Dr. Drew Casper is the Alfred and Alma Hitchcock Professor Of American Film at the University of Southern California.  He is a published author on film.  I assume that the “Dr.” in front of his name means that he has a PhD.  Casper shows up often delivering “expert commentary” on DVDs.  I assume that he speaks English as a first language but somehow in his journey through academia he has not managed to master the rudiments of his native tongue.

His style of speaking involves a lot of rephrasing, designed, I suppose, to suggest the addition of nuance to the points he's making but adding up only to redundancy.  In his commentary on the recent DVD release of Notorious, for example, he says that Alicia “is out of control — she has lost control.”  These two phrases mean exactly the same thing — one or the other would have served perfectly well.  He refers to the famous key in the film as “a prop — an object, if you want.”  Yes, I will accept that a prop is an object, since a prop is always an object.  It's sort of like saying, “a person — a human being, if you want.”  This is a form of pretentious bloviation.

Casper misspeaks constantly in his commentary.  He says that Alex's mother “yields a lot of power” in Alex's home, when he means that she wields a lot of power.  Of a traveling shot close on Alicia and Devlin, Casper says it suggests that they are “floating on air, existing gravity.”  I'm not even sure what he actually meant to say there — “resisting gravity”?  Who knows?

Casper introduces the subject of Russian Constructivism and then goes on to refer to it more than once as Roman Contructivism, whatever that might be.  Casper also misuses language freely.  He says that German filmmakers “triumphed” the use of lighting as an expressive tool.  He doesn't seem to know or care that “triumph” is an intransitive and never a transitive verb.

The professor is promiscuously careless about details as well.  He refers to the German director “D. W. Pabst”.  He says at one point that Alex is taller than Alicia, when he's just been talking about the significance of him being shorter.  He says that in Hitchcock's films special effects are always in the service of technique, when he means always in the service of story or character.

Is there no editor or director present when Casper records his commentaries?  Doesn't Casper, or someone, listen to them after they're recorded to catch mistakes and suggest retakes?  Or is it the case that any old nonsense from the mouth of a man with a PhD is assumed to be authoritative?

Casper is not an idiot — he has many interesting things to say about the themes and strategies of Notorious — but he seems to feel no obligation whatsoever to present his analysis with even a modicum of intellectual rigor or discipline.  If Hitchcock had had the same attitude about filmmaking that Casper has about film criticism, we wouldn't be watching Hitchcock's films today.  Bloviating about them in such a scatter-brained way is a kind of insult to Hitchcock's professionalism.

Casper's poor language skills offer a terrifying insight into the modern academy, and modern academic standards in the area of film studies.  Presumably Casper doesn't fear that his students will note, much less correct, his mangling of English, though some of them would undoubtedly be capable of doing so.  They want good grades from him, after all.  Presumably, as the occupant of an endowed chair at his university, probably a tenured position, he doesn't fear the criticism of his fellow professors or supervisors, who would have a very hard time removing him from his job.  Perhaps they feel that since film is a visual medium, there's no need to speak about it in precise and correct language.

It's all very depressing.  When a professor at a major American university can get away with such shoddy speech, it's no wonder that American institutions of higher learning are turning out graduates who are semi-literate, who not only speak but think sloppily about film, among other things.


Alfred Hitchcock's silent film The Lodger, from 1927, is wonderfully entertaining, alive with visual inventiveness, with the director's unbridled joy in making cinema.  It's not, however, a terribly successful thriller, and thus not a terribly successful film, since a thriller is what it sets out to be.

The problem is the presence of Ivor Novello in the title role — or perhaps the way Hitchcock uses him.  Novello was a handsome fellow with a decidedly fey quality.  Hitchcock would eventually find ways of using an actor's ambiguous sexuality to disturb an audience, keep it off balance, but he doesn't seem to be trying to do that with Novello.  He lurches back and forth between presenting Novello's lodger as an almost inhuman visual icon of menace and mystery (see above) and letting the actor present his own impersonation of a matinee idol.  Novello does his best to appear brooding and menacing from time to time but he succeeds only in suggesting a man vaguely distracted and slightly peeved about something.

There's nothing really creepy about Novello's lodger, except that he seems to inhabit a different film than the one Hitchcock is trying to make.  He comes across as conventionally, not pathologically, insecure.  The unhinged desperation we sense in Bruno from Strangers On A Train or Norman from Psycho is nowhere in evidence.  It's really impossible to take Novello's lodger seriously as a suspect in the “golden curls” murders, or as a passionate suitor of the heroine.  At the same time, he can't really secure our sympathy as that archetype familiar from so many later Hitchcock films, the innocent man wrongly accused, since we spend most of the film without any clear information about his guilt or innocence.

