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Hitchapalooza 16: Under Capricorn (1949) April 3, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in Movies.
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Oh dear God the dreaded COSTUME DRAMA – what you’d think would be the bane of every director’s existence, though Scorcese did a nice job with The Age Of Innocence and Hitchcock does a decent job with this, though I can only really give it a C+.

Set in 19th century Australia, Under Capricorn tells the story of a romantic triangle complicated by past secrets, guilt, British notions of class and the sacrifices people decide to live with, all without Hitchcock’s trademark suspense. Ingrid Bergman does her familiar sad-woman-with-a-dark-secret bit well here, Michael Wilding plays Mr. Charm passably, and Joseph Cotten is as stiff and proud as always as the husband.

Despite the faded quality of the print I saw, Hitchcock’s second technicolor movie is very pretty to look at. The recurring motif of characters reflected or not reflected near surfaces depending on how well they know themselves looks good, as well as a lot of the night photography. Hitchcock was still coming off his previous feature Rope here, using very long takes and gliding camera moves up and down stairs, in and out of windows, etc. while characters take turns in the movie with long one-take speeches.

But while slickly filmed and photographed, the story is standard melodrama, and as much as I like Cotten in other films, his gruffness here does a disservice to a character who ought to emote more of the effects of the secrets and frustrations he lives with. He began life as a stable boy and then married above his station in Bergman, only to spend years in prison for killing her brother. Though he has prospered in Australia, he’s always looked down upon by the British as an ex-con upstart, and thus carries a big chip on his shoulder. When he brings Wilding around to spark some life into his terminally drunken depressed wife, Bergman is indeed transformed into her perky old self, yet inevitable jealousies abound. It’s a little as if Rebecca was done from the point of view of George Sanders, but Rebecca has a far more interesting mystery behind everything.

So, another one checked off – this was the only Hitchcock film between The Lady Vanishes & Family Plot that I had never seen. I’m glad I did, but it’s not one of his better efforts.

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