Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on September 8, 1949
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by James Bridie and Hume Cronyn
Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, Michael Wilding, Margaret Leighton, Cecil Parker, Jack Watling, Harcourt Williams, Martin Benson, Edmund O’Brien (narrator), and Alfred Hitchcock as ‘Man in Parade Crowd’ and ‘Man at Governor’s Reception’
My last unseen post-silent Hitchcock, a melodramatic costume drama set in 1831, and one of the most unlikely Hitchcock vehicles I’ve ever encountered. Perhaps at the time, costume dramas were all the rage, but that still doesn’t explain what compelled Alfred to direct this thing. There was no suspense, no murder, and for the most part, no real crime, so besides a love of the actors and/or some sort of contractual obligation, I’m not sure why he would even glance at the script, much less make a film of it.
What made this situation even more puzzling was that Under Capricorn was preceded by the likes of Rope, Notorious, and Shadow of a Doubt, three bona-fide suspense thrillers. What the hell happened? Here, the only hints of Hitchcock’s influence I noticed were some long, roving-camera takes, a few of his trademark shots and angles, and his usual cameo, which there were two of, and both of which I missed. It was also surprising to me that there was really nothing cinematic to keep me interested, and some of the backdrops and camera movements were – in my impudent opinion – exceedingly sloppy for a director of Hitchcock’s skills and stature.
As for the story, it had something to do with a woman who years earlier had killed her brother, and who then married a man who moved her to an Australian penal colony, where she then hooked up with a childhood friend who tried to pry her from the grasp of a jealous housekeeper, who was playing mind games with her. Say what? What sort of Hitchcock film was this? Where was the tension, and the thrills, and the pairing of suave protagonists with elegant villains? Where were the German spies, and killer birds, and psychotic motel owners? And why was there so much talk?
I honestly don’t have an answer for you, and in the end it made me wonder: what good is there to say about a film that was, at the time, not only a box-office failure and a disappointment to critics, but is considered by the director himself to be a film he never should’ve made? Well, for me, there isn’t much. The three leads – Joseph Cotten, Ingrid Bergman, and Michael Wilding – played their parts as well as you’d expect, but I thought Wilding was especially good, and seemed to be enjoying his role, while newcomer Margaret Leighton quietly made her mark as the maid with a sinister agenda. Beyond that…well, I guess you could say the shrunken head added some spark, at least.
Being an ardent follower of Hitchcock’s films, I still find this one very hard to recommend. For me, it was far too stagey and long-winded, and at two hours in length, it was also quite the chore to get through. I will say, there are some who rate this much higher than I do, and a few who – somehow – find it a fascinating watch. If you’re a fan of Hitchcock, and have never seen Under Capricorn, then you might feel obligated to give it a look, but if you’re new to the director’s work, this is not the place to start. There are just too many better films of his out there to enjoy and appreciate. (4/10)