Still, Hitchcock constructs his movie with relentless, creative imagination as though it had a real villain or potential villain or wrongly accused villain at its center.  We can admire and enjoy its brilliance but we can't care about its story — which offers only the most perfunctory kind of  suspense, without any subliminal psychological undertow.  The film is aesthetically dazzling without being really engaging on any other level.


I've written before about the painting above by Arnold Böcklin, The Isle Of the Dead, which reportedly inspired some of the compositions in Hitchcock's Vertigo.  It was an image that was important to Val Lewton, as well.  A reproduction of it hangs on the wall of one of the interior sets in Lewton's I Walked With A Zombie, and of course Lewton made a film called Isle Of the Dead, which references the image more powerfully, in the film's setting.

Lewton and Hitchcock had crossed paths before they made any of these films.  Lewton was working as a story editor and assistant to David O. Selznick at the time Hitchcock made Rebecca for Selznick.  I think Lewton learned a lot from Hitchcock on that film — specifically how to create a mood of supernatural dread using only lighting and suggestion.

Hitchcock learned from Lewton in return.  Lewton's The 7th Victim has a very creepy scene (below) in which the heroine, home alone, is taking a shower behind a translucent curtain when suddenly the silhouette of an older woman materializes on the other side of the curtain, delivering an ominous warning.

The moment doesn't escalate into violence, as it does in Psycho, but the sense of surprise, of violation, of vulnerability is exactly the same.  The similarity of the two scenes is too great to be coincidental — and I think we can see Lewton's influence on another important Hitchcock film.  The whole tone of Vertigo — quiet, dreamlike, subtly, ambiguously ominous — is far closer to the tone of Lewton's RKO horror films than it is to Rebecca, which is essentially a very classy and delicate rendition of the spooky atmosphere found in old-fashioned Gothic fiction.

The house, with its ghost, haunts the heroine of Rebecca.  In Lewton's films, and in Vertigo, the whole world is haunted, unhinged — it has become a spooky maze with no exits.  Hitchcock's innovation was to create Lewton's deranged dream world in color, in California sunshine — which is ultimately much more unsettling.


Among the many interesting things to be found at the If Charlie Parker
Was A Gunslinger
web log are audio files of many of the
Truffaut-Hitchcock tapes, from which Truffaut's great book of
interviews with Hitchcock was compiled.

It's fascinating, and inspiring, to hear the actual voices of the two
men talking about film with such wisdom and passion — and, in the case
of Hitchcock, often enough, sly misdirection.

You can find the tapes


we think of dreamlike films, or dream sequences within films, we
inevitably think of the expressionistic style filmmakers often use
to signal a dream state — but of course real dreams do not present
themselves in that way. We might, in a dream, find ourselves at home
and discover a previously unnoticed door opening onto a previously
unsuspected wing of the house — but that wing is not appointed like
the cabinet of Dr. Caligari . . . it is as convincingly real a place,
in the dream, as the actual house we know.


“Space is like an opaque medium that Hitchcock knows how to carve, trim and slice as if it were a side of beef.”

This is from Paglia's book-length essay on
The Birds
— and what she says of Hitchcock is true of all the great directors,
who carve up and reshape space before our eyes, drawing us ever deeper into the
spatial illusion of the cinematic image, the core of its sensual appeal and the
primary medium of its emotional expressiveness.  This malleability
of space,
its ability to be carved and reshaped in cinema, is what places cinema squarely among the plastic arts.

It's a hard concept to grasp, which is why film is traditionally
analyzed in terminology derived from the visual arts, like painting, or
the literary arts, like theater and the novel, even though its most
powerful effects more closely resemble those of sculpture, architecture
and dance.  Albert Einstein said, “Space is not merely a
background for events, but possesses an autonomous structure.” 
Film does not simply create occasions for visual or literary events — it
investigates the structure
of space, associates the structure of space with the structure of
dreams. Orson Welles said that on some level every great film is a chase — which is
just another way of saying that on some level every great film is about space.

[Paglia's short book on
The Birds,
published as part of the BFI Film Classics series, doesn't, to me, get
at the heart of the film's themes, but it's an exhilarating
tour de force
with a dazzling range of allusions to other works of art and to the
cultural matrix from which the film emerged.  It's an
indispensable text.]


Actually, this is Carlyle (pictured below) on Dickens, but the application to Hitchcock is clear enough:

“. . . deeper than all, if one has the eye to see deep enough, dark,
fateful, silent elements, tragical to look upon, and hiding amid
dazzling radiances as of the sun, the elements of death itself.”

Dickens and Hitchcock both hid within the conventions of popular art,
and one misses a lot, one misses close to everything, if one takes
their disguises too literally.


not precisely, but this quote by Eliot about poetry offers a key to
analyzing Hitchcock's films, and, indeed, all great suspense thrillers:

“The chief use of the ‘meaning’ of a poem, in the ordinary sense, may
be . . . to satisfy
one habit of the reader, to keep his mind diverted and quiet, while the
poem does its work upon him: much as the imaginary burglar is always
provided with a bit of nice meat for the house-dog.”

In Hitchcock's movies, the plot mechanics, the mystery to be solved, the suspense engendered
by the nominal physical jeopardy of the characters — all this belongs
to the territory of the “maguffin”, the essentially arbitrary device
that sets the narrative in motion.

The truth of the film is experienced on another level — which is one
reason it's so enjoyable to watch Hitchcock's movies over and over
again, why they always seem new.  You forget the plot mechanics instantly —
they don't linger in the mind for even a moment after the film is over.  All you're
left with is the memory of confronting, and surviving, some nameless,
existential dread.

[I am indebted to Ken Mogg's
The Alfred Hitchcock Story for pointing me towards the Eliot quote and suggesting its connection to the Hitchcock maguffin.  The Alfred Hitchcock Story
is a pictorial survey of Hitchcock's films with pithy commentary by
Mogg and other Hitchcock experts.  It's worth tracking down the
British edition, published by Titan Books, since the American
edition is unfortunately and unaccountably abridged.]


The delightful drawings behind the opening credits of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 film The Trouble With Harry were done (uncredited) by famed New Yorker artist Saul Steinberg, riffing on images from the paintings of Paul Klee.  Hitchcock was a collector of Klee’s work and may well have asked Steinberg to incorporate the homage.

The Steinberg drawings seem to echo a style in 50s design and animation called “cartoon modern”, which I wrote about in an earlier post — though of course the cartoon modern style derives from the whimsical abstractions of artists like Klee and Steinberg, not the other way around.  It’s an example of the way artistic ideas percolate up and down the scale from high to popular art.  In 1955, Klee was high-brow art, Steinberg (at least when he was publishing in The New Yorker) was middle-brow art and Hitchcock was low-brow art.  Today you could hardly rank Hitchcock below either of the other two on any scale of art — which just goes to show how silly and ephemeral such distinctions are, and ought to make us wonder what art today is undervalued because it’s stuck into some temporary and ultimately meaningless hierarchy.


Alfred Hitchcock: A Life In Darkness and Light

may be the best biography of a film director ever written.  Long
and detailed, filled with fascinating information about all aspects of
Hitchcock's life and films, it's also a great read, almost as
entertaining as a Hitchcock film.

There have been two previous full-scale biographies of the director. 
by John Russell Taylor, was published in Hitchcock's lifetime and with
his cooperation — it sets forth the basic facts without delving too
deeply into problematic areas.  Donald Spoto's well-known
The Dark Side Of Genius,
published a couple of years after the director's death, was more
detailed and uninhibited but, as its title suggests, had a somewhat
slanted point of view.  It marshaled evidence and highlighted it
in such a way as to expose primarily the neurotic and malicious side of
the man.

Patrick McGilligan, as his title suggests, tries for a more balanced
view, and specifically challenges many of Spoto's interpretations of
events and sources, while treading fearlessly into territory that
Taylor avoided.

None of the books solves the mystery of Hitchcock's genius and art,
because genius and art are mysteries without solutions, but in
McGilligan one finds a plausible Hitchcock, one that contains all the
complexity and contradiction of the films themselves, the darkness and
the light.

It's a terrific achievement.

[Apologies for the web log's disappearance for a couple of days — it
exceeded its allotted bandwidth     . . . too many visitors!  I think
the problem has been solved, and thanks for the interest!]


Above is an amazing image by the 19th-Century Swiss symbolist painter Arnold Böcklin — Self Portrait With Death.  I stumbled across it while looking for another Böcklin painting, The Isle Of the Dead, which Hitchcock reportedly used as a visual frame of reference for Vertigo.

