Under Capricorn


1h 57m 1949
Under Capricorn

Brief Synopsis

Newly arrived in Australia, a man discovers his childhood love is now an alcoholic.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Release Date
Jan 1949
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 9 Sep 1949
Production Company
Transatlantic Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Under Capricorn by Helen Simpson (New York, 1938).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 57m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

In 1831, a new governor is sent to the prison colony in Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, Australia. Irishman Charles Adare accompanies the governor, who is his second cousin, and plans to make his fortune there. Soon after Charles' arrival, banker Cedric Potter introduces him to Sam Flusky, an emancipated prisoner who has become a wealthy landowner. Although Flusky's name is familiar to Charles, he cannot place it and questions Potter, who reminds him that in Australia, no one talks about the past. Flusky, who does recognize Charles, offers him a business deal. After explaining that he has bought all the land he is allowed, Flusky asks Charles to purchase a plot of land, which he will then buy from him at a profit. Charles accepts Flusky's dinner invitation, even though Potter has warned him against it. Later, the governor also asks Charles to turn down the invitation, as it could cause an awkward situation. Flusky has invited several other couples to dinner to meet Charles, but as the appointed hour approaches, only the men arrive. After all make excuses for their wives, Flusky states that his wife, Lady Henrietta, is also ill, but as the dinner begins, the beautiful, but drunken Hattie joins the men unexpectedly. When Charles sees her, he realizes that she is an old childhood friend from Ireland. Hattie is too ill to stay at the table, but when she returns to her room, she screams hysterically, claiming to see a rat. The other men believe that she is suffering from hallucinations, but Charles takes her seriously and shoots into the fireplace, after which, Hattie is calmer. Later, Flusky reminds Charles that he was the groom on Hattie's family estate, but after they were married, her family had him transported. She sold her things and followed him. Flusky admits that he invited Charles in the hope that his presence would entice society women to the house. Later, learning of Charles's involvement with Flusky, the governor insists that he renege on their deal and reveals that Flusky murdered Hattie's brother. Charles refuses to follow the governor's orders and moves into the Flusky house. He then tries to help Hattie recover. Milly, the housekeeper, watches him suspiciously and attempts to undermine his efforts. Later, Milly complains to Flusky, who tells her to leave if she is unhappy. At first Hattie is devastated by Milly's departure, but with Charles's encouragement, she stops drinking and begins to take charge of the house. One evening, while Charles and Hattie are at a ball, Milly returns to the house and plants jealous suspicions in Flusky's mind. Flusky appears at the ball and creates a disturbance. Later, when Charles suggests that Hattie return to Ireland, she responds by recalling her early love for Flusky. Her story makes it clear that she killed her brother and allowed Flusky to take the blame. Later, Flusky accuses Hattie of having an affair and orders Charles to leave. Charles, who is not a horseman, causes an injury to Flusky's favorite horse. Flusky is forced to shoot the horse and then accidentally shoots Charles. While Charles hovers between life and death, the governor threatens to send Flusky back to prison. To save him, Hattie confesses that she shot her brother, and the governor replies that if this is true, he will have to send her to Ireland to stand trial. Flusky misunderstands her motivation and believes that she wants to return to Ireland with Charles, and when Charles recovers from his injuries, he is astounded to learn of Hattie's confession. Later, Milly, who is in love with Flusky, tries to drive Hattie insane and then slips a fatal dose of sleeping potion in her wine. Hattie sees her do it and calls for Flusky, who finally realizes Milly's true nature. When the governor's men arrive at the Flusky house and ask Flusky to corroborate Hattie's statement, he refuses, having finally realized that Hattie loves him. In the morning, Flusky is brought to Sydney to be returned to prison, and Hattie begs Charles to explain that the shooting was an accident. After he does so, Flusky is released. Together, Flusky and Hattie bid farewell to Charles, who, because he loves Hattie, is returning to Ireland.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Release Date
Jan 1949
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 9 Sep 1949
Production Company
Transatlantic Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Under Capricorn by Helen Simpson (New York, 1938).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 57m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Articles

Under Capricorn


It's not really clear why Hitchcock wanted to make Under Capricorn (1949). Hitchcock publicly admitted he was baffled as to why he, "The Master of Suspense" wanted to do a costume drama set in colonial Australia, based on a novel he barely liked, using the same difficult extended take technique he had just used on his first color film Rope (1948). The only thing he was certain about, he admitted in retrospect, was that he wanted to hire Ingrid Bergman and experience the ego-boosting thrill of "returning to London with the biggest star of the day."

