I Confess (1953)

Montgomery Clift as Father Michael Logan in I Confess (1953)

Montgomery's Moral Dilemma

Whilst not an aficionado on Alfred Hitchcock I've seen a good percentage of his movies from many of the well known Hollywood movies to some of his lesser known pre-Hollywood movies but I am often surprised why certain movies are well known whilst others end up forgotten. Take "I Confess", I had never heard of it before and certainly wasn't aware it was an Alfred Hitchcock movie yet having watched it I find myself wondering why it has been forgotten about. I say that because firstly it is one of Hitchcock's most open movies, there is no hidden subtext and instead we have this interesting and simple moral dilemma of a priest who having heard the confession of a murderer finds himself accused of the murder and not able by church law to reveal what he knows. It is an easy to watch but no less thrilling movie with good performances, great locations and camera work yet for some reason is not so well known.

Father Michael Logan (Montgomery Clift - A Place in the Sun) comes across churchy handyman Otto Keller (O.E. Hasse) in the church late at night obviously worried about something, when Otto confesses to having murdered a man it causes Michael major concern. The man he murdered is Villette (Ovila Légaré), a man Michael knew because Villette was blackmailing Ruth Grandfort (Anne Baxter - All About Eve) who prior to his becoming a priest had been Michael's girlfriend. As Inspector Larrue (Karl Malden - The Gunfighter) investigates the murder evidence points to Michael as the murderer as the blackmail of Ruth gave him motive. The question is will Michael keep his vows and remain silent over Otto's confession or will he use it to free himself.

Karl Malden as Inspector Larrue in I Confess (1953)

So as already mentioned "I Confess" is one of Hitchcock's more open movies because there is no great subtext but an interesting moral dilemma and circumstance, that of a priest accused of a murder which he has heard a confession about. Now on the simplest level we have the dilemma facing Michael because he knows that Otto is the killer and so we are left on the edge as we wonder whether he will put his faith in God to save him or decide to break the rules of confession and use it to prove himself innocent. It is nicely worked and as the story falls into place so that circumstances point the finger of blame towards Michael you can sense the level of inner conflict Michael has as he battles his natural instinct to save himself instead of putting his trust in God.

But there is another element to this which makes "I Confess" even more interesting and that is the passing on of guilt. In the immediate scenes after Michael hears Otto's confession his mannerism changes, he becomes edgy as if in hearing the confession he has had the guilt of murder transferred to him. It is wonderfully acted and Montgomery Clift does a first rate job of bring this and all of Michael's attributes to life including his firm stance under questioning not to say anything which will break the vow he took.

On the subject of acting it has to be said that "I Confess" has some interesting characters none more so than Ruth played by Anne Baxter. Now in many a Hitchcock movie the woman would be welcoming, you could feel for her and even fall in love with her yet here there is not a great deal to like about Ruth. I don't what it is because Anne Baxter is attractive and Ruth isn't a nasty character but she lacks warmth which makes her stand offish.

What this all boils down to is that when it comes to Alfred Hitchcock thrillers "I Confess" is one of his most accessible because it isn't complex just a fascinating look at a priests moral dilemma. Why it is lesser known than other movies is beyond me because it is stylish, exciting and being easy to follow in many ways makes it a better movie.