The Isle Of the Dead (below) is almost as spooky as the self-portrait, and while it’s not referenced directly in Vertigo, its mood and basic visual strategy obviously informed a lot of the film’s compositions involving Madeleine, the ghostly, morbidly-obsessed heroine, who often appears as a distant, deathly-still figure set against backgrounds of dark trees and the sea.


The 20th-Century notion of “absolute music” tended to
capture the imaginations of composers who wanted to be
thought “modern”.  They generally abandoned the emotional, descriptive
narrative ambitions of 19th-Century program music in favor of a more
severe system of abstraction.  This marked the end of concert music as
a popular art form but not the end of program music, which went on its
merry way in movies, where it continued to enthrall a large public.

Of course, people didn't pay as much conscious
attention to this music as they used to in the concert hall, but they
could have, with profit.  To prove this assertion all you have to do is
listen to the many classic film scores now available on CD — the
original tracks recorded for the films or later re-recordings of the
scores.  Many of them are magnificent pieces of music in their own
right.  It helps to have the “program” in mind, a memory of the films
this music supported, but it's not absolutely necessary with the very
best scores — like those of Bernard Herrmann, for example.

Hermann didn't specialize in creating memorable
melodies but he was a master
at using the colors of an orchestra to evoke mood and he had a great
and subtle understanding of the dramatic uses of rhythm.  All of his
Hitchcock scores are brilliant, even the less famous of them like the
score he did for
The Wrong Man.  Edgy, dark, minimalist, jazz-inflected, it
perfectly mirrors the bleak and jagged realism of Hitchcock's 50s-era
New York
City, its dehumanizing institutions and its spiritual
chaos.  But it has a lyrical core,
too, that echoes the protagonist's yearning for deliverance.

It's not absolute music, to be sure — but it's
absolutely wonderful.


Robin Wood’s thoughtful and penetrating analysis of The Birds in Hitchcock’s Films Revisited is ultimately
to me, because I don’t think Wood gets at the thematic heart of the
film, although he does acutely perceive its nature, it’s basic aesthetic
strategy, which is one it shares with all of Hitchcock’s great films —
and I think
The Birds is one of Hitchcock’s great films.

The characteristic strategy of The Birds is to lure
the viewer into largely unconscious emotional reactions to images and
situations and then to shift the perceptual ground slightly (or
shockingly, as the case may be) in such a way that the viewer is
compelled to become conflicted about those reactions, consciously or

The goal with Hitchcock is always to heighten moral
and/or spiritual awareness but his methods never involve pronouncements
of any kind, and thus rarely involve symbols than can be reduced to a
precise intellectual meaning.  He is only interested in the psychic
which he can tap, appeal to and uncover within the experience of the
viewer as he or she watches the film.

All great artists work this way of course, but if you
think that Hitchcock is just an entertainer, a supplier of sensation
for its own sake, a clever if eccentric practitioner of genre, you will
miss (at least on a conscious level) the full depth of his art.

So when Wood says that the birds in The Birds don’t
symbolize anything specific he is quite correct.  But what the birds
do, and when they do it — their function as psychic agents in a
narrative about characters we are alternately drawn to and suspicious
— are crucial issues.

The film opens with a man in a pet shop trying,
unsuccessfully, to buy a pair of lovebirds as a gift for his young
sister.  In the shop he meets a woman who’s attracted to him, later
buys the pair of lovebirds and drives them up to the remote fishing
village where the man’s sister lives, and leaves them for her.  The
film ends with the young sister carrying the birds on an escape through
an apocalyptic landscape — devastated by a lethal revolt . . . of

What’s going on here?  The lovebirds are not symbolic
per se in the artistic scheme of the film — they’re an image that
means different things to different characters at different stages of
the narrative.  What’s crucial, it seems to me, is that the lovebirds
are a couple and that they live in a cage.  They incarnate a paradox —
are they trapped, or are
they safe?  They’re both, obviously — but which condition is most
important?  That’s the question the film poses, and answers, after a

The woman in the pet shop is an irresponsible heiress
— a bird in a gilded cage, as Wood observes, but alone.  When she runs into a man who
wants lovebirds in a cage, she develops what seems to be an irrational
attraction to him.  The imagery is very ambiguous here, but suggestive.  Is she looking
for company in her cage, a man who’ll share her prison with her? 

It turns out that the man is the son of a woman who
lost her husband, his father, and is thoroughly traumatized by the
loss.  She clings to her son, interferes with his desire to find a
partner of his own — places an intolerable burden on him to become the
head of the family, father to his sister.  The mother’s grasping is not
Oedipal, exactly — it’s more a terror of being alone, of being
incomplete.  The family’s loss of its father/husband has created a
vacuum in which neurosis breeds.

