For all its superficial kinship to English costume melodramas, Under Capricorn seethes with interest.
As in Notorious, Ingrid Bergman plays a 'fallen' woman, now struggling with alcohol, with fears for her own sanity (shades of her role in Gaslight), and haunted by a terrible guilt from her past.
Set in Sydney in the 1830s, the film is a fascinating portrait of colonial life as seen through a Hollywood lens. It is derived in part from a novel by Helen Simpson, an Australian author often resident in England, who mixed socially with the Hitchcock family and had contributed to two of his previous films.
In 1948, Hitchcock had famously experimented with 10-minute takes in Rope, and planned to continue the experiment with Under Capricorn. Progressively, however, he abandoned the technique, partly because of union troubles in the UK where the unit had gone to find enough actors with English accents.
From the uneven styles – occasional long takes mixed with conventional montage techniques – one sublime moment shines through: in one uninterrupted eight-minute monologue, Bergman reaches an emotional crisis that brilliantly validates the long takes that Hitchcock had wanted to use.
See more films in the Canberra International Film Festival 2019 at the NFSA.