That top box office star demanded a salary of $200,000 plus 25 percent of profits, a higher sum than the director's fee - an oversight that Hitchcock soon corrected, straining the coffers of his newly formed independent production company Transatlantic Pictures. But that was a minor speed bump compared to how Hitchcock envisioned the shoot. Not only would his crew have to scurry around rearranging props and sets out of camera view during extended takes, just as they did on Rope, but Rope's single level apartment interior set was minimalist in comparison to the two-story mansion with interiors and exteriors that Hitchcock envisioned for Capricorn. Wisely, he called in an expert.

At the age of 35, cinematographer Jack Cardiff already had 31 years of experience working on film sets. His traveling actor parents got him started in films at the age of 4, and he soon made the transition to behind-the-scenes work - first as a "clapper boy", then as a camera operator. When technicians from the United States visited England to select a cinematographer worthy of learning how to use the new and formidable Technicolor camera, Cardiff got the job - not because of his technical knowledge, but because of his background as a painter and aficionado of fine art. That body of knowledge served him well in creating moody chiaroscuro compositions in Black Narcissus (1947) and mad riots of dreamy color in The Red Shoes (1948), so impressing director Michael Powell that he declared Cardiff was "the best color cameraman in the world."

Yet even the best in the world was barely up to the convoluted shooting scheme Hitchcock dreamed up for Under Capricorn. Following an actor up and down the grand staircase, in and out of second story windows and down lengthy hallways in unbroken takes required building a mammoth crane on a tank-sized dolly. Anything flimsier wouldn't hoist the gigantic Technicolor camera Cardiff nicknamed "The Enchanted Cottage". This enormous construction barreled through the set "like a tank at Sebastopol", Cardiff recalled, as "whole walls cracked open [and] furniture was whisked away by panting prop men." (In one scene the still-wobbling candelabras on the dining room table betray how recently the table had been moved.) The din was incredible, and each successful take had to be redubbed by the actors because the location sound was completely unusable. Bergman lost her temper on several occasions, unnerved by how "a chair or a table for an actor appeared the minute before a cue". And even the director was not immune from the chaos. During one take Hitchcock suddenly cried out during a quiet scene, then said calmly "Please move the camera a little to the right." The enormous rig had run over his big toe, breaking it.

Cardiff described the Under Capricorn shoot as "a technical nightmare", but all that huffing and puffing resulted in a fluid, mobile, and very contemporary mise en scene that prefigures the effortless gliding of Steadicam shots by 27 years. Cardiff's painterly eye creates atmospheric lighting schemes ranging from dappled sunlight to foreboding inky midnights. Nevertheless, despite the successful, eye-pleasing outcome of a challenging shoot, the film was a box office failure that led to Transatlantic's demise, and Hitchcock's pleasure at snagging "the biggest star of the day" was quickly overshadowed by Bergman's scandalous affair with Roberto Rossellini. However, French critic and director Alexandre Astruc championed the film in Cahiers Du Cinema, and in 1958 that publication voted Under Capricorn not only Hitchcock's best film to date, but one of the 10 greatest films of all time. In Francois Truffaut's book length interview Hitchcock by Truffaut, Hitchcock disavows Under Capricorn, lamenting "With all the enthusiasm we invested in that picture, it was a shame that it didn't amount to anything." But Truffaut, acknowledging Cardiff's substantial contribution, replies "If Under Capricorn wasn't a good movie, it was certainly a beautiful one."

Producers: Sidney Bernstein, Alfred Hitchcock (both uncredited)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: James Bridie (screenplay); Hume Cronyn (adaptation); John Colton, Margaret Linden (play); Helen Simpson (novel)
Cinematography: Jack Cardiff
Art Direction: Thomas Morahan
Music: Richard Addinsell
Film Editing: A.S. Bates
Cast: Ingrid Bergman (Lady Henrietta Flusky), Joseph Cotten (Sam Flusky), Michael Wilding (Hon. Charles Adare), Margaret Leighton (Milly), Cecil Parker (The Governor), Denis O'Dea (Mr. Corrigan), Jack Watling (Winter), Harcourt Williams (The Coachman), John Ruddock (Mr. Potter), Bill Shine (Mr. Banks).
C-117m.

by Violet LeVoit

References:
Truffaut, Francois. Hitchcock by Truffaut. Simon and Schuster, 1967
McGilligan, Patrick. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life In Darkness And Light. Harper Perennial, 2004.
McCall, Craig (dir). Cameraman: The Life And Work of Jack Cardiff. [DVD] Strand Releasing, 2011
Sloan, Jane E. Alfred Hitchcock: a filmography and bibliography. University of California Press. 1995
Under Capricorn

