For Hitchcock's more ardent admirers, "I Confess" is a misunderstood film that's been derided by less forgiving fans and critics as an overly romanticized, and melodramatic suspenser; that's the stand taken by most of the interview subjects in the solid featurette "Hitchcock's Confession: A Look at I Confess," though the group as a whole don't favour the Masterpiece label given to the film by the French New Wave critics (which can certainly be seen as a fingering against the English language critics who eschewed the Auteur Theory).
After seeing Paul Anthelme's play decades before, its clever dramatic hook remained embedded in the director's mind for decades, until the success of "Strangers On A Train" gave Hitchcock the clout to realize a feature screenplay.
The featurette largely addresses the film's position as a studio production that mixed the director's 'pure cinema' approach with Montgomery Clift's method acting. Patricia Hitchcock and others provide some amusing anecdotes to evoke the clashing of two very distinct creative styles; the resulting odd tone actually gives the film a strange dreamlike quality, further enhanced by Clift's handsome features and brilliantly emotional eyes.
Shot largely on location in Quebec City, "I Confess" is a truly gorgeous film, recalling the brooding, high-contrast cinematography of German Expressionism, and containing numerous sequences that would still function without existing narration; the first half of "I Confess" is a marvelously visual film, while the second tier recalls the extended and rather dreary courtroom arguments of "The Parradine Case."
Warner Bros' DVD offers a really nice transfer for the dark film, and Dimitri Tiomkin's score - flipping between the iconic "Dies Irae" in the underscore, and a bizarre, wailing love theme with intermittent vocals - is well-balanced among the crisp dialogue and sound effects.
"I Confess" isn't for all tastes; Hitchcock's persona was heavily evident in the construction of his films, and here in particular the challenge for fans is to distinguish between when the director is making a comment himself, and when a scene's point of view is reflecting a character. It's a key problem with Baxter's flashback montage, and both historian Peter Schickel and director Peter Bogdanovich address the film's most romanticized sequence with appropriate candor and wit. The featurette goes easy on Film Theory, and there's a few brief samples of fascinating behind-the-scenes colour footage shot during the flashback's rainstorm sequence.
The archived newsreel captures the local excitement at the film's dual Quebec City premiere, but it's a pity more promo materials weren't archived on the disc. The DVD's cover and featurette reproduce some of the gorgeous artwork - a sneaky publicity campaign that, like "Psycho," used specific stills of non-existent moments to cleverly plant an impression in moviegoers before they see the real film. Who's really the killer is one of several mysteries that helped "I Confess" perform quite well at the box office.
This Warner Bros title is available separately or as part of the Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection that includes: “Strangers On A Train,” “Mr. And Mrs. Smith,” “Suspicion,” “North By Northwest,” “Dial M For Murder,” “Foreign Correspondent,” “The Wrong Man,” “Stage Fright” and “I Confess.”
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan