This is my contribution to the Ingrid Bergman blogathon being organised by Virginie at The Wonderful World of Cinema. Please visit to read the other postings.
Ingrid Bergman starred in three Hitchcock films, all made during the 1940s. The first two, Spellbound (1945) and Notorious (1946), are both recognised as classics, but the third, Under Capricorn (1949) has fallen under the radar. It seems to have disappointed many Hitchcock fans, partly because it was wrongly marketed as a thriller. There are some especially misleading posters which seem to have been issued for a 1960s rerelease, with a headline screaming “Murder will out!” and black-and-white photos arranged to make the film look like a close relation of Psycho.
In fact, the film is a slow-burning romantic period drama set in 1830s Australia, and filmed in gorgeous Technicolor by the great cinematographer Jack Cardiff. Sadly, it wasn’t actually filmed in Australia, but mainly made in London, so there are no glimpses of the wildlife which is repeatedly mentioned, and it’s hard to believe in the characters’ complaints of heat! Bergman gives a brilliant, intense performance in the lead role as alcoholic Lady Henrietta Flusky, with Joseph Cotten and Michael Wilding as the two men caught up with her in a damaging love triangle.
At the start of the film, aristocratic but penniless Irishman Charles Adare (Wilding) arrives in Sydney together with his cousin, the new Governor (Cecil Parker). Adare is in a hurry to make his fortune, and meets up with a local businessman, another Irish exile, Sam Flusky (Cotten), who offers him a shortcut to making money. It soon becomes apparent that Sam is socially ostracised by the great and the good of Sydney because he is an ex-convict, who has served time for manslaughter. When Charles is invited to dinner at his home, one man after another turns up without his wife, voicing a succession of feeble excuses. However, as the guests sit down for an all-male dinner, one woman does arrive – Sam’s wife, Lady Hattie, who is drunk, confused and half-dressed, with bare feet and flowers in her hair. A shocked Charles recognises his childhood sweetheart from Ireland.
Sam invites Charles to stay with them, and he tries to help Hattie, but soon dangerous tensions are building. Sam is a former stable hand and recognises that Hattie and Charles share a class background. To make matters worse, domineering housekeeper Milly (Margaret Leighton), who is clearly in love with Sam, sets out to stir things, making insinuations that Charles and Hattie are having an affair. Leighton is excellent as Milly, with violent passions simmering beneath a cold surface. Both Cotten and Wilding perhaps underplay their parts somewhat compared to the women. In particular, Sam seems to be intended as a Heathcliff type character who is furious over his low roots, but Cotten never really makes him as angry as he could be.
Under Capricorn was based on a stage adaptation of a novel by Helen Simpson. As in his previous film, Rope, also based on a play, Hitchcock continued to use a technique of long takes, sometimes 10 minutes long. This has the effect of making the film feel rather slow and talky, but gives a feeling of realism and allows the actors space really to develop their characters. In particular, Bergman has some great scenes where she really brings out the anguish of Lady Hattie. There are many interesting echoes of other Hitchcock films, in particular Notorious, as Bergman once again plays a drunken wife tormented by her past.
The Fluskys’ Gothic mansion, which looks both magnificent and foreboding, is called Minyago Yugilla, said to be an Australian Aboriginal rendering of the Biblical “Why weepest thou?” These are the words of the gardener to Mary Magdalene when she visits the tomb of Jesus. This seems like an odd name for a house, but it points out the sorrow of Hattie. Also, the Wikipedia article on the film shows how critic Ed Gallafent has traced a series of references to Magdalene in the portrayal of Hattie, from her bare feet to jewels thrown on the floor. Tying in with this iconography, it’s suggested that Hattie might have had to make money from prostitution to survive while Sam spent seven years on a chain gang after transportation. This is never stated outright, but implied.
Bergman speaks in a surprisingly good Irish accent, with only occasional vowels betraying her real Swedish voice, while Wilding uses his normal upper-crust English accent and Cotten sounds mid-Atlantic. So it’s not always easy to believe that all three of them come from the same area of Ireland, but the contrasting accents do drive home the class divide between Charles and Sam. There also seems to be a class divide between Charles and Hattie, expressing how she has come down in the world since their shared childhood.
All in ll, I enjoyed this film and would like to revisit it in future. It would be great to see it get a release on blu-ray or, better still, see it on the big screen. It is available on DVD in both region 1 and 2 but is rather expensive. Lastly, I didn’t notice Hitchcock’s cameo in this one, but the Hitchcock Zone points out that he is glimpsed in the town square.