I seem to remember really liking this one when I first watched it as a teenager but found it trickier to get into this time around. It has a wonderfully strong concept to begin with, in fact it captured my imagination so much that first time that I attempted to write my own first screenplay based on something similar – a priest hears the confession of a murderer and is bound by the code of secrecy… intriguing enough a “what if” already, it quickly becomes all the more fascinating as suspicion of the murder falls upon the priest, two little girls having witnessed a man in a cassock leaving the scene of the crime. What is he to do?
In stark contrast to Hitchcock’s previous movie Strangers on a Train there’s nothing remotely lighthearted to be found in this story. I’d like to say this is less to do with an overly stuffy approach than the fact that at 90 minutes, there’s simply no room for laughs. Hitchcock almost flatly states this is to be so by getting his trademark cameo out of the way within minutes while he’s still setting up the location of the action in his opening montage.
Sadly, while he might not have room for a giggle or two, Hitchcock does find time for a rather cumbersome backstory, dealt with in flashbacks, that doesn’t really have much bearing on this otherwise effectively simple setup other than putting the priest ever so slightly more in doubt and giving the lead Montgomery Clift a love interest (cleverly, without giving a priest a love interest – amusingly, this didn’t stop the film being banned in Ireland at the time) . This middle section and the lengthy courtroom scene that follows leads to the movie feeling almost painfully longer than 90 minutes. I can’t help but feel like this story could’ve been made so much more exciting.