Cast & Crew
O. E. Hasse
In Quebec, in the sanctuary of his church late one night, Father Michael Logan finds Otto Keller, the German refugee who is employed as the rectory handyman. After asking Logan to hear his confession, the distressed Keller proceeds to tell how he killed a lawyer, Vilette, while trying to rob him. Later, Keller tells his wife Alma, who also works at the rectory, that Logan is barred from reporting the crime by the seal of the confessional. The next day, Keller proceeds to the Vilette mansion, where he is employed one day a week as gardener, and after returning the stolen money, alerts the police of Vilette's murder. The troubled Logan also appears at Vilete's, saying that he has an appointment, and is seen whispering to a woman on the street. Later, Inspector Larreau, who is in charge of the investigation, interviews two schoolgirls, who saw a priest leaving Vilette's house between 11:00 and 11:30 p.m. Suspicious of Logan, Larreau asks him to come to the station. Meanwhile, the anxious Keller hides the bloody cassock he wore on the night of the murder in Logan's room. At the station, Larreau questions Logan about his appointment with Vilette and the woman with whom he was seen, but Logan refuses to answer or provide an alibi for the night of the murder. Feeling certain that Logan is the killer, Larreau calls the Crown prosecutor, Willie Robertson, who is socializing with a member of Parliament, Pierre Grandfort and his wife Ruth, unaware that she was the woman outside Vilette's. The next day, Ruth secretly meets Logan on a ferry and tells him to admit to the police that they were together on the night of the murder, but Logan refuses, as he wants to protect her. However, Murphy, one of Larreau's men, sees them together and reports their meeting to Larreau. Reluctantly, Robertson asks Ruth to visit the station. There, with Larreau, Robertson, Pierre and Logan present, Ruth says she is being blackmailed and that she met with Logan on the night of the murder between nine and eleven o'clock to ask his advice. Although both Pierre and Logan try to protect her, Larreau presses for details. Believing the truth will prove Logan's innocence, Ruth tells a story that explains how she and Logan, who had been childhood sweethearts, were also in love as young adults: When war breaks out, Logan, always serious and noble, volunteers for military service and after a while, Ruth no longer hears from him. She eventually marries Pierre, but after the war, meets again with Logan. Without telling him she is married, she spends a day on an island talking to him. When a storm suddenly hits, they miss the last ferry out and take cover in a nearby summer house, where they spend a chaste night together. The next morning, Vilette, the owner of the house, spots them and recognizes Ruth. Afterward, she sees neither Logan nor Vilette. Five years later, Vilette shows up at Logan's ordination and continues to appear to Ruth in unlikely places. Later, Vilette threatens to blackmail her. Fearing scandal for both Pierre and Logan, Ruth meets with Logan to get his advice without telling Pierre. She and Logan plan to meet in front of Vilette's house the following morning, unaware that Vilette has been murdered. Back in the present, Robertson sends Logan and the Grandforts home, as Ruth has provided an alibi for Logan. However, Larreau tells Robertson that the autopsy report has placed Vilette's time of death after 11:30 p.m., which would have given Logan time to kill Vilette after meeting with Ruth, and that Ruth's testimony has suggested a motive for the killing. The next day, Keller taunts Logan about his vows, which require silence, but after seeing the dark look in Logan's eyes, he loads and pockets a gun. When Murphy arrives to see Logan, Keller embroiders a story about how Logan left in distress, which suggests that Logan is evading the police, but then Logan later shows up voluntarily in Larreau's office and is arrested. Meanwhile, the bloody cassock is found in a trunk during a search of Logan's room. Later, at the trial, as Alma watches, Keller testifies that Logan was in great distress on the night of the murder. Then Ruth's story is twisted by the prosecuting Robertson to insinuate an ongoing affair with Logan. In his testimony, Logan still does not reveal what he knows, nor does he implicate Keller when the cassock is shown as evidence. Although the jury acquits Logan for insufficient evidence, both judge and jury publicly express their suspicions. Logan is then free to go, but the disapproving mob almost crushes him. Seeing this, Alma tries to tell a policeman that Logan is innocent, but the panicked Keller kills her. Larreau, Logan and several policemen follow Keller to the Chateau Frontenac, and corner him in the ballroom. Believing that Logan has finally revealed the truth, Keller accuses him of hypocrisy by breaking his vow and thus, incriminates himself. When Logan moves closer to talk, Keller starts to shoot, but the police shoot Keller. As he dies, Keller asks for forgiveness, and Logan absolves him.
O. E. Hasse
Donald O. Cedergren
Joseph H. Daegle
Everett F. Dexter
Oliver S. Garretson
Ben L. Goldman
Robert B. Greene
Edward S. Haworth
George James Hopkins
O. H. Hudson
Father Paul Lacouline
William H. Phillips
Richard C. Smith
Kenneth P. Taylor
E. F. Westfall
It may also be that I Confess won because it was the more personal of the two competing properties. While The Bramble Bush was a wrong-man story with political overtones drawn from a recent novel, I Confess, based on an obscure French play, was much more meaningful to Hitchcock as it dealt with Catholic guilt. Hitchcock had been raised Roman Catholic and was fascinated by the play's story of a priest who hears a murderer's confession yet cannot reveal it even when the priest himself is falsely charged with the same crime. The play by Paul Anthelme had been written in 1902, with the rights inherited in 1947 by Anthelme's nephew, who in turn sold it to writer-agent Louis Verneuil before it found its way to Hitchcock.
The huge coincidences in the plot presented something of a problem for audiences, as did the crux of the yarn itself -- the refusal, or inability, of the priest to clear himself by simply telling what he knows. Hitchcock later admitted that he hadn't foreseen some non-Catholic audience members having so much trouble empathizing with the priest's dilemma. "The trouble with I Confess [is] we Catholics know that a priest cannot disclose the secret of the confessional, but the Protestants, the atheists, and the agnostics all say, 'Ridiculous! No man would remain silent and sacrifice his life for such a thing.'"
The director also thought that the film suffered from too much solemnity. "The final result was rather heavy-handed," he said. "The whole treatment was lacking in humor and subtlety. I don't mean that the film itself should have been humorous, but my own approach should have been more ironic, as in Psycho  -- a serious story told with tongue in cheek."
Hitchcock possibly also remembered I Confess not too fondly because of the difficulties he had with Montgomery Clift, who stars as the priest. On one hand, Clift was going through a serious drinking problem, and co-star Anne Baxter later said Clift was so disconnected from his job that he sometimes just offered a blank stare when Baxter needed more of an emotional response in a tense dramatic scene. Baxter attributed this to the drinking.
But more than the drinking was Clift's method acting -- something that did not jibe with Hitchcock's approach at all -- and his reliance on his acting coach Mira Rostova. She was with him at all times, especially on the set during filming, and this became a source of major tension. Clift was much more concerned with getting Rostova's approval of his work than Hitchcock's. And he would go over his lines with her rather than with the other actors. Malden was the only member of the cast or crew to become somewhat close to Clift, and he acted as go-between between Clift and Hitchcock. But even Malden eventually grew frustrated with the attention Clift demanded from Rostova. When scenes between Malden and Clift were over, Clift would look not to Malden to discuss what they had just done, but rather to Rostova, ignoring Malden completely. Malden seethed, but kept it to himself. Hitchcock later summed it up simply: "There are some actors I've felt uncomfortable with, and working with Montgomery Clift was difficult because he was a method actor and a neurotic as well."
All that being said, Clift turned in a fine performance, helped no doubt by the fact that he happened to be close friends with a monk living in a Quebec monastery. He proved a valuable resource, and Clift spent a week before the shoot living at the monastery as research. "Priests walk in a special way because they wear robes or habits," Clift said. "When they walk they push the material forward with their hands." In this and many other tiny ways, Clift fully inhabited his role as the priest. The actor was also at the top of his game at this time; I Confess would be sandwiched between A Place in the Sun (1951) and From Here to Eternity (1953), both of which landed him Oscar® nominations (two of five in all).
Hitchcock also wasn't thrilled with having Anne Baxter in the cast -- not that he didn't like her personally, but he simply had preferred and already hired Swedish actress Anita Bjork for the part. But when Jack Warner discovered that Bjork had an illegitimate lover and child, he blew a gasket, not wanting a repeat of the PR disaster that had recently fallen upon Ingrid Bergman. Warner replaced Bjork with Baxter, and Hitchcock only met with Baxter a week before filming began in Quebec. Baxter later recalled that Hitchcock had her dye her blonde hair an even lighter shade. "He was very particular about wardrobe and hair," she said. "I felt I wasn't as pretty as he wanted a woman to be in his films, and as he wanted me to be. There was a lot of Pygmalion in him, and he was proud of how he transformed actresses. When I arrived, everything happened so fast that they didn't design a new wardrobe for me; they altered Anita Bjork's clothes. Naturally, I was a little overwrought about the haste, but he simply said, 'Anne, it's only a movie!'"
