Monday, March 4, 2013


1831, Sydney, Australia: Among the ne'er-do-wells and convicted criminals making a new start in this sweaty liminal zone is Charles Adare (Michael Wilding), the cousin of the colony's new governor. Charles is taken in by shadowy but prosperous businessman Samson Flusky (Joseph Cotten), whose troubled and alcoholic wife Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman) was acquainted with Charles back in Ireland. Charles' growing fondness for Henrietta gradually brings her out of her shell, but also brings to light a variety of demons that have lurked quiet in the Flusky household, which threaten to destroy all in their wake.

Goddammit, this movie should have been HUGE for director Alfred Hitchcock, returning him as it does to the Gothic milieu of REBECCA and building confidently on the long-take experiments of ROPE. It's one of his most technically assured films, and he'd aided immeasurably in its execution by the artfully garish Technicolor photography of Jack Cardiff and an incredibly lightfooted crew of camera operators. The long takes stalk through the manor and draw you in, giving the actors time and space to fully inhabit their characters and put you away. (Among other noteworthy scenes, Bergman delivers a confession that, at the time, was the longest speech recorded in a feature film - I think it's the finest piece of acting I've ever seen her do, in its breadth and restraint.) The result is one of Hitchcock's most emotionally involving films, a powerful revitalization of the Gothic melodrama that remains absolutely fresh and engaging.

It is believed that its box office failure was the result of an audience unwilling to follow Hitchcock into non-thriller territory (which is baffling, since in its quiet way it's one of his most thrilling films), and/or the public's shunning of Bergman after her affair with Roberto Rossellini became public. Part of me thinks that the failure of this movie either depressed Hitchcock so much that he wound up phoning in STAGE FRIGHT, or that he deliberately phoned it in as a fuck you to that neglectful audience. Their stupid loss became our stupid loss, and UNDER CAPRICORN remains one of Hitchcock's more obscure films. It remains a truly misunderstood gem, and well worth seeking out.