Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Featuring||Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter, Karl Malden, Brian Aherne, O.E. Hasse, Dolly Haas|
This film isn’t among Hitchcock’s best in either acting or storyline. The thing that makes it worth watching is the uncompromising integrity of Montgomery Clift’s character, a Roman Catholic priest. It isn’t necessary to believe in the Catholic doctrine of confession in order to appreciate and admire the story’s point.
Fr. Michael Logan (Clift) hears the confession of a murderer, a war refugee who is employed by the parish. He advises the man to also confess to the police, but cannot force him to do so. When Inspector Larrue (Karl Malden) later asks for certain information, Fr. Logan only replies “I can’t answer that question.” To say that he can’t answer because of the secrecy of the Confessional would point the investigators in the right direction (and somewhat defeat the intent of secrecy), so he doesn’t even do that. This brings Fr. Logan himself under suspicion. The plot is convoluted; we later learn that, although Fr. Logan wasn’t guilty of any offense, he and his old girlfriend were being blackmailed by the murder victim. The suspicion increases, Fr. Logan is tried for murder, and his career as a priest is of course ruined. Through it all, he refuses to answer questions that would give any hint at who the real killer is.
Content: There are a couple of on-screen killings. There’s no profanity. In a flashback scene, set after Logan returns from WWII but before he becomes a priest, he meets a former girlfriend (who doesn’t tell him that she’s now married) and they get caught in a rainstorm and spend the night in a gazebo. it’s fairly clear that there’s no sex involved; but a man who discovers them there the next morning threatens them with exposure (the woman’s husband is a politician) and begins to blackmail them.
The film is set in Quebec. I believe that the “privileged communication” laws of Canada and of all states of the United States are fairly uniform in giving priests and ministers immunity from having to disclose to the civil authorities any information received in ministerial-related confessions or counseling. I’ve never personally known of a case where a minister had to withhold information from a criminal investigation. But I’ve known one or two ministers who have kept complete silence about certain matters even when they were being slandered by others and could easily have cleared themselves by just telling what they knew. That follows the example of Jesus (Isa. 53:7; Matt. 27:12-14). Then again, I’ve known some ministers who couldn’t hold a secret if it was superglued to their hand.
God’s Word says in Matt. 18:15 that two Christians who have a dispute should first try to settle it between themselves while keeping it private, NOT blab it to third parties (see also Matt. 5:23,24). This is still the Word, regardless of how many people do exactly the opposite. And if we bring a matter to a minister (not for gossip purposes, but for counseling), the many passages on the qualifications of Christian ministers and counselors (1 Tim. 3:1-13; 2 Tim. 2:24,25; Titus 1:7,8; Rom. 15:14) require them to be of high integrity; that clearly includes discretion (taming the tongue, James 3:1-8) when handling other people’s problems.