Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Under Capricorn

Cinema Monolith: 4/10 The Monolith
IMDb: 6.1/10
Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide: ** out of 4

Released on September 8, 1949
Not rated
117 minutes

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)

20 comments on “Under Capricorn

  1. Sun City Doug
    3/4/22

    Hey Todd,

    So sorry the movie was a big disappointment! Hitchcock’s movies are usually great viewing. I will admit, I really do like the title. Not much fun watching a drab movie, that you keep watching and hoping it gets better, and it does not. Hope the next movie you pick will be much better. How about The Day the Earth Stood Still.

    See you soon…Doug

    Liked by 1 person

    • Todd B
      3/4/22

      Hey Doug! Yes, I agree, usually Hitchcock movies are a great watch…I guess this one just rubbed me the wrong way. I’ve never been a fan of Jamaica Inn, either, but maybe I need to give that one another try, to see if my opinion has changed. Not sure what my next viewing will be, but if I’m going to review it, I’ll try to make it a good one to counter-balance Under Capricorn. Maybe we can set up a pizza night for The Day the Earth Stood Still…I don’t think I’ve watched it since I reviewed it way back in 2014!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. CATZONA!
    3/5/22

    Well, it did have some beautimus bonnets!! Sorry this was a disappointment Toad, but glad you’re now over the “unseen” hurdle in your Hitchcock collection. Onward (to better, more entertaining viewings) ho!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Todd B
      3/6/22

      Yeah, I guess if you’re a bonnet enthusiast, this is the place to go! And with that hurdle now out of the way, I realize I have another one: getting through the other Hitchcock film I’m not too fond of, Jamaica Inn. Onward!

      Like

  3. Sun City Doug
    3/8/22

    Klatuu Barada Nikto AND pizza !!! Sign me up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Todd B
      3/8/22

      Ha, I know what that means…consider your signature applied! And in case you weren’t aware, Son of Dracula is on Sven this coming Saturday. Sorry I can’t be there to share in the fun!

      Like

  4. Under Capricorn sounds like a science fiction film which should be about some battle going on around one of Saturn’s Moon’s like Mimas or Dione. Where the large Titan is trying to take them both over! Something like what’s going on, quite sadly, in Europe at the moment but jet-packed 887 million miles away.

    Or possibly some bonkers fantasy about a small man’s adventure stuck beneath a Sea-Goat called Capricorn! But then I read on, Alfred Hitchcock! OK my imagination got the better of me.

    OK I haven’t seen this one and had been toying with it over the years, the same as you, just to tick it off the AH list. I’ll give it a pass for now as I have much better ones from the back cat to watch. Though I truly appreciate the review and the shock horror of no added German spies! I will one day take a trip down bonnet lane but for now, thanks for the warning buddy.

    Like

    • Todd B
      3/9/22

      Don’t worry, I got your back, Wolfmeister…always making sure you don’t stray into bad-movie territory. But I’d be curious to hear what you think, whenever – if ever – you get around to watching it.

      And your ideas for stories sound much more interesting, and make far better use of the mysterious title (Coming this Summer…Under Capricorn, the exciting and much-anticipated sequel to Titan Find). Whenever I hear it, I think of the astrological sign, but I guess the Tropic of Capricorn runs right through Australia, so there you go.

      And seriously, Bonnet Lane would’ve made a hell of a lot more sense as a title than Under Capricorn.

      Like

  5. Sun City Doug
    3/10/22

    Hey Todd,

    Thanks for letting me know about Sven showing Son of Dracula this Saturday. I can guarantee this will be far more entertaining than Under Capricorn. No bee-in-the-bonnet issues with Son of Dracula !! Hope you and Julie plan on watching. I will have ready popcorn with a domestic champagne commonly referred to as Pepsi. Happy viewing !!

    –Doug–

    Like

    • Todd B
      3/11/22

      Enjoy Sven! I’ll be watching with my Sven-watching friend, who’s out from San Diego for a visit. And if I see anything that even resembles a bonnet in Son of Dracula, I’m turning it off!

      Enjoy our Château de Pepsí!

      Like

  6. Eric Binford
    4/10/22

    As much as I love Hitch, I have to admit that he made a handful of stinkers. Juno and the Paycock (1929), Number Seventeen (1932), The Paradine Case (1947) and Under Capricorn (1948) are my least favorite Hitch movies. Anyhow, your comments (regarding Capricorn) are spot-on. The film is so lifeless. I do want to rewatch this and Paradine to see if I still feel the same way.

    Like

    • Todd B
      4/12/22

      I agree with your ‘stink list’…though I’ve never seen Juno and the Paycock, even though it’s part of a cheap Hitchcock set I’ve owned for years. I might as well bite the bullet here at some point and give it a look. And I should probably watch The Paradine Case again…it’s been a while, but I sure wasn’t impressed the first time I saw it years ago. And for me, Topaz would be on that list as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Eric Binford
        4/13/22

        Flaws and all, I kinda liked Topaz. Torn Curtain is another one that gets a bad rap, but I don’t think it is as bad as people make it out to be. Jamaica Inn is lesser Hitch, but I enjoyed it too. On the other hand, I think Lady Vanishes is a tad overrated. Anyhow, I’m planning to re-watch Paradine and Capricorn soon, so I’ll see if I still feel the same about them.

        Like

      • Todd B
        4/17/22

        I definitely like Torn Curtain more than Topaz, but the latter is another one I’ve only watched once, so maybe it’s due for another viewing and appraisal. And you’ll have to let me know what you thought of Under Capricorn when you re-watch it…unless you review it, then I’ll just visit your site and see for myself!

        And while we’re at it, how about our Top 5 Hitchcock films:

        Rear Window
        Notorious
        North by Northwest
        Young and Innocent
        Dial M for Murder

        Liked by 1 person

      • Eric Binford
        4/21/22

        I’m surprised (and happy) to see Young and Innocent on your list. It’s a movie I like a little more every time I watch it. 🙂

        Like

      • Todd B
        4/23/22

        It’s quite fun I think…an early North by Northwest…and I’m surprised it’s not more appreciated than it is. I’m still waiting for a Criterion edition to come out; I’ve been stuck with a sub-par Mill Creek version for years.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Eric Binford
        4/28/22

        Ah… the days of public domain hell! I used to have an ugly-looking VHS copy (same thing with 39 Steps, Secret Agent, Lady Vanishes and Jamaica Inn).

        I have Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection (https://www.amazon.com/Hitchcock-Premiere-Collection-Spellbound-Notorious/dp/B001D8W7EA ), and Young and Innocent looks great! I’m sure they restored it. It is just a matter of time before KINO or CRITERION release it, so people don’t have to buy the whole set.

        Like

      • Todd B
        5/3/22

        Ha, I wonder if your ugly-looking VHS copies were from the same makers of my ugly-looking Beta copy of The Man Who Knew Too Much: Crown Movie Classics. I saw it at a Crown Books shortly after my Dad had bought us our first player, and I thought it was a steal at SIX DOLLARS! At the time, you just didn’t think about quality…for me, I owned a movie!

        And here’s something embarrassing: as soon as you mentioned ‘Premiere Collection’, I thought…wait a minute, why does that sound familiar? I went to my movie collection, checked out my Hitchcock section, and sure enough, I OWN that version of Young and Innocent! Derf! And I don’t think I’ve watched it yet, even though I purchased it in – wait for it – 2009! So thanks for the reminder that I actually do own a good copy of that film!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Eric Binford
        5/3/22

        “At the time, you just didn’t think about quality…for me, I owned a movie!”

        You are absolutely right! Even though the prints were bad, we were proud to own movies like 39 Steps, Algiers, Meet John Doe, Snows of Kilimanjaro, etc. Plus, they didn’t look all that bad on a regular ’80s TV set. 😉

        As for Young and Innocent, if you have the Premiere DVD set, you own a great copy of the film. I reviewed the movie some time ago, and took the screenshots directly from my DVD copy, so judge for yourself.

        https://diaryofamoviemaniac.wordpress.com/2018/08/16/young-and-innocent-1937-aka-the-girl-was-young/

        Like

      • Todd B
        5/4/22

        And I had a regular, small, black-and-white ’80s TV set, so it was even better!

        I just checked out your link, and took a look at the screenshots…they do indeed look pretty good. Again, thanks for the head’s up!

        Liked by 1 person

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