Under Capricorn – Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Costume Melodrama. An early 19th Century rake from Ireland is sent to Australia where he cleans up the marriage of a childhood friend and noblewoman now married to a rich peasant landholder. 117 minutes Color 1949.
* * * *
Not a suspense story, but rather one more along the lines of Rebecca, the story of a marriage threatened by a dark past, it is a film which rewards study. It was filmed, as was Rope, in long takes, looping through rooms and circling around and around, and it also involved the longest monologues you’ve ever heard, and it is good to hear them. The great Jack Cardiff filmed it, so it is velvet in motion. Looking wonderful in Regency costumes, Michael Wilding plays the playboy younger son out to make his fortune if he does not have to raise a sweat to do so. His long face moves so curiously that it’s rather hard to understand his craft as an actor, particularly when so many of his lines are rushed, as is the way with English actors of that era. It has five principal roles, three English, one Swedish, one American. Cecil Parker, Margaret Leighton, Wilding, Joseph Cotton and Ingrid Bergman as his drunken wife. And it becomes obvious what is wrong with that mélange. Joseph Cotton is what is wrong, and it throws the entire film. He is miscast. He is supposed to be an ex-Irish stable boy who has married a milady, Bergman, well above his station. In the film, he is the one who suffers most, because of this class difference. But we never believe for a minute that he is a peasant. His opening moment is wonderful, as he enters a bank with a well-earned ruthlessness that has given him character. But he looses that thereafter, and ends up being just a middle-class American. Neither he nor Bergman tries for an Irish accent. Bergman always felt the public liked her Swedish accent, and she was right, they did. And Cotton just speaks American. Class accents are enormously important in distinguishing caste; Margaret Leighton is the only one who knows this. But the problem is that Burt Lancaster is not playing the part. (Of course there were no Michael Caines or Sean Connerys at that time.) Bergman plays her usual put-upon dame. She has no fight, she has no moxie. She never evinces the dash attributed to her. Being a victim was also what she figured her public wanted. She brings her peerless complexion to the character and a world-class charm in scenes with Cecil Parker. But the rest of the time she is making pastry. She brings a steady emotionalism of the role to bear, but was she ever deeply engaged emotionally in any part she ever played? In a way, I’ve got to hand it to her. There was something in her limited artistic imagination that allowed her audiences’ imaginations to fill in the blank. However, I found the film fascinating as a study of Hitchcock’s story-telling devices. Under Capricorn has been much maligned: notorious for not being Notorious. Instead, think of Rebecca and enjoy.