“I never thought of the priesthood as offering a hiding place.”
A priest (Montgomery Clift) hears the confession of a murderer (O.E. Hasse), but is unable to say anything about it to the prosecutor (Karl Malden) who questions him, and soon finds himself the prime suspect — especially when his friendship with a married woman (Anne Baxter) is revealed.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Anne Baxter Films
- Brian Aherne Films
- Detectives and Private Eyes
- Falsely Accused
- Hitchcock Films
- Karl Malden Films
- Montgomery Clift Films
- Play Adaptations
- Priests and Ministers
Opinions vary wildly on this relentlessly somber, somewhat dated Hitchcock outing (based on a 1902 play by Paul Anthelme), with some finding it seriously flawed, and others (a smaller group, to be sure) ranking it among his finest films. An overtly religious movie in many ways, it deals with issues of ethics, conscience, and clerical duty (with thriller elements thrown in for good Hitchcockian measure); indeed, as noted by DVD Savant, it actually features thematic similarities to Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest (1951). Many have complained that Clift’s performance is overly stoic — and it’s true that it’s difficult to really get to know his character, just as it may be to get to know any priest.
Baxter (whose story one can’t say too much about, at risk of giving away spoilers) ends up as the most “human” of the protagonists in the movie — the one we’re most meant to relate to — but she’s unfortunately not all that sympathetic.
Even more viewers have complained about the central conceit around which the storyline pivots: Clift’s refusal to give away even the slightest hint of what he’s heard in confession. Non-Catholics may have a hard time understanding this, and I’ll admit to feeling frustrated by it myself — but ultimately, Clift’s utter devotion to his character’s ethos pays off, such that the final shot truly gave me chills, and suddenly placed the entire film in a different light.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Robert Burks’ cinematography
- Dimitri Tiomkin’s score
No, but it’s recommended for one-time viewing, and certainly a must for Hitchcock fans.