Regarded as a failure by most critics and a masterpiece by a few, UNDER CAPRICORN is one of Alfred Hitchcock's most unusual films in terms of setting, subject matter, and cinematic approach.
The main storyline concerns Irish noblewoman Lady Henrietta Flusky (Ingrid Bergman) and her working-class husband Sam (Joseph Cotten), who flee to colonial Australia to escape a secret and tragic past. The film works best during the scenes set in the Flusky mansion, where Hitchcock employs the 10-minute takes he pioneered in ROPE to much greater effect. The technique verged on the gimmicky in ROPE, but in UNDER CAPRICORN the lingering, uninterrupted shots are almost poetic in effect, creating a haunting and ominous undertone.
It is during the film's other scenes that things tend to fall apart, with Hitchcock merely going through the motions of laying out the exposition in a rather pedestrian manner. Though it's difficult to accept Bergman as an Irishwoman, she nevertheless delivers one of her most varied and powerful performances. Cotten is mostly effective in a rather dour and one-note role, whereas Michael Wilding (who probably has more screen time than Cotten) is too polished and mannered to capture the frivolous nature of his character. It is Margaret Leighton who nearly steals the picture as the housemaid Millie, one of Hitchcock's most evil villainesses since Judith Anderson's Mrs. Danvers in REBECCA. For me, UNDER CAPRICORN is a deeply flawed film with numerous moments of brilliance. And somehow I love every minute of it. ½ - JL