SPOILERS (Under Capricorn)
I consider Under Capricorn as one of the finest films ever made. French critics and other European Critics consider Under Capricorn as one of the best films from Hitchcock. Many people think Under Capricorn copied a lot from Rebecca.
But what they don't realize is Helen Simpson's novel "Under Capricorn" was published a year before Rebecca was published. In the novel, We see tormented wife, class differences, and trouble causing maid just like we see in the film.
But the film is much more stronger due to strong script and great performances. People expect Under Capricorn to be a thriller. Under Capricorn is a drama with few thrilling moments. It is not a thriller. This is the same problem the audience face with Hitchcock's Musical Waltzes from Vienna (1934). Its a Musical. Not a thriller.
Playwright James Bridie (along with Alfred Hitchcock and Hume Cronyn) wrote the screenplay in a way where 4 characters (Charles, Sam, Lady Henrietta, Milly) are so alike. Jack Favell gave a definition like this - In Under Capricorn, the characters are in a rondelay with each taking the other's place at different times.
Charles Adare and Lady Henrietta belong to the higher class. While Sam and Milly belong to the lower class. The mind of Charles Adare is filled with shameful emptiness. Charles Adare says to Henrietta "I spent most of my life warding off boredom." Charles Adare wanting to recreate Hattie as if she were still young Hattie Considine, he desires his own form of second chance, to return to the point in the past where he might start afresh, without the shameful emptiness of his adventures so far. So he is looking for redemption just like Henrietta and Sam. Alcoholism represents the shame of Lady Henrietta.
Charles Adare is also like Milly. Charles Adare loves Henrietta. And he tries to take her away from Sam. Milly loves Sam. And she tries to take away Sam from Lady Henrietta. As for Milly and Lady Henrietta, they both love Sam. They are willing to do anything for Sam. Lady Henrietta killed Dermot to save Sam's life. Milly tries to kill Lady Henrietta, because she thinks Lady Henrietta is only making Sam's life miserable.
As you know, Lady Henrietta's request to Sam to let Milly go at the end is an act of forgiveness.
Milly makes the audience realize certain things that we aren't aware of. Here is an example. When Lady Henrietta says something like this "what kind of love drives you to make such horrible things to do...", after she finds out that Milly tries to kill her. And Lady Henrietta says "when we speak of the love, we don't mean same thing." And she asks Milly "Why did you want to kill me? Do you think he could love a murderess?" And immediately Milly replies "He married one."
I think that's when Milly makes Lady Henrietta and us realize something - Lady Henrietta killed her brother Dermot to save Sam from getting killed. Milly requests Sam to stay with her, because Sam will be done for (if he returns to Ireland with Lady Henrietta). To save his life, Milly tried to kill Lady Henrietta. She makes the decision to kill Lady Henrietta only after Sam makes his mind to go to Ireland with Lady Henrietta. So Milly and Lady Henrietta are so alike. Through forgiving Milly, Lady Henrietta gets her redemption. And through forgiving Sam, Charles Adare gets his redemption.
In Style and Meaning: Studies in the Detailed Analysis of Film, Ed Gallafent says:
The use of the long take in Under Capricorn relates to three elements of film's meaning.
1.Ideas of accessible and inaccessible space as expressed in the gothic house.
2.The form in which character inhabit their past
3.The divergence or convergence of eyelines – the gaze that cannot, or must meet another’s.
All of these three elements can be linked to concepts of Guilt and Shame. In 1 and 2, the question is how something is felt to be present.
It is difference between representation or sharing, of the past as flashback, and of the past as spoken narrative, where part of what is being articulated is precisely the inaccessibility of the past, its experience being locked inside the speaker. As for 3, the avoided gaze is determining physical sign of shame.
The thing with Under Capricorn is certain scenes are shot very carefully where we have to look on the dialogue and the psychology of the character. That's why its look a little bit slow paced. When you watch the film second time, you will understand the film even more.
Let me give you an example.
In the beginning of Under Capricorn, Joseph Cotten (Sam) and Michael Wilding (Charles Adare) comes to Sam's office where they meet Winter who was in prison for five years. When we watch the second time, we realize why Sam actually hired Winter. This has to do with the psychological connection between Sam and Winter - Winter was in love with a woman and her father wouldn't let him marry her. Sam immediately interrupts Winter by saying "That will do..." And he takes Winter as his secretary. When we watch the film second time, we realize that Sam had "similar" past like Winter.
Let me explain Sam's personality. Here is a great definition about Sam's personality posted by an Under Capricorn admirer named John_ Barrymore from imdb posting.
"Sam's crippling inferiority complex dictates everything he does, and it's where the film gleans much of its drama. In his own way he's equally as pathetic as Henrietta; trapped in a different kind of mental prison. Sometimes he's unaware of his cruelty, believing himself to be doing the right thing; at others it's as if he can't help himself. He's a man who constantly tries to do good things, yet at every turn he's thwarted either by his own secret past, or his fear of that past. For a man so ostensibly powerful he's easy to knock down, and his reaction to these setbacks just reinforces his own negative perception of himself. This conflict is written on his every gesture and expression."
For Example, we see Sam's conflict especially when he finds out that no women came for the dinner feast at his house. Later, when Milly gives Sam the impression that Charles Adare is trying to take away Lady Henrietta from him, the inferiority complex rises again. For Example, Sam angrily says this to Charles at the ball at Government house - "I am not good enough to stand beside my wife..."
This is the same case with Milly. Like Sam, Milly's crippling inferiority complex dictates everything she does. They are so alike. That's why Milly tries to take Sam away from Lady Henrietta just like Charles Adare tries to take Lady Henrietta from Sam.
Remember what Milly said to Sam at the end - "Oh no, Mr. Flusky. I am not good enough for you. I know that. I am only good enough to work for you and slave for you and look after your drunken.."
There are more examples. But in order to focus on the dialogue, Hitchcock directed the scenes carefully so that the audience will pay attention to every word of the dialogue.