UNDER CAPRICORN (1949) C 117m dir: Alfred Hitchcock

w/Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, Michael Wilding, Margaret Leighton, Jack Watting, Cecil Parker, Dennis O'Dea, Olive Sloan, John Ruddock, Bill Shine, Victor Lucas, Ronald Adam, G.H. Mulcaster, Maureen Delaney, Julia Lang, Betty McDermot, Roderick Lovell, Francis de Wolff

Be forewarned: the following material contains specific story information you may not want to know before viewing the film:

From Variety's review of the film: "Under Capricorn is overlong and talky, with scant measure of the Alfred Hitchcock thriller tricks.

"Time of the plot is 1831, in Sidney, NSW, during that period when a convict, after serving his time, could start life anew with a clean slate. Such a man is Joseph Cotten, former groom and now Ingrid Bergman's husband. Cotten has become a man of wealth, but is not accepted socially.

"That fact, along with his past crime --- the killing of his wife's brother, a deed committed by Bergman but for which he took the blame --- are the motives stressed as causing the wife's addiction to the bottle."

Francois Truffaut interviewed the director about UNDER CAPRICORN in his book, Hitchcock:

"F.T. [referring to AH's previous film, which uses the technique of continuous ten-minute camera takes to unfold its story] ... I don't agree that Rope should be dismissed as a foolish experiment, particularly when you look at it in the context of your whole career: a director is tempted by the dream of linking all of a film's components into a single, continuous action. In this sense, it's a positive step in your evolution.

"Nevertheless, weighing the pros and cons --- and the practices of all the great directors who have considered the question seem to bear this out --- it is true that the classical cutting techniques dating back to D.W. Griffith have stood the test of time and still prevail today. Don't you agree?

"A.H. No doubt about it; films must be cut. As an experiment, Rope may be forgiven, but it was definitely a mistake when I insisted on applying the same techniques to Under Capricorn. ...

"F.T. After Rope, you made your second picture as an independent producer and that was Under Capricorn . In France there was and still is some confusion around that movie. It turned out to be a financial disaster, and you are reported to be very sorry you ever undertook it. Yet many of your admirers regard it as your very best work. Wasn't it taken from a British novel that you liked?

"A.H. I had no special admiration for the novel, and I don't think I would have made the picture if it hadn't been for Ingrid Bergman. At that time she was the biggest star in America and all the American producers were competing for her services, and I must admit that I made the mistake of thinking that to get Bergman would be a tremendous feat; it was a victory over the rest of the industry, you see.

"In 1949 I was regarded as a specialist in the suspense and thriller genre, but Under Capricorn fitted into neither one of these categories. In fact, The Hollywood Reporter commented on it by saying that one 'had to wait a hundred and five minutes for the first thrill of the picture.'

"Anyway, I looked upon Bergman as a feather in my cap. We were making it with our own production company and all I could think about was: 'Here I am, Hitchcock, the onetime English director, returning to London [where production took place] with the biggest star of the day.' I was literally intoxicated at the thought of the cameras and flashbulbs that would be directed at Bergman and myself at the London airport. All of these externals seemed to be terribly important. I can only say now that I was being stupid and juvenile.

"My second mistake was to ask my friend Hume Cronyn to do the script with me; I wanted him because he's a very articulate man who knows how to voice his ideas. But as a scriptwriter he hadn't really sufficient experience.

"Still another error was calling upon James Bridie to help with the scenario. He was a semi-intellectual playwright and not in my opinion a very thorough craftsman. On thinking it over later, I realized that he always had very good first and second acts, but he never succeeded in ending his plays. I still remember one of our working sessions on the script. The man and wife had separated after a series of terrible quarrels, and I asked Bridie, 'How are we going to bring them together again?' He said, 'Oh, let them just apologize to each other and say, "I'm sorry, it was all a mistake."'

"F.T. It is true, even to an admirer of the picture, that the last fifteen minutes are rather weak; the denouement is too contrived. ...

"A.H. That's what I mean. At any rate, I'm trying to give you a clear picture of my proper confusion at the time and of how wrong I was. For a director there should be no question on this one matter: Whenever you feel yourself entering an area of doubt or vagueness, whether it be in respect to the writer, the subject matter, or whatever it is, you've got to run for cover. When you feel you're at a loss, you must go for the tried and true!

