Baylor professor speaks on influence Hitchcock’s Catholic faith on his films
Professor Thomas Hibbs of Baylor University spoke on Tuesday, March 7, on the intersection of Catholicism and the films of Alfred Hitchcock. The lecture, which was entitled “Hitchcock’s I Confess as Catholic Noir,” was this year’s installment of the Catholic Culture Series, a series focused on Catholic figures in the arts sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Culture. Hibbs, in a scene-by-scene exploration, analyzed the 1953 thriller I Confess as the prime example of the influence of faith in the films of great filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock.
Hibbs, who teaches philosophy at Baylor and received his Ph.D. from Notre Dame, brought to light many of the classic elements of film noir in the movie and tied them into the Catholic witness it depicts, exemplified most clearly by the protagonist, Canadian curé Father Michael Logan. Father Logan’s gardener confesses a murder to him but then frames him, setting up a situation wherein the priest must keep silent or break the Seal of the Confessional to defend himself. The film plays with darks and lights, often overshadowing characters’ faces and obscuring the setting to create an eerie feel. Shadows are drawn starkly in massive church interiors and candles give any light a brief, flickering presence.
Furthermore, Hibbs noted the motif of the walking man; through a presentation of various clips he showed how key moments of resolve and decision are determined while a character is walking. Father Logan especially, meandering through the Montreal streets, is seen as a Jesus figure on the road to Calvary as he agonizes over the burden of unjust guilt placed upon him but through which he must suffer silently. Religious statues and symbols are placed accordingly, often relating to what the present characters are doing or thinking.
Hibbs went on to note how these elements strengthen the film’s cultural authority as a great mystery movie and a classically driven noir film. Everything from odd camera angles to the white and black juxtapositions and the dark subject matter historically established I Confess as one of Hitchcock’s most technically brilliant films, if one of his lesser known. The deeply Christian message of the movie is a powerful indicator of the Catholic faith to which Hitchcock adhered. A priest as a hero and a confession as a plot device is not one likely to be seen today, and especially not in a successful and popular film.
“Everyone [in I Confess] has the possibility of redemption,” said Hibbs, “Because Fr. Logan, the priest, is always there at the end.” Indeed, inspired by the near-martyrdom of the cleric, other characters are driven to change for the better and ultimately help find the real murderer. Referring to Fr. Logan, Hibbs noted how interesting and unusual it was “to see such a compelling figure involved with God,” something not often seen in today’s increasingly secular cinema.
Colin McCarthy, a sophomore political science major, was struck by the joining of a popular murder mystery and positive religious undertones. He told the Rover, “Father Logan as a deeper picture of Christ’s love on the cross was one thing I took away from the movie,” he said. Another student in attendance, FTT major Ryan O’Callaghan, noted how interesting it was “to see all the typical film noir elements in a movie [based on a Christian sacrament].”
Hibbs answered questions for an extended period of time afterwards from students and faculty alike and drove home the point of how much I Confess, though a police murder mystery on the surface, is at heart a battle between good and evil as artfully presented by the masterful mind of Hitchcock. He wrapped up by quoting the great filmmaker, stating, “It is said, ‘The better the villain, the better the movie;’ I say ‘The better the evil, the better the movie,’” a keen insight which lies at the core of his thought-provoking and counter-cultural work.
John Paul Ferguson is a PLS major and Italian minor in Fisher Hall, and is a major fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s great legacy. If you quote Psycho to him on the quad, he would be thrilled. Contact him to discuss it at email@example.com