Suffering The Solitude Of Holiness: I Confess

Suffering The Solitude Of Holiness: I Confess

Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Warner Home Video

Release Date: February 2nd, 2008
Certificate (UK): PG
Running Time: 92minutes

Year of production: 1953

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writers: George Tabori, William Archibald, Paul Anthelme (stage play)

Cast: Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter, Karl Malden

As a young boy growing up and watching films with my parents, I was fascinated by the classics. And I still am. While my father enjoyed the John Wayne, Audie Murphy and Gary Cooper westerns, my mother loved the romance and screwball comedy films with Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Holliday.

Somewhere in between I found what I would love the most when one day on my own I watched I Confess, the first film of Montgomery Clift’s I ever saw.

I Confess

Directed by the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, and filmed in Québec, it’s the story of a Catholic priest, Fr. Michael Logan (Clift), who becomes the prime suspect in a murder investigation.

Although he knows who the real killer is he is bound by the secrecy of the confessional not to reveal their identity. Investigating the case is Inspector Larrue (Karl Malden), an old school cop who follows the rules and the clues, but going on eye witness reports of a man wearing a cassock seen leaving the victim’s home on the night of the murder, Larrue can do nothing but suspect Fr. Logan.

The case against him becomes even more compelling when he finds he might have had a motive for murder. A close friendship with a politician’s wife, Ruth Grandfort (Anne Baxter), who used to be his girlfriend before he became a priest, would be scandalous if anyone knew about it. Sure enough the victim knew about it and was blackmailing Ruth.

I Confess

It’s a film that has many memorable scenes and although it hasn’t received nowhere near the same amount of accolades as Hitchcock’s other more celebrated works such as Dial M for Murder (1954), North by Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960), to me it’s one of his finest because the approach to suspense, heartbreak and tragedy is remarkably so much more intense and yet subtle here.

There are moments when Logan’s suffering parallels that of Christ’s as Mark William Roche notes:.

“Logan has been associated with Christ: he has willingly agreed to pay for the sins of another, and he has been taunted by a crowd unaware of his holiness. A series of shots reinforces this association: the early portrait of Logan looking for Keller, in which Logan emerges from an image of the crucified Christ; the shadow of Logan’s forehead in the shape of a cross during Keller’s confession; the powerful shot of Logan down below on the street and behind a silhouette of Christ carrying the cross; and finally, the close-up of Logan as he is testifying, which includes a symbolic icon of Christ on the left of the screen. Logan suffers the solitude of holiness.”

I Confess

It’s a film that works on three different levels; psychological, philosophical and theological and I don’t think it could have worked as well without Clift. Our eyes linger on him throughout with his tender, focused and passionate portrayal of a priest in the midst of a crisis.

To see him in this role is to see an actor so immersed in the anguish of a character whose efforts to do what’s right means sacrificing himself. These tortured characters became his signature in films like A Place in the Sun (1951), From Here To Eternity (1953) and The Misfits (1961). Clift knew more than most actors how to play tortured and being a Method actor, he put his life into his work.

His entire being becomes Fr. Logan and as a viewer you’re drawn to that magnificently perfect face and those smoulderingly luminous eyes that pull you in. It’s a remarkable and unforgettable performance in a hugely underrated film. Just look at that face, who wouldn’t confess to him?

Mark William Roche, Tragedy and Comedy: A Systematic Study and a Critique of Hegel (1997) State University of New York Press

I Confess

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