Monday, March 11, 2013

Under Capricorn (1949)



Never heard of Alfred Hitchcock’s film Under Capricorn? Do not worry if you have not heard of this you are not missing too much. I adore Ingrid Bergman and Alfred Hitchcock and I am a fan of Joseph Cotton but this was the wrong film for all three of them to make.
            Charles Adare has gone with his cousin Richard to Australia. Richard has been named by King William of England (the film takes place in 1831) to be the new governor of the colony. Charles hopes to strike it rich but is not sure how he will do so. He goes to a bank and an employee Mr. Potter tells him that he does not have enough to invest in anything too big. A man named Sam Flusky (Cotton) has come to speak to Mr. Potter. Mr. Potter tells Charles that Sam is one of the smartest investors and richest men in Australia. Charles asks the man how Sam came to live in Australia and is told that it is an unwritten rule not to ask anyone of their past in Sydney. Charles seems to think he knows the name Flusky it sounds very familiar but he cannot place it. Mr. Potter tells Charles not to go to Sam’s house under any circumstances but does not get the chance to explain as Sam is standing right outside the door. Sam and Charles walk out of the bank together. Sam makes Charles an offer. He wants Charles to buy some land since he has bought all of the crown land he legally can and that if Charles buys it he will buy it from him for much more than Charles bought it. Sam then asks him to dinner the following night and Charles accepts the invitation. Charles goes to see his cousin. Richard seems to have heard of the name Flusky before but he also cannot place it. He thinks the name has something to do with a woman. Richard tells Charles not to be associated with Sam it would not be good for either one of them.
            Charles goes to Sam’s house for dinner. When he gets to the house he hears voices and follows them instead of ringing the bell. He hears Sam ordering his servants around and he sees him whip the women in the kitchen out of a fight. Sam catches Charles looking into the kitchen and brings him into the house. The other invited men begin to arrive. Each one makes an excuse of why their wives could not join them. Sam says it is alright because his wife cannot join them either she is not feeling too well. When they have sat down to eat, Sam’s wife Henrietta (Bergman) comes down. Henrietta sits next to Charles. They realize they know each other from Ireland, she had been best friends with his sister. Henrietta returns to her room not feeling so well. She asks for Charles’s help to the stairs. When she gets to her room she screams for Charles to come and help her. Henrietta is a wreck she thinks there is something at the end of her bed and wants Charles to shoot it. He shoots at the fireplace. When he returns downstairs he tells Sam that Sydney seems to have a rat problem to explain why he shot his pistol.
            After the other men Sam explains to Charles about why he and Henrietta are in Sydney. He used to be her family’s stable boy. He taught her how to ride. The family did not like him after a while and wanted to get rid of him. Henrietta wanted to be with him so she sold all her possessions and came down to Australia to wait for him to serve his sentence. Charles asks Sam if he can come and call on Henrietta. Sam thinks that is a good idea figuring maybe Charles can help cure Henrietta. The first day Charles comes over he tries to get Henrietta to run her own household instead of the maid Milly. Milly has overheard this conversation and she is not happy. The women in the kitchen laugh at her and to make matters worse Milly has gone to Henrietta’s room, brought down all the liquor bottles, and showed them to the women. They howl with laughter at Henrietta and she runs upstairs locking herself in her room for days. Charles tells Sam what Milly has done to Henrietta. Sam with not hear any of it after all that Milly has put up with taking care of his wife. Feeling bad Charles climbs up to Henrietta’s room. She wants him to go back to Ireland to tell he family she has died she has no courage to do anything.
            Sam gets rid of Milly. Henrietta is a wreck that Milly has gone but Charles quickly helps her to gain control and take charge of the household. Henrietta does well for some time. Charles is over one night and he has invitations to the Governor’s Ball on behalf of an Irish society. Henrietta is thrilled. Sam said he will not go because he cannot dance as well as the rest of them can. When Charles and Henrietta leave Milly walks in the door. She asks to stay for the night in her old room and Sam agrees. Milly begins to make Sam jealous of his wife with Charles. She gets Sam so upset he goes to the ball to get his wife ruining her night. Henrietta runs out of the ball and returns home with Charles. At the house she confesses to Charles that Sam is not a murderer. When she and Sam had been married at an inn in Dublin her brother came in a rage. Her brother was going to shoot her but Sam protected her. She reached for his gun and shot her brother. Sam took the blame for the murder. Sam comes home he is angry and upset to see them alone together. Charles goes to leave and take Sam’s horse. Charles comes back he thought the gate was open and he thrown off the horse and the horse broke its leg. Sam returns the two men go to fight and Sam’s gun goes off shooting Charles in the shoulder.
            Since the shooting was Sam’s second offense he could be sent to die. Henrietta confesses to Richard that she was the one who shot her brother not Sam.
            After this things become annoying and complicated and remain boring. Too many things go back and forth.
            Hitchcock confessed to Francois Truffaut that he “… would have made the picture if it hadn’t been for Ingrid Bergman. At the 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 victory over the rest of the industry you see.” He felt Bergman was a commercial asset that there she would make the film a success on her own. Unfortunately “That was bad thinking, and my behavior was almost infantile.” He goes on to say that having her in the picture proved costly in many ways. Bergman’s services drove the cost of picture too high and when this was released she was caught in the famous scandal with Roberto Rossellini. Movie theaters across America band the film because of her and it flopped miserably in the country. I do not blame Ingrid Bergman for the failure of the film alone. Hitchcock does not even solely blame her there were many other issues with the film. If anything Bergman was an asset because she had the capability to be amazing even when the material was total garbage and that is true with Under Capricorn. The acting by Bergman, Joseph Cotton, Michael Wilding (Charles) and Margaret Leighton (Milly) was perfect the material was just horrible. Luckily all four actors were very good at their craft and were able to perform well with the material. I loved Joseph Cotton and Ingrid Berman together. I was so mad that the material was so bad they were perfect together. It would have been great if they had made another film together after this. Hitchcock said Burt Lancaster would have been better in the role of Sam Flusky. No offense to Burt Lancaster but he would not have been good he would have dragged the film further into a hole. The film character required a good actor like Cotton. Margaret Leighton was creepy and fantastic as Milly. Michael Wilding I really do not have that much of an opinion of. He was good but not the greatest.
            Under Capricorn I found to be a disappointment. As soon as the film started I could not believe that Alfred Hitchcock the Master of Suspense made such a bad period piece. From start to finish it did not feel like a Hitchcock film. It was as if I was watching a cheap romantic film by a second rate director there was nothing special about it. It is crazy to think Under Capricorn was voted by the French as one of the ten greatest films ever made and when it was released in the country it was a huge hit. The only thing I liked seeing was how Henrietta was like The Second Mrs. de Winter and Milly was like Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca. And I also like seeing Ingrid Bergman in color when she was still young. Under Capricorn is a Hitchcock film I would either skip/drag your heels to see or only watch if you are a huge fan of either the director or Ingrid Bergman or Joseph Cotton. Under Capricorn is available to view on Youtube.