So the lovebirds, to the man, are an image of the
wholeness he can’t supply — a magical substitution which might allow
him to seek his own wholeness in a new relationship.

The lovebirds may not mean exactly the same thing to
the man and the woman in the pet shop but they crystallize each
deepest needs and desires.  How could they not fall in love in the
presence of such an image?

But the image won’t stay put — won’t stabilize itself
for either of them.  Other birds, uncaged birds, gather above them
menacingly.  The man catches the woman delivering the lovebirds to his
sister, is
touched, intrigued, drawn to her, as she obviously is to him.  At that
moment a seagull attacks the woman, for no apparent reason.

Later, the woman reveals to the man that her mother
deserted her when she was child.  At that moment a flock of birds
suddenly attacks the children at the sister’s birthday party.  It’s as
though the creatures have emerged demonically from the woman’s ravaged

The bird attacks grow more numerous, more lethal, more
surreal.  They attack the man and the  sister and the mother in their
own home, where the woman is visiting.  There seems to be no defense,
no hiding place.  But a new family is forming, as the man and the woman
fall deeper and deeper in love, as the sister comes to rely on the
woman emotionally, as the mother slowly softens towards her.

The birds pause in their attack.  The family decides
to make a run for it.  The sister insists on carrying the lovebirds in
their cage.  As they drive away though fields of menacing, roosting,
temporarily placid birds, the mother takes the woman in her arms, in a
mother’s embrace.

The lovebirds in their cage have become a talisman of
salvation — an image of the confinement of commitment, the cage of
family and love, but also of immunity from outright destruction.  It’s
like the bait and switch Hitchcock engineered in Shadow Of A Doubt,
where the “oppressive” and suffocating prison of the family, as we see
it at the beginning of the film, is revealed as the only refuge against
forces darker than anyone in that family could ever have imagined.

Only the lovebirds in their cage are free,
provisionally at least. Outside the cage is simply irrational,
meaningless horror.  This is not exactly a conservative or romantic
endorsement of committed love and family.  Happiness is not really at
stake here, much less moral rectitude or an all-encompassing psychic fulfillment — only
survival.  So why is that mother’s embrace at the end of the film so
powerful, so profound, so moving?  Because it’s something, set against

The newly constructed family drives off jammed into a
small sports car, caged.  They incarnate a paradox — are they trapped,
or are they safe?  Both,
obviously — but which condition is most important?  It’s clear enough
which way the film leans on this issue, but Hitchcock isn’t making any
promises.  He insisted that “The End” not appear at the film’s close —
partly as a gimmick (“The birds are still out there!”), partly to keep
the psychic and moral tension alive in the audience . . . but also
partly, no doubt, because he knew subconsciously that he would return
to the female protagonist of this film again, would explore her
existential jeopardy in greater depth, which he did
in Marnie, using the
same actress, playing a very similar lost soul in search of a mother’s

The hidden, poisoned springs of many Hitchcock films run through the
pathology of dysfunctional parents, shattered, perverted families,
wrecked marriages — and the provisional redemption these films offer
often involves new families reconstructed on the ruins of old
ones.  Hitchcock’s view of the family, all families, was ambiguous
— and his passionate defense of the family as a bastion against
terror, against meaninglessness, was inflected by this ambiguity. 
Even so, his view was inaccessible to many critics, like Wood, who
were, for personal and political reasons, deeply suspicious of the
family as a social phenomenon — an attitude that became fashionable,
almost a matter of faith, among 20th-Century intellectuals.  Wood
wanted to analyze
The Birds
as a vision merely of conflict between order and disorder, missing the
fact that, for Hitchcock, this conflict was centrally bound up with the
idea of family.

Hitchcock was canny.  He knew that society cannot face its deepest
concerns, its deepest fears, directly.  He knew that those fears
had to be displaced in art, given an indirect expression — blamed, as
it were, on the birds.


The original cut of Psycho
which Alfred Hitchcock delivered to Paramount ran just under nine
hours.  Hitchcock lobbied hard to have the film released at this
length, in a special day-long presentation with two intermissions, but
violent reactions from audience members who saw test screenings of
the nine-hour version (including, reportedly, at least two
unpublicized suicides) convinced the director to cut the film
drastically and release it at a normal length.

