Under Capricorn (1949) – full review!
I think it’s a shame that this Alfred Hitchcock film was such a bomb at the box office and with critics if only for the reason that few may have seen Margaret Leighton’s performance as Milly the Flusky family’s maid. She gives the character an evilness with even more depth that Judith Anderson’s “Mrs. Danvers” (recognized as #31 villain by the American Film Institute) in Rebecca (1940). I say this because as much as I love Anderson’s character the dialogue given Leighton’s character is more complex meaning the actress cannot rely as much on brooding scowls as Anderson did which may not have been as sinister if that film like this one was in color. By the way the Technicolor in this one (Hitchcock’s second) makes the men’s lipstick a bit too apparent. In any case overall the film is not a complete disappointment either even though a costume drama is one of the last genres one would expect the “Master of Suspense” to direct.
Adapted for the screen by actor Hume Cronyn (The Seventh Cross (1944)) James Bridie wrote the screenplay from the novel by Helen Simpson the film contains little intrigue relative to the director’s other more famous films. The central issue seems to be Mrs. Flusky’s behavior and the reasons for it; she’s played by Ingrid Bergman (overacting just a bit). Joseph Cotten (solid as usual) plays her brooding husband Sam a successful businessman who was once a convict sentenced to serve seven years in prison in Australia where the film is set. The film takes place many years later and begins when Charles Adare (Michael Wilding who seems perfect for the role) follows his uncle (Cecil Parker) to the continent; his uncle has just been appointed the Governor of the British Colony. So Adare hopes to make his fortune in the “new” land something virtually every young man with ambition and a willingness to work hard has been able to achieve. Unfortunately Adare doesn’t intend to employ the latter method hence he makes an easy acquaintance of Sam Flusky who wants to use the penniless Adare to purchase some land legally if not ethically for his own purposes. Adare is not quite sure at first where he’s heard Flusky’s name before but once he’s invited to dinner and meets his wife he realizes why. She used to be Lady Henrietta a woman who left home in scandal having married her father’s groom Sam who was convicted for murdering her brother. Henrietta followed him to Australia where she endured a squalid existence waiting for him to serve out his term.
When Adare first meets Henrietta she’s a drunk kept that way by another convict now a maid who runs the household named Milly (Leighton). Evidently Henrietta suffered quite a bit while Sam was in prison such that Milly with designs on the head of the household herself has been able to comfort the Lady with drink such that Henrietta thinks of Milly as her friend. Ignorant of Milly’s motivations Sam believes this to be true as well as does Adare at least initially. Shocked by what he sees of the former Lady and young enough to remember the beautiful woman that she once was Adare leaps at the opportunity provided by Sam to help Henrietta in hopes that she can return to her old self. And she does with Adare’s help make a comeback such that she feels confident enough to run the household and even return to society and social engagements. It’s at this point however that Milly who’d been let go returns coincidentally to work her magic on her former employer Sam. Using Adare’s name and insinuating a relationship which doesn’t exist between Henrietta and he she manipulates Sam into a jealousy that ruins his wife’s and his relationship with the Governor at a social event. Adare had forged an invitation for them (his uncle had “disowned” him per his relationship with the ex-con Sam) and had just succeeded in a Cinderella-like reception for the “restored” Lady Henrietta when Sam arrives in somewhat of a rage. Subsequently the truth of Sam’s relationship with Henrietta comes out and the drama’s final third feels a bit “trumped up” to lengthen the story (even though it’s during this that we learn the full extent of Milly’s evil deeds).