The leading lady wasn't the only change imposed upon Hitchcock. The screenplay originally had the priest being executed at the end, and then proven innocent. But Warner ruled against this for fear of offending Catholics. The studio also nixed the original plan of having the priest have an illegitimate child from a pre-ordination affair. That particular plot point was a big source of what had attracted Hitchcock and Clift to the story, but there was nothing they could do.
All the exteriors and almost all the interiors were shot on location in Quebec. The rain was real -- not manufactured by effects men. A hotel stood in for itself. Detectives and kitchen workers in one scene were played by the real thing, as were many extras throughout the picture. Hitchcock was going for naturalism in I Confess -- perhaps not to the degree that he would in The Wrong Man (1956), but close to it.
Critics didn't buy it. The New York Times' Bosley Crowther complained of dragginess, writing, "It is not the sort of entertainment that one hopefully expects of 'Hitch.'" Variety, too, said in its opening line that the film was "short of suspense."
To be fair, I Confess never attempts to be a traditional Hitchcockian suspense film. It is much more of a character study and a naturalistic examination of an impossible situation. That's one reason it's one of Hitchcock's least-known pictures and an intriguing one to discover.
Producer: Sidney Bernstein, Alfred Hitchcock
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: George Tabori, William Archibald, based on a play by Paul Anthelme
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Art Direction: Ted Haworth, John Beckman
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Film Editing: Rudi Fehr
Cast: Montgomery Clift (Father Michael Logan), Anne Baxter (Ruth Grandfort), Karl Malden (Inspector Larrue), Brian Aherne (Willy Robertson), O.E. Hasse (Otto Keller), Roger Dann (Pierre Grandfort), Dolly Haas (Alma Keller).
by Jeremy Arnold
Patricia Bosworth, Montgomery Clift
Bill Krohn, Hitchcock at Work
Patrick McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light
Donald Spoto, The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock
Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock
I Confess on DVD
Montgomery Clift stars as a young priest named Father Logan who one night hears the confession of his church's handyman, a confession of murder. By coincidence, the handyman had killed a man blackmailing a politician's wife (Anne Baxter) whom the blackmailer had caught in a compromising position with Logan prior to his taking holy orders. A part of those holy orders is the sanctity of the confessional, which means Logan cannot tell the police who committed the murder, even when he becomes the prime suspect.
Hitchcock had wanted to film this story for years after witnessing a play version of Paul Anthelme's novel Nos deux consciences in London. Raised a strict Jesuit, Hitchcock was intrigued by the idea of using Catholic doctrine at the heart of a murder trial but he failed to realize that non-Catholic audiences would not understand it. As Hitchcock later remembered, "there were many of the critics who apparently felt that for a priest to guard a secret at the risk of his own life was absurd."
This may not have been the only problem. The central role of Father Logan is little more than a focus for masochistic torture. Hitchcock continually places Logan as a silent figure crushed by the architecture of the church and the civil authority, even going so far at one point as to shoot Logan under a massive statue of Christ carrying the cross to Cavalry.
Still, Hitchcock students will find many interesting oddities to ponder, such as, why is the killer's wife named Alma, the same as Hitchcock's own wife? The film also boasts gorgeous black-and-white photography by Robert Burks of the city of Quebec with Hitchcock using the old Canadian city's landmarks as extensively as he would later use San Francisco's in Vertigo (1958).
In addition to an extremely high-quality print of the film, this DVD also contains a twenty-minute documentary on I Confess with interviews with Hitchcock's daughter Pat, Peter Bogdanovich, Richard Schickel and others pointing out subtleties that might escape the casual viewer, plus behind-the-scenes color footage of the movie as it was being shot. There is also the original theatrical trailer and a clip from a newsreel of the premiere in Quebec, with Hitchcock and a dressed-too-scantily-for-the-weather Anne Baxter arriving by sleigh. This DVD is a marvelous in-depth look at one of the more neglected Hitchcock movies, making a strong case that it should be given another chance by his fans.