All prints of
the original cut were thought to have been destroyed — until early
this year when one somehow turned up in the basement of a house under
demolition in St. Louis.  The house had once belonged to a man
who owned a small chain of movie theaters in the Midwest, and apparently at least one
print had made it to one of those theaters, presumably for test

Robert Harris, who has restored several classic films, including Hitchcock's Vertigo, and will be restoring the uncut Psycho,
is one of the few people who's watched the new footage in its
entirety.  Harris reports that the famous shower scene runs to
forty-five minutes in Hitchcock's original cut and personally made him
sick to his stomach.  “It's film history,” says Harris, “and needs
to be preserved, but I can't say I'm happy that this new version has
survived.  The world would be a better place without it.”

negative and original sound elements for the new footage do not survive, so the
reconstruction will be uneven.  Universal, which now controls the film, plans to release the
Psycho in a three-disc special edition late in 2008.


Alfred Hitchcock was raised a Catholic and educated by
the Jesuits.  The influence of his Catholic upbringing is evident in
his films, sometimes in surprising ways.

On a purely psychological level, Hitchcock was
attracted to stories in which someone is judged unfairly,
mistaken for someone else and asked to pay for that other person’s
sins.  This is a common enough response to the harsh and demanding educational
system of the Jesuits — a sense of living under perpetual (and
seemingly unjust) accusation.  In many Hitchcock movies the unfairly
accused protagonist redeems himself by heroic actions — which in
theological terms might be related to the doctrine of justification by
works, the idea that a man can, with a little help from God, save
himself by his own actions.

But there’s deeper and more complex theology at work in certain of
Hitchcock’s films — most notably in I Confess and The Wrong Man.
Interestingly enough, these are two of the director’s most naturalistic
films, shot in great part on location and in black and white.  It’s odd
that when he wanted to delve most deeply into religious themes he
should have chosen to present them in a quasi-documentary form.

In I Confess a priest, played by Montgomery Clift, is unjustly accused of a
murder.  The real killer has confessed to him, but he can’t, as a
matter of religious conviction, tell anybody about it.  In this film,
the protagonist does not redeem himself except by passive sacrifice.
His heroism is simply to accept his fate humbly, stick to his faith.

His convictions here are church-related — he must
sacrifice himself to the principle of the sanctity of the confessional,
to ecclesiastical procedure.  He’s saved from paying the ultimate
penalty by the witness of another character, who sacrifices herself to
reveal his innocence.  Presumably his own sacrificial posture has
inspired her to this act.

So far we are well within the Catholic tradition, which sees the church, personified in the figure of the priest, as a divine agent in the world — adherence to its doctrine and ritual leads to salvation.

But something very different is going on in The Wrong Man.  Here an innocent man, played by Henry Fonda, is accused of a crime and his whole life is
shattered.  He’s a religious man, and carries his rosary beads with him
through his ordeal — but it doesn’t seem to help.  The wheels of
justice, the oppression of the legal system, operating quite reasonably
on the face of it, crush him like an insect.

Finally his mother asks him to pray — and he does,
not with the rosary beads, not in a church, but directly to an image of
Jesus.  Instantly, the real criminal appears and is caught — the
accused man is redeemed.

This is a long way from Catholic theology in that the
church plays no mediating role.  It’s just between “the wrong man” and
Jesus.  He’s saved by no action of his own, not even by the humble
acceptance of his fate.  He’s saved by a simple cry for help.

We’re now, oddly enough, in Protestant theological territory, closer
to the doctrine of justification by faith, in which neither the church
nor the suffering man play any role whatsoever in the man’s salvation,
which is a gift of Grace from God, pure and simple.

It’s clear that in these two films Hitchcock was not just expressing resentment over the terrors and the residual guilt inculcated by a Catholic
education.  He was articulating complex themes in Christian
thought, trying to dramatize them in an entertaining way but also to
situate them in the real world, in a plausible evocation of modern-day
Quebec, where I Confess is set, and New York, where The Wrong Man
is set.

“Film is not a slice of life,” Hitchcock famously
said, “it’s a slice of cake”.  But there’s very little cake on display
in either of these films — and in the mean streets of The Wrong Man,
in the suffocating rooms and cells and hallways of police stations and
prisons and courthouses, there is only wormwood and gall.

The two films stand out as great and profound works of
Christian art, explicit meditations on Christian theology in a century
(and an industry) not noted for such concerns.  Like all good parables
they can be enjoyed simply as stories, but Hitchcock makes it very
clear (see the image from I Confess at the beginning of this post) that he had heaven on his mind when he made them, that he was
asking deep questions about the nature and the mechanism of salvation.