Under Capricorn

It's not really clear why Hitchcock wanted to make Under Capricorn (1949). Hitchcock publicly admitted he was baffled as to why he, "The Master of Suspense" wanted to do a costume drama set in colonial Australia, based on a novel he barely liked, using the same difficult extended take technique he had just used on his first color film Rope (1948). The only thing he was certain about, he admitted in retrospect, was that he wanted to hire Ingrid Bergman and experience the ego-boosting thrill of "returning to London with the biggest star of the day." That top box office star demanded a salary of $200,000 plus 25 percent of profits, a higher sum than the director's fee - an oversight that Hitchcock soon corrected, straining the coffers of his newly formed independent production company Transatlantic Pictures. But that was a minor speed bump compared to how Hitchcock envisioned the shoot. Not only would his crew have to scurry around rearranging props and sets out of camera view during extended takes, just as they did on Rope, but Rope's single level apartment interior set was minimalist in comparison to the two-story mansion with interiors and exteriors that Hitchcock envisioned for Capricorn. Wisely, he called in an expert. At the age of 35, cinematographer Jack Cardiff already had 31 years of experience working on film sets. His traveling actor parents got him started in films at the age of 4, and he soon made the transition to behind-the-scenes work - first as a "clapper boy", then as a camera operator. When technicians from the United States visited England to select a cinematographer worthy of learning how to use the new and formidable Technicolor camera, Cardiff got the job - not because of his technical knowledge, but because of his background as a painter and aficionado of fine art. That body of knowledge served him well in creating moody chiaroscuro compositions in Black Narcissus (1947) and mad riots of dreamy color in The Red Shoes (1948), so impressing director Michael Powell that he declared Cardiff was "the best color cameraman in the world." Yet even the best in the world was barely up to the convoluted shooting scheme Hitchcock dreamed up for Under Capricorn. Following an actor up and down the grand staircase, in and out of second story windows and down lengthy hallways in unbroken takes required building a mammoth crane on a tank-sized dolly. Anything flimsier wouldn't hoist the gigantic Technicolor camera Cardiff nicknamed "The Enchanted Cottage". This enormous construction barreled through the set "like a tank at Sebastopol", Cardiff recalled, as "whole walls cracked open [and] furniture was whisked away by panting prop men." (In one scene the still-wobbling candelabras on the dining room table betray how recently the table had been moved.) The din was incredible, and each successful take had to be redubbed by the actors because the location sound was completely unusable. Bergman lost her temper on several occasions, unnerved by how "a chair or a table for an actor appeared the minute before a cue". And even the director was not immune from the chaos. During one take Hitchcock suddenly cried out during a quiet scene, then said calmly "Please move the camera a little to the right." The enormous rig had run over his big toe, breaking it. Cardiff described the Under Capricorn shoot as "a technical nightmare", but all that huffing and puffing resulted in a fluid, mobile, and very contemporary mise en scene that prefigures the effortless gliding of Steadicam shots by 27 years. Cardiff's painterly eye creates atmospheric lighting schemes ranging from dappled sunlight to foreboding inky midnights. Nevertheless, despite the successful, eye-pleasing outcome of a challenging shoot, the film was a box office failure that led to Transatlantic's demise, and Hitchcock's pleasure at snagging "the biggest star of the day" was quickly overshadowed by Bergman's scandalous affair with Roberto Rossellini. However, French critic and director Alexandre Astruc championed the film in Cahiers Du Cinema, and in 1958 that publication voted Under Capricorn not only Hitchcock's best film to date, but one of the 10 greatest films of all time. In Francois Truffaut's book length interview Hitchcock by Truffaut, Hitchcock disavows Under Capricorn, lamenting "With all the enthusiasm we invested in that picture, it was a shame that it didn't amount to anything." But Truffaut, acknowledging Cardiff's substantial contribution, replies "If Under Capricorn wasn't a good movie, it was certainly a beautiful one." Producers: Sidney Bernstein, Alfred Hitchcock (both uncredited) Director: Alfred Hitchcock Screenplay: James Bridie (screenplay); Hume Cronyn (adaptation); John Colton, Margaret Linden (play); Helen Simpson (novel) Cinematography: Jack Cardiff Art Direction: Thomas Morahan Music: Richard Addinsell Film Editing: A.S. Bates Cast: Ingrid Bergman (Lady Henrietta Flusky), Joseph Cotten (Sam Flusky), Michael Wilding (Hon. Charles Adare), Margaret Leighton (Milly), Cecil Parker (The Governor), Denis O'Dea (Mr. Corrigan), Jack Watling (Winter), Harcourt Williams (The Coachman), John Ruddock (Mr. Potter), Bill Shine (Mr. Banks). C-117m. by Violet LeVoit References: Truffaut, Francois. Hitchcock by Truffaut. Simon and Schuster, 1967 McGilligan, Patrick. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life In Darkness And Light. Harper Perennial, 2004. McCall, Craig (dir). Cameraman: The Life And Work of Jack Cardiff. [DVD] Strand Releasing, 2011 Sloan, Jane E. Alfred Hitchcock: a filmography and bibliography. University of California Press. 1995

Under Capricorn


Unavailable for many years, with rare videotapes sold for high prices on ebay, Under Capricorn (1949), Alfred Hitchcock's rarest post-1933 film, has finally been released on DVD. Is it worth the wait?

Under Capricorn was the second and last film of Transatlantic Pictures, an independent film production company founded by Alfred Hitchcock and his financial friend Sidney Bernstein. Their intent was to make pictures in both England and America, hence the name of their company. Rope (1948), their first film, was shot in America, so the second, Under Capricorn, would be shot in England.

Set in Australia in 1831, Under Capricorn seems like an odd choice for a Hitchcock movie. Hitchcock had only made two period films before, Waltzes From Vienna (1933) and Jamaica Inn (1939), and both had been box-office duds. However, examined more closely, Under Capricorn has a number of plot points in common with other Hitchcock hits of the 1940's. There is a mysterious house with a domineering housekeeper as in Rebecca (1940), the effects of poisoning mistaken for alcoholism as in Notorious (1946) and a great lady who demeans herself for a lowly groom as in The Paradine Case (1947).

Hitchcock planned to carry over a technique as well. His previous film, Rope, had been shot to resemble one uninterrupted camera take and Hitchcock planned to film Under Capricorn with similar long takes, both as a technical challenge and a way to save money. Some of these shots resemble the flowing camera work seen in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980) and Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990). Unlike those filmmakers, Hitchcock had no Steadicam. Instead he had to use a huge crane wielding a Technicolor camera so large it dwarfed even the rotund director. Stagehands had to break apart sets and actors had to dive out of the way as the monstrous apparatus glided upstairs and through windows.

The tension became so great on the set that the actors nearly rebelled. Star Ingrid Bergman exploded in a temper tantrum about the difficult takes that would require long sequences to be repeated if any mistake was made. Hitchcock, never one to relish a confrontation, left the set and went home, later claiming he was told Bergman ranted on for another twenty minutes before noticing he was gone.

Bergman was under extraordinary pressure offscreen as well. She began her adulterous affair with director Roberto Rossellini towards the end of the Under Capricorn shoot and the scandal broke just as the film was released. In addition, reviews were scathing and, again, a Hitchcock period film flopped. The bankers behind Transatlantic Pictures seized all rights to the film, later refusing to include it in Hitchcock film festivals and limiting its video release.

Image Entertainment's new DVD release of Under Capricorn shows the movie to be, while not an undiscovered masterpiece, at least a sometimes fascinating and often strikingly beautiful film. Ingrid Bergman is lovingly photographed by famed cinematographer Jack Cardiff (The African Queen, Rambo: First Blood Part II) in a subtle and haunting use of Technicolor. Bergman's performance is one of the most daring of her career as she expresses her drunken confusion with delicacy and understatement. Another surprise is the performance of Margaret Leighton (The Best Man, The Go-Between) as the housekeeper. She was dismissed in reviews of the time as a weak carbon copy of Mrs. Danvers from Rebecca but, unlike Judith Anderson's almost supernatural quality in that film, Leighton gives this housekeeper a human, pitiable nature.

A gorgeous print with excellent sound, this DVD version of Under Capricorn supplies a heretofore-missing work of both a great director and a great actress.

For more information about Under Capricorn, visit Image Entertainment. To order Under Capricorn, go to TCM Shopping.

by Brian Cady

Under Capricorn

Unavailable for many years, with rare videotapes sold for high prices on ebay, Under Capricorn (1949), Alfred Hitchcock's rarest post-1933 film, has finally been released on DVD. Is it worth the wait? Under Capricorn was the second and last film of Transatlantic Pictures, an independent film production company founded by Alfred Hitchcock and his financial friend Sidney Bernstein. Their intent was to make pictures in both England and America, hence the name of their company. Rope (1948), their first film, was shot in America, so the second, Under Capricorn, would be shot in England. Set in Australia in 1831, Under Capricorn seems like an odd choice for a Hitchcock movie. Hitchcock had only made two period films before, Waltzes From Vienna (1933) and Jamaica Inn (1939), and both had been box-office duds. However, examined more closely, Under Capricorn has a number of plot points in common with other Hitchcock hits of the 1940's. There is a mysterious house with a domineering housekeeper as in Rebecca (1940), the effects of poisoning mistaken for alcoholism as in Notorious (1946) and a great lady who demeans herself for a lowly groom as in The Paradine Case (1947). Hitchcock planned to carry over a technique as well. His previous film, Rope, had been shot to resemble one uninterrupted camera take and Hitchcock planned to film Under Capricorn with similar long takes, both as a technical challenge and a way to save money. Some of these shots resemble the flowing camera work seen in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980) and Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990). Unlike those filmmakers, Hitchcock had no Steadicam. Instead he had to use a huge crane wielding a Technicolor camera so large it dwarfed even the rotund director. Stagehands had to break apart sets and actors had to dive out of the way as the monstrous apparatus glided upstairs and through windows. The tension became so great on the set that the actors nearly rebelled. Star Ingrid Bergman exploded in a temper tantrum about the difficult takes that would require long sequences to be repeated if any mistake was made. Hitchcock, never one to relish a confrontation, left the set and went home, later claiming he was told Bergman ranted on for another twenty minutes before noticing he was gone. Bergman was under extraordinary pressure offscreen as well. She began her adulterous affair with director Roberto Rossellini towards the end of the Under Capricorn shoot and the scandal broke just as the film was released. In addition, reviews were scathing and, again, a Hitchcock period film flopped. The bankers behind Transatlantic Pictures seized all rights to the film, later refusing to include it in Hitchcock film festivals and limiting its video release. Image Entertainment's new DVD release of Under Capricorn shows the movie to be, while not an undiscovered masterpiece, at least a sometimes fascinating and often strikingly beautiful film. Ingrid Bergman is lovingly photographed by famed cinematographer Jack Cardiff (The African Queen, Rambo: First Blood Part II) in a subtle and haunting use of Technicolor. Bergman's performance is one of the most daring of her career as she expresses her drunken confusion with delicacy and understatement. Another surprise is the performance of Margaret Leighton (The Best Man, The Go-Between) as the housekeeper. She was dismissed in reviews of the time as a weak carbon copy of Mrs. Danvers from Rebecca but, unlike Judith Anderson's almost supernatural quality in that film, Leighton gives this housekeeper a human, pitiable nature. A gorgeous print with excellent sound, this DVD version of Under Capricorn supplies a heretofore-missing work of both a great director and a great actress. For more information about Under Capricorn, visit Image Entertainment. To order Under Capricorn, go to TCM Shopping. by Brian Cady

Quotes

Trivia

about five minutes into the movie in the town square wearing a coat and a brown hat. Ten minutes later he is one of three men on the steps of government house.

Notes

Although John Colton's and Margaret Linden's onscreen credit reads "by", they had actually written an unproduced and unpublished play based on Helen Simpson's novel. The novel was adapted for the screen by Hume Cronyn and was the basis for the screenplay. In this film, Alfred Hitchcock continued to experiment with long takes, a technique that he began in Rope, which was also adapted by Cronyn. Ingrid Bergman's monologue, during which she relates the story of her marriage to "Flusky," the subsequent shooting of her brother and their experiences in Australia, lasts nine and one-half minutes and was shot in one take. A dinner table sequence runs more than seven minutes without a cut. Most of the picture was filmed in London and the English countryside, according to an October 11, 1948 news item in Hollywood Reporter, but some scenes were shot on the Warner Ranch in Calabasas, CA. On August 26, 1948, Hollywood Reporter reported that Hugh Reticker would be the art director on the film when the production returned to the United States, but the extent of his contribution is undetermined.
       According to modern sources, the columned facade of Canoga Park High School stood in for the exterior of Government House in Sydney. Hitchcock makes his customary cameo in Under Capricorn by appearing as a man standing in front of Government House. Modern sources add the following information about the production: Hitchcock bought the dramatic rights to Under Capricorn in 1945 for the token price of $1.00. Although Hitchcock had planned to film Under Capricorn before Rope, Bergman's prior commitments delayed the production until 1948. The film was the second and last production of Transatlantic Pictures. Modern sources add that the film lost money and was repossessed by the bank.