A major disappointment from the great Alfred Hitchcock, this ill-conceived and muddled costume epic cost--and lost--a fortune. Set in 1831 Australia, the film picks up in mid-story. Cotten, an Irish stable groom, has eloped with Bergman, the daughter of a titled Irish aristocrat. When her brother attempted to stop the couple, he was killed; Cotten was tried...read more
A major disappointment from the great Alfred Hitchcock, this ill-conceived and muddled costume epic cost--and lost--a fortune. Set in 1831 Australia, the film picks up in mid-story. Cotten, an Irish stable groom, has eloped with Bergman, the daughter of a titled Irish aristocrat. When her
brother attempted to stop the couple, he was killed; Cotten was tried and convicted of the slaying and sent to Australia. Tossed aside by her family and penniless, Bergman has followed her husband down under, where Cotten has become a rich a real estate entrepreneur. Despite his wealth, however,
Cotten is not accepted by Australian high society, which snubs him and his wife. Bergman is so miserable that she has taken to heavy drinking, causing her mind to become somewhat unhinged and allowing the strong-willed Leighton to move in on Cotten. As Bergman becomes increasingly unable to take
care of her own household, Leighton looks for ways to show up her lonely and besotted rival whenever she can. Wilding, Bergman's personable cousin, arrives in Australia and is appalled by Bergman's condition. Cotten supports Wilding's attempts to cheer his wife up, but Leighton hints to Cotten
that there may be more between Bergman and Wilding than just familial love and fond memories of childhood. She's right about Wilding, who soon falls in love with Bergman. Not content merely to poison the atmosphere, Leighton gets impatient and attempts to really poison Bergman. Cotten discovers
what she is up to and banishes her from his estate, but not before she flatly tells him that Bergman and Wilding are lovers. And, indeed, Cotten is beginning to doubt his wife's fidelity, suspicions that cause him to abuse her verbally at a society bash, with a violence heightened by his sense of
social inferiority. Wilding springs to Bergman's defense and the two men battle. Wilding is shot, though not fatally, and intends to press charges against Cotten--who, as a convicted killer, is already viewed as a bad apple by the law. But now Bergman drops a bombshell, revealing the she was the
one who killed her brother long ago, though Cotten took the rap for it. Further, it was that long-ago crime that first led her to seek solace in booze. After this, Wilding (whose wound is minor) elects to drop the charge against Cotten and tells the authorities that the shooting was accidental.
Bergman, on the other hand, is in danger of being charged with her brother's murder. But Cotten nobly refuses to verify her confession, and both he and Bergman are freed from police custody. Seeing he's a fifth wheel, Wilding returns to Ireland, leaving Bergman and Cotten to renew their love and
start life afresh.
UNDER CAPRICORN is talky and static, with little of Hitchcock's trademark suspense. The costume drama was not his metier, and he wisely decided to stay out of the genre after this. Contributing to the film's slowness is the scarcity of the cuts in the long sequences; Hitchcock had just finished
ROPE and liked the freedom of that film's 10-minute takes, but the actors, especially the miscast Bergman, rebelled against this style of filming, and there were more fireworks on the set than on the screen. Made by Hitchcock's own Transatlantic Pictures, the financially disappointing UNDER
CAPRICORN was eventually reposessed by the bank that financed it, marking the end of the director's company.
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