels. His escort was a Polish officer. When he arrives in London, the RAF man is interrogated by an officer of the Free French Forces, who informs him that his Polish escort was really a Gestapo man. Upon that startling revelation, we go through the journey across France all over again, but this time we show all sorts of details that the young RAF man hadn’t noticed at first, various indications of the Pole’s complicity with the Gestapo detail. At the end of the story there was a twist showing how the Polish officer had been trapped. At the same time, the RAF man learned that the young French girl who’d helped them, and had spotted the Pole as a spy, had been killed by him.” -Alfred Hitchcock

What modern audiences might fail to notice, is the meticulous war-time detail given to the film. Several French Resistance members were brought in as consultants in order to make sure there were no errors in the production.

“The slightest error, they feared, might hold the picture up to ridicule… I couldn’t show a scene where cigarette butts are lying around. French audiences would simply laugh off such a preposterous sight.You must remember that where people are limited to four cigarettes a day, as they are in France now, there is no such thing as an unclaimed butt. People take a few puffs on a cigarette and stuff the but into a match box, taking it out later for another puff.” -Alfred Hitchcock

There were other such examples given as well.

“I showed a restaurant. Ordinarily, you would never think about the look of the table where a meal has been finished. But in representing a French restaurant of today, you do. There are no crusts of bread left on the table. If I permitted anything like that, it would simply mean to future French audiences that the people who made the picture didn’t know what they were doing.” -Alfred Hitchcock

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Bon Voyage has a structure somewhat like Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (and predates the film by several years). This is merely an observation and should not be interpreted as a suggestion that Kurosawa was influenced by the film in any way. As a matter of fact, there is almost no chance that he was even able to see the film. However, the story also brings to mind some of the more interesting Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes and one wonders if the short provided a blueprint for the series. 

The only certainty is that working on the short directly influenced Aventure Malgache.

“We used to work on the screenplay in my room at Claridge’s, and there was a whole group of French officers, including a certain Commander or Colonel Forestier, who never agreed with anything the others suggested. We realized that the Free French were very divided against one another, and these inner conflicts became the subject of the next film, Aventure Malgache. One of the men there was an actor and a lawyer whose Resistance name was Clarousse. He was in his late sixties, but he had lots of energy and he was always at odds with his Free French companions who finally threw him in jail, in Tananarive. It was a true story and Clarousse told it himself. But when it finished, there was some disagreement about it and I believe they decided not to release it.” -Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock’s recollection was quite accurate. The powers that be decided not to release the film. It was decided that a film showing the ineffectiveness of political squabbling didn’t make for effective propaganda during wartime. They simply weren’t interested in honesty or important sociopolitical messages. Hitchcock’s film illuminated issues that the MOI usually tried to suppress.

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The film was locked away and was actually censored by those who financed the film, calling it “inflammatory.” Bon Voyage received an extremely limited release. It was distributed in France and Belgium for a very short time. The films were eventually locked away, and they remained unseen until 1993. Today, they are seen as an important part of Alfred Hitchcock’s canon.

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The Presentation:

The disc is contained in the standard DVD case with reasonably attractive cover art. On the back there is a brief history and a summary of both shorts.

The disc includes only chapter menus.

Picture Quality:

The film is only available on DVD in North America. The image is serviceable and probably a slight improvement on Image Entertainment’s disc, which is now out of print. It is slightly disappointing that the subtitles are hard coded, but this is forgivable under the circumstances. The quality is slightly better than what one might expect from some of the public domain houses, but might not live up to some of the more impressive DVD releases that modern audiences are accustomed to.

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Sound Quality:

The disc features an adequate mono soundtrack. There is some very slight hiss, but the track is consistently clear and dialogue is always intelligible.

Special Features:

There are no special features available on this disc.

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Final Words:

In short, Milestone Films deserves praise for making otherwise unattainable films available to the public. I recommend this disc to Hitchcock fans, but hope that these films eventually receive a quality Blu-ray release.

http://www.milestonefilms.com

Review by: Devon Powell