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Full Confession

Full Confession(1939)

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teaser Full Confession (1939)

Considered a 'B' picture by Variety but produced like an 'A', RKO's Full Confession (1939) is often regarded as a semi-remake of John Ford's The Informer (1935) starring the same leading man, Victor McLaglen. Yet its central conflict also mirrors a later thriller, Alfred Hitchcock's I Confess (1953). On the brink of death in a prison hospital, ex-convict Pat McGinnis (McLaglen) speaks privately to Father Loma (Joseph Calleia), confessing a murder for which the innocent night watchman Michael O'Keefe (Barry Fitzgerald) is awaiting execution. Thanks to a transfusion of the priest's blood, Pat recovers and is given parole. Father Loma wants to save O'Keefe's life but can't break the sanctity of the confessional. As in The Informer, McLaglen's character spends the night wandering between saloons, drowning his guilt with liquor. Underrated director John Farrow's long tracking shots seem a representation of Pat McGinnis' conscience, hounding him as he tries to run away. Unlike Montgomery Cliff's rather passive priest in I Confess, Father Loma takes an active role in extracting McGinnis' confession. Both priests ultimately put their lives on the line to restore the moral balance. Star Victor McLaglen was by this time appearing in lesser program pictures at multiple studios. Character actors Joseph Calleia and Barry Fitzgerald were adept at breathing life into sentimental stories. McGinnis' loyal girlfriend Molly is played by Sally Eilers, who made her name in saucy pre-Code attractions such as in Frank Borzage's Bad Girl (1931) and William Wellman's Central Airport (1933). As the decade ended she was enjoying a last acting fling in a series of supporting roles for RKO. Years earlier Louis B. Mayer had reportedly canceled her MGM contract because he disapproved of her 'salty language'. With both McLaglen and Ms. Eilers on the set, Full Confession may have been a 'salty' shoot.

By Glenn Erickson

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