Father Logan (Clift), a Quebec priest, takes confession from a murderer (O.E. Hasse) and is tormented not only by the sanctity of the confessional, but by the cops, who come to suspect that Logan himself is guilty. And it's all complicated by a blackmail attempt and Logan's pre-dog collar girlfriend (Baxter).
Made in 1953, in the awkward period between his glossy black-and-white romantic thrillers and coldly-coloured psychological masterpieces, I Confess has never ranked among Hitchcock's best. The director, uncomfortable with his star, was dismissive, and subsequent studies have been hard-pushed to elevate its reputation.
But Clift, a specialist in agonised male beauty, is better than Hitchcock thought, his own complex sexuality almost edging the piece into Priest territory, and the scenes with Hasse's meekly cruel killer are riveting. But the religious angle means that the film lacks the deftness Hitchcock displays even in such grim films as Strangers On A Train, Vertigo and Psycho. There is too much angst and too little suspense, and the dialogue, taken from a play, blathers on well after the performances have made their points.
Nevertheless, it's a pleasure to see even a lesser work by a master on the big screen, and to remember how routinely brilliant black-and-white cinematography used to be. And stacked up against recent thrillers such as The Firm or The Juror, this is at least an ambitious muddle.
It'll never be remembered as a Hitchcock classic by any stretch, but that is far from saying it's the mess that some regard it as. It's entertaining, and the visuals speak volumes more than the over-cooked dialogue. Worth a look.