Alfred Hitchcock is justifiably renowned for his great movies — some 55 features made on both sides of the Atlantic from the early 1920’s until 1976, four years before the director’s death. He is invariably identified as the “master of suspense.”
Yet no matter how suspenseful his titles, Hitchcock was generally not inclined to show “pure” romance between his characters. That is, unencumbered depictions of love between men and women — and, by heavy suggestion, men and men (1948’s Rope and 1951’s Strangers On A Train) — outside the exigencies of whatever plot predicaments they find themselves in.
The passion of James Stewart and Kim Novak in 1958’s Vertigo arises from his accidental involvement in a twisted murder plot. The sexy playfulness shared by Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in 1959’s North By Northwest provides an entertaining grace note to an otherwise complicated espionage story.
James Stewart and Grace Kelly play at love in similar fashion in 1954’s Rear Window although Kelly and Grant are more sexually ambitious in 1955’s To Catch A Thief (after all, it was filmed on the French Riviera).
The closest Hitchcock comes to genuine, no holds barred romance comes in 1946’s Notorious when Grant and Ingrid Bergman engage in that astonishingly lengthy kissing scene before she is cynically dispatched to spy on Nazis in South America. One of classic Hollywood’s most intense love scenes.
But for pure romanticism it’s hard to beat the pairing of Anne Baxter and Montogomery Clift in 1953’s I Confess. Their characters (pictured above) express their mutual devotion (at least for the duration of this movie), which predates the central plot premise and extends beyond its twists and turns.
I Confess centers on the inability of a Roman Catholic priest (Clift) to break the confessional seal — whatever is heard during confession stays in the confessional — and clear himself of a murder.
The romanticism crops up in a back story telling of the deeply emotional affair in the priest’s past with a woman later married to a prominent local barrister (nicely played by French actor Roger Dann).
The movie handles the affair carefully, taking pains to point out that the couple fell in love early, well before Clift’s character, disillusioned by military service, enters the priesthood. A tidy but telling flashback conveys the depth of the romance. Baxter’s character is seen — in slow motion — descending a spiral staircase toward her lover while her voiceover narration extols the mysteries of deep love.
The scene is underlined by the movie’s superb and superbly romantic musical score created by veteran Hollywood composer Dimitri Tiomkin. The young couples’ romantic commitment is firmly established in just that one, brief flashback. It is a wonderful screen moment. It is especially effective because such direct, raw emotionalism is not often part of the Hitchcock package.
The director’s staples are evident in I Confess — superb cinematography (by Robert Burks in black-and-white worthy of first class film noir), a blond woman (Baxter is blond throughout), atmospheric sets and set decoration, and lengthy non-dialogue scenes.
You may not, however, be prepared for the level of sheer romanticism displayed in this excellent movie. Consider it an added bonus.