"F.T. What do you mean by 'to run for cover' behind the 'tried and true'? Do you mean that when you have doubts about something it's best to fall back on elements that have already been tested?

"A.H. You've got to use an approach you're completely sure of. I mean literally, that whenever there is confusion or doubt in your mind, the first thing to do is recover your bearings. Any guide or explorer will tell you that. When they realize they're lost, or they've taken the wrong road, they won't take a short cut through the forest, nor do they rely on their instincts to set them back in the right direction. What they do is to carefully go back over the whole road until they've found their starting point , or the point at which they took the wrong turn.

"F.T. Well, isn't that true of Under Capricorn ? You have a domineering housekeeper, gradual intoxication, a skeleton in the closet, an admission of guilt ... all of those ingredients had been used in Rebecca and in Notorious.

"A.H. That's right, but, you see, those elements would have remained in the picture anyway if I'd had a good professional, like Ben Hecht, writing the script for me.

"F.T. I see. I grant you that the picture was too talky, but even so, the dialogue was quite poetic. And if Under Capricorn wasn't a good movie, it was certainly a beautiful one.

"A.H. I would have liked it to have been a success, even outside of commercial considerations. With all the enthusiasm we invested in that picture, it was a shame that it didn't amount to anything. I was also ashamed that Ingrid Bergman and I --- as director-producer --- took such large salaries. Perhaps I shouldn't have taken anything at all, but it didn't seem fair at the time for Bergman to be taking so much money and for me to work for nothing.

"F.T. Did the film lose a lot of money?

"A.H. Yes, it did, and the bank that financed it reclaimed the picture. But now [1967] it's going to be re-released throughout the world and also probably on American television.

"F.T. The picture is so romantic that it's surprising it wasn't more of a commercial hit. It's true, of course, that it's also rather gloomy and morbid, with all of the characters feeling guilty about something and the over-all nightmarish climate of the action. Even so, the outstanding aspect of the picture is that it perfects upon many of the elements you had used in your past work. For instance, the tyrannical housekeeper in Under Capricorn might be the daughter of Rebecca's domineering Mrs. Danvers, but Milly is far more terrifying.

"A.H. I thought so too, but the British critics said it was terrible to take a lovely actress like Margaret Leighton and make her into an unsympathetic character. And, at a press conference, one London newspaperman said, 'I don't see why you had to bring Mr. Joseph Cotten from America when we have such a fine British actor as Kieron Moore.'

"F.T. Oh, no! The casting was perfect and the acting was first-rate.

"A.H. I'm not so sure. Remember, Under Capricorn was again the lady-and-groom story. Henrietta fell in love with the groom, and when Joseph Cotten was shipped to Australia as a convict, she followed him there. The main element is that she degraded herself for the sake of her love. Cotten wasn't the right type; Burt Lancaster would have been better.

"F.T. You were concerned with contrast --- the same problem as in The Paradine Case. Anyway, even if this picture was a flop, it can't be put in the same class as Jamaica Inn. To anyone who sees Under Capricorn , it is clear you believed in it, that you like the story --- just as you believed in Vertigo.

"A.H. Well, it's true that I liked the story, but not as much as Vertigo. As I say, Under Capricorn was made for Ingrid Bergman, and I thought this was a story for a woman. But if I'd been thinking clearly, I'd never have tackled a costume picture. You'll notice I've never done any since that time. Besides, there wasn't enough humor in the film. If I were to make another picture in Australia today, I'd have a policeman hop into the pocket of a kangaroo and yell, 'Follow that car!'

"F.T. Another interesting aspect of Under Capricorn is its technique. Like in Rope, there are several shots that run from six to eight minutes; in fact, these are more complex since they switch from the ground floor to the floor above.

"A.H. Well, we didn't have too much trouble with that, but the fluidity of the camera was probably a mistake, because the easy flow emphasized the fact that the picture wasn't a thriller. But Ingrid Bergman got angry with me one evening because of those long shots. And, since I never lose my temper and I hate arguments, I walked out of the room when her back was turned to me. I went home, and later on someone called to inform me that she hadn't noticed my departure and was still complaining twenty minutes after I'd gone.

"F.T. I remember talking to her in Paris later on, and she had harrowing memories of the way large pieces of the decor would vanish into thin air during those long shots.

"A.H. That's right. She didn't like that method of work, and since I can't stand arguments, I would say to her, 'Ingrid, it's only a movie!'"