To order I Confess, click here. Explore more Montgomery Clift titles here. Explore more Karl Malden titles here.
by Brian Cady
I Confess on DVD
crossing the top of a staircase during the opening credits.
The play by French-Canadian Paul Anthelme, Nos deux consciences (Our Two Consciences), upon which the film was based, was published in 1902; no performance dates have been determined. Anthelme was a journalist who also wrote under the name Paul Bourde. In May 1947, a Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Transatlantic Pictures, the company owned by Alfred Hitchcock and Sidney Bernstein, had bought the rights to Nos deux consciences, and a treatment from writer-agent Louis Verneuil. Verneuil had previously acquired the property from Anthelme's nephew and heir. According to some modern sources, Hitchcock, who was reared a Catholic, had expressed interest in filming the story as early as the 1930s. In 1948, according to a modern source, Hitchcock and his wife Alma wrote a treatment of the play, and a May 1948 Hollywood Citizen-News news item announced that Van Johnson would play the part of the priest. Thereafter, according to modern sources, at least three other writers, William Rose, Leslie Storm and Paul Vincent, worked on drafts of the script, and Hitchcock and his wife Alma tried unsuccessfully to interest both Graham Greene and Samson Raphaelson in the project.
When Transatlantic dissolved, the rights were sold to Warner Bros., but Hitchcock retained the right to work on the project at a later date. According to a modern source, when Hitchcock was going through a depressed period in his life, Alma, for whom a character in the film was named, was able to reinterest Hitchcock in the work and the two scouted Quebec City locations. Hitchcock told a New York Times reporter in August 1952, that he chose that city for the filming because "in no American city do you find a priest walking down the street in a cassock." Although William Archibald and George Tabori, who are credited onscreen, were hired to collaborate on the script, Barbara Keon, who is listed onscreen as production associate, worked with Hitchcock on some of the difficult scenes, according to a modern source.
An unidentified news item dated September 1952, found in the AMPAS Library file for the film, reported that Swedish actress Anita Björk was hired to play the part of "Ruth" opposite Montgomery Clift. Modern sources explain that when Björk arrived in Quebec, unmarried and pregnant, she was let go, as Warner Bros. feared offending a public that had recently shunned Ingrid Bergman for her extra-marital affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini. Hitchcock makes his customary cameo by walking at the top of a flight of outdoor stairs near the beginning of the film. In a June 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item, the assignment of John Beckman as art director was reported; however, only Edward S. Haworth is listed onscreen.
According to the Daily Variety review, several Quebec City landmarks appear in the film: Chateau Frontenac, Parliament Building, Lévis ferry and Saint Zéphirin-de-Stadacona Church. The flashback scenes in which Ruth Grandfort tells the police about her romance with Logan are shown as a montage with music and Ruth's voice-over narration, but without dialogue. I Confess marked German actress Dolly Haas's only American film. Haas, who died in 1996, was the wife of caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.
Modern sources report that Hitchcock was disappointed by the lukewarm reception of I Confess, and later judged it to be heavy-handed and lacking his usual humor and subtlety. Homosexual implications of the storyline have been discussed in some modern sources, although, other than the celibacy of Logan, no overt mention of sexuality is made in the film.
A Lux Radio Theatre production of I Confess was broadcast on September 21, 1953, starring Cary Grant and Phyllis Thaxter. In 1995, a French Canadian film titled Le confessional, which was inspired by I Confess, was produced by the Montreal company Cinemaginaire, Great Britain's Enigma and France's Cine-A. The film marked the directorial debut of Robert LePage and starred Luthaire Bluteau and Patrick Goyette. Although the 1995 film's storyline departed from the earlier plot, the original Quebec City location was retained and two cast members from the 1953 version, Renee Hudon and Gilles Pelletier, were used. In Le confessional, Kristin Scott Thomas portrayed a fictional assistant to Hitchcock during the filming of I Confess.
Released in United States February 28, 1953
Released in United States November 1971
Released in United States Winter February 1953
Released in United States Winter February 1953
Released in United States February 28, 1953
Released in United States November 1971 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The Alfred Hitchcock Marathon) November 4-14, 1971.)