Saturday, September 15, 2012

Under Capricorn

Kauriin merkeissä / Under Capricorn [Swedish title].
    GB © 1949 Transatlantic Pictures. PC: Transatlantic Pictures Corp. A Warner Bros.-First National Picture. P: Sidney Bernstein, Alfred Hitchcock. D: Alfred Hitchcock. SC: James Bridie – adaptation: Hume Cronyn - story: John Colton, Margaret Linden - based on the novel by Helen Simpson (1938). DP: Jack Cardiff. Operators of camera movement: Paul Beeson, Ian Craig, David MacNeilly, Jack Haste. PD: Thomas N. Morahan. Set dresser: Philip Stockford. Cost: Roger Forse. Makeup: Charles Parker. M: Richard Addinsell. M dir: Louis Levy. S: Peter Handford. ED: A. S. Bates.
    C: Ingrid Bergman (Lady Henrietta [Hattie] Flusky), Joseph Cotten (Sam Flusky), Michael Wilding (Hon. Charles Adare), Margaret Leighton (Milly), Cecil Parkes (the governor), Jack Watling (Winter), Denis O'Dea (Mr. Corrigan), Harcourt Williams (the coachman), John Ruddock (Mr. Cedric Potter), Bill Shine (Mr. Banks), Victor Lucas (Rev. Smiley), Ronald Adam (Mr. Riggs), Francis de Wolff (Major Wilkins), G. H. Mulcaster (Dr. Mcallister), Kitchen staff at Flusky's manor: Olive Sloane (Sal), Maureen Delaney (Flo), Julia Lang (Susan), Betty McDermott (Martha), Alfred Hitchcock (man standing in front of Government House).
    Studio: Elstree (GB) 21.7.-18.10.1948, Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank 12.10.-mid Nov 1948.
    Helsinki premiere: 10.3.1950 Metropol, released by Warner Bros. - re-release 14.11.1975 Astra, by Kamras Film Agency Oy - vhs release: Nordic Video – VET 31275 – K12 – 3214 m / 117 min.
    A BFINA print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Alfred Hitchcock), 15 September 2012.

Under Capricorn is one of the Alfred Hitchcock movies most highly regarded by the 1950s Cahiers du Cinéma generation who were the original discoverers of Alfred Hitchcock as a great artist.

I have always had problems with Under Capricorn. I can see what the intentions are, but I fail to discover the irresistible drive that is present in all Hitchcock's best films and also in many others which are only partially successful such as The Paradine Case.

I like the conclusion of Under Capricorn very much. The late anagnorisis, which leads immediately to the peripeteia, is the sequence where Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman), who has been acting like a drugged sleepwalker during most of the picture, "wakes up" and realizes how she has been drugged and deceived by Milly. This crucial sequence is excellent and purely visual.

Under Capricorn is a triple tragedy set in 1831 in Australia. The Irish noblewoman Henrietta has sacrificed her life of luxury by escaping with the groom of the house, Sam (Joseph Cotten). Her brother tried to kill Sam, but Henrietta, defending Sam, managed to kill her brother instead.

Sam's sacrifice was that he took the blame and was sentenced to seven years of hard labour in Australia and expulsion for life. After the seven years Sam has become a rich landowner, but the years of suffering have broken Sam and Henrietta spiritually.

Enters Charles Adare (Michael Wilding) who interprets the situation in his way and plays Prince Charming to Henrietta. There is a violent scene, which might cause Sam another prison sentence, now for life. When Charles realizes the truth of the circumstances, he carries his responsibility, makes his sacrifice, and leaves Australia. There is a possibility of a new life for all.

It's an interesting performance by Ingrid Bergman, in continuation to her roles in Gaslight and Notorious. Because of the fundamentally healthy radiation of her personality such accounts of spirits broken feel especially devastating.

Joseph Cotten gives another sterling performance in an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Joseph Cotten often portrayed nice guys, but here his resentful character is very convincing.

Among the striking motifs of the movie there is the absence of mirrors. "I have no mirror": Henrietta should not be able to see how ravaged she has become. Charles hangs his black coat on the other side of a glass panel, thus creating a makeshift mirror for Henrietta. And she buys Henrietta a real mirror, presented in a memorable scene.

Henrietta is supposedly the lady of the house, but the keys are in the possession of the housekeeper Milly.

Creepy housekeepers appeared in Rebecca, The Paradine Case, and Under Capricorn. Poisoning was a motif in Suspicion, Notorious, The Paradine Case, and Under Capricorn. Hirsute grooms loomed around noble ladies in The Paradine Case and Under Capricorn.

Degradation is a recurrent theme in Hitchcock's Ingrid Bergman movies: alcoholism and prostitution. Henrietta yearns to go down, down, down, so deep that nothing can hurt her anymore.

The shrunken skull, the death's head, is a motif that Hitchcock used more powerfully in Psycho. Here it is a memento mori and a sadistic reflection of Henrietta's "living dead" state before she starts to see clearly again.

The print is clean and the colour is fine.

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