12 September 2007 | I_John_Barrymore_I
This is one of Hitchcock's very best films.
1831: Irishman Charles Adare arrives in Australia to make his fortune, and soon hooks up with Sam Flusky, a wealthy landowner with a shady past and a business proposition. Ignoring the orders of his cousin, a local Governor, Charles continues to associate with Flusky and his alcoholