Academic journal article CineAction

Confession as Betrayal: (Alfred) Hitchcock's I Confess as Enigmatic Text

Academic journal article CineAction

Confession as Betrayal: (Alfred) Hitchcock's I Confess as Enigmatic Text

Article excerpt

Hitchcock's I Confess as Enigmatic Text

Despite its considerable complexities, I Confess has often been referred to in ways which don't fully take these into account. Thus, William Rothman sees the film as a commentary upon "the dark moment in the history of Hollywood at which it was made: its story about the courage and despair of a man scorned for his refusal to testify under interrogation is a thinly veiled allegory of McCarthyism and the blacklist" (The Murderous Gaze, Harvard University Press, 1982, page 248). Rothman, further, sees the refusal of Father Michael Logan (Montgomery Clift) to reveal the secrets of the confessional as an aspect of his "calling as a priest" (page 166). As David Sterritt puts it, "... Logan's predicaments in I Confess stem from his role in the church's centuries-old production..." (The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, Cambridge University Press, 1993, page 72), a form of theatre, as it were. Generally, this withholding is seen as laudable, if somewhat uninteresting, despite more ambiguous tendencies on Logan's part towards martyrdom or overweening pride. One of the things which seems to have been overlooked, however, is the extent to which the film text of I Confess itself withholds knowledge from the viewer in various ways.

Clearly, crucial factual information is withheld: most surprisingly, we never learn with any certainty whether Logan and Ruth (Anne Baxter) commit adultery in the summer house. Robin Wood argues that, whereas the flashback visually suggests that they do, Logan's "obviously sincere testimony" (Hitchcock's Films Revisited, Faber and Faber, 1991, page 84) makes clear that they don't, the resultant lying flashback understandable as a wish-fulfilment on Ruth's part. It seems to me that neither flashback nor testimony is unequivocal in this way. I am more persuaded in the case of the flashback, where Michael's loving look at Ruth as she awakens -- in contrast to his earlier anxious hesitations -- suggest a barrier has come down between them and some sort of fulfilment achieved. But the striking aspect of his present-day testimony at his trial is the care with which he chooses his words. Thus, his response -- "I can't say" -- to the prosecutor's question as to who put the bloodied cassock in his trunk, while literally true, is clearly intended to deceive, its words meant to be taken to imply lack of knowledge ("I don't know"), rather than deliberate withholding of the truth ("I refuse to say"). The fact that his testimony is not "obviously sincere" in this respect suggests that we should pay close attention to his words with respect to his relationship to Ruth as well. When asked whether he and Ruth were "such good friends that you spent the night with her," Logan simply comments, "We were caught in a storm," though the flashback implies they had already missed the last ferry back when the storm broke (Ruth's words in confessional voice-over -- "I didn't know what time it was, but it was late. We'd missed the last ferry back from the island" -- are given their visual equivalent through her shaking her stopped watch, broken by the rain, only minutes after the outbreak of the storm). "Oh, the storm was the villain," replies the prosecutor tellingly. Logan's response -- "I saw nothing wrong with being caught in a storm" -- while reasonable enough, both evades the issue of his responsibility and leaves a great deal unsaid. As with Logan's omission in reply to the question as to the discrepancy between the account of Keller (O.E. Hasse) and his own ("It could have been eleven forty-five. The rest isn't true"), a statement of fact ("We were caught in a storm," "It could have been eleven forty-five") acts as decoy for what is withheld. It is surely significant, however, that, whereas Logan explicitly denies Keller's account ("The rest isn't true"), while withholding an alternative version, he does not deny the adultery with Ruth, which is perfectly by compatible, after all, with being caught in a storm. …

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