I Confess may fall short of the sombre power summoned by Hitchcock in The Wrong Man, released three years after it. Yet, as the making-of featurette points out, these two films are of the same feather, and ought to be grouped together. Both are shot in black and white. Both are austere by Hitchcock’s standards. Both lack his trademark playfulness, which may have something to do with the fact that religion, a subject rarely given to humour, is a big part of both these films.
Father Logan, a priest in the Canadian town of Quebec, hears a confession of murder. He is barred by the rules of his faith from telling anybody, and matters become even worse when the evidence starts to point towards him and he becomes a suspect in the case. Montgomery Clift plays Father Logan as a man whose faith is so unwavering, it could cost him his life. Though Hitch was no fan of method acting (he never believed in instructing actors beyond a point) this doesn’t seem to have affected Clift’s performance. His face betrays only the tiniest signs of emotion as he finds himself further and further enmeshed, unsurprising in an actor who knew a thing two about keeping a secret (he hid his homosexuality from the public to protect his career).
The supporting players are very good as well, especially OE Hasse as the frightened, desperate killer, and Karl Malden, taking down his usual blustery style a notch, as a detective who’s convinced of Logan’s guilt. Bleak from start to finish, I Confess is a film that grips rather than thrills. In a key moment, the murderer tells the priest that he would be doing him a favour by killing him, because his life is so empty. Hitchcock doesn’t follow up on that insinuation here, but it obviously intrigued him enough to explore more fully in The Wrong Man, the implications of emotional deadness.
A version of this review appeared in Time Out Delhi