The Screen in Review; 'I Confess', Hitchcock Drama of Priest's Dilemma Starring Clift, Opens at Paramount.
By BOSLEY CROWTHER
Alfred Hitchcock's famous talent for brewing a mood of fine suspense with clever direction and cutting is spent on a nigh suspenseless script in "I Confess," his latest picture for Warners, which opened at the Paramount on Saturday. And even though moments in the picture do have some tension and power, and the whole thing is scrupulously acted by a tightly professional cast, the consequence is an entertainment that tends to drag, sag and generally grow dull. It is not the sort of entertaiment that one hopefully expects of "Hitch."
The trouble, of course, is that the audience is told near the start of the film that the hero is not guilty of the murder with which he is subsequently charged. The murderer, we know, is a fellow who confesses his act right away to the irreproachable hero, a Roman Catholic priest. And the issue is in the dilemma of the priest, when suspicion falls on him and he is unable to clear himself in a jiffy because he is bound to silence by what is known as "the seal of the confessional."
This makes for a nervous situation that George Tabori and William Archibald have prolonged through a considerable amount of incidental plotting in their obviously padded script. They have ominously piled against their hero so much heavy circumstantial evidence that it seems he can never get around it and avoid the penalty of loyalty to a creed. But only the most credulous patron will be worried for very long that the hero will not be delivered from his dilemma by some saving grace. And this realization well unburdens the situation of any real suspense.
Meanwhile, the incidental plotting provides an excess of ponderous details having to do with a long-ago romance between the hero (before he became a priest) and a rather persistent young lady, now the wife of an eminent lawyer. The romance is blissfully innocent, and how it should ever serve as a reasonable basis for blackmail (as it is said to do), is difficult to see. In short, the plotting of the story through its long middle section is dull.
Finally, the off-beat possibility of making something of the anguish of the priest in this unhappy situation is not only missed in the script but it is barely realized and suggested in the performance of Montgomery Clift. Under Mr. Hitchcock's direction, Mr. Clift rather walks through the role with a slightly bewildered expression and a monotonously taciturn air. He seems neither tormented nor frightened—nor, for that matter, really to care.
As the matronly lady of the old romance, Anne Baxter gives an eloquent show of feeling sorry for herself and breathing heavily, but the ease with which she abandons both and resumes a dutiful attitude toward her husband (Roger Dann) is a bit disheartening. Karl Maiden as a stubborn detective, Brian Aherne as a prosecutor, O. E. Hasse as the twitching murderer and Dolly Haas as his wife are all good.
And, of course, Mr. Hitchcock does manage to inject little glints of imagery and invent little twists of construction that give the film the smooth, neat glitter of his style. Shot on location in Quebec, it has a certain atmospheric flavor, too. But it never gets up and goes places. It just ambles and drones along.
On the stage at the Paramount are Patti Page, Bobby Sargent, the Clark Brothers and Jerry Wald's band.