I first watched I Confess (Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1953) years ago and despite hazy memories of it I’ve always remained a strong proponent, claiming it to be one of Hitch’s most underappreciated efforts (and I never realized I had the Nouvelle Vague critics backing me). While a second viewing wasn’t capable of erasing my original impression that the truly fascinating premise isn’t quite developed to its fullest potential, it’s actually an even stronger film than I remembered, so claustrophobic that it would be downright neurotic if it wasn’t so tightly reigned in by an overlying pious Catholic sensibility.
At first Monty Clift wasn’t nearly as effective as I remembered him, but as the film progresses and he’s called upon to do his patented wide-eyed, repressed paranoia-type of performance, he becomes more and more tightly wound that an explosion seems inevitable–which in itself adds another layer of suspense to the proceedings. On the other hand, Anne Baxter, an actress I’ve never quite developed a taste for, is actually quite good as well—not exactly a memorable Hitchcock heroine and certainly not a typical one—but she has a quality of calcified blowsiness, almost overripe to the point of beginning to give way around the edges, with only the thin varnish of social respectability preserving her. This in turn serves as a neat visual counterpoint to the angular, exceedingly beautiful Clift, whose prettiness only adds to his unearthliness.
I’m at a loss as to why Roger Dann isn’t considered one of the the great Hitchcock villains—his is one of the most sustained portraits of nastiness in the Hitchcock canon—and in what initially seems to be a rather insignificant role Dolly Haas gives a rather phenomenal, delicately shaded performance. Only the normally reliable Karl Malden disappoints—he keeps hitting the same note over and over as the blustery, bullheaded police inspector, and after a while the film screeches to a dead half any time he appears onscreen.
I’m fascinated by the assertion put forth by Truffaut that the extensive, creamy flashback sequence is unreliable (which makes sense since visually and tonally it’s jarringly out of place), which seems to indicate even more turbulence restlessly churning beneath the film’s placid surface. The more I think about it, the more I don’t know what to make of the thing—it’s really lopsided in so many ways, but the film somehow seems all the stronger because of it. Maybe what intrigues me so much is that the film doesn’t seem as firmly in its creator’s grasp as nearly every one of his other films do, especially during this period, which is in itself intriguing considering that the film hits upon and explores so many of the topics and themes we now consider so patently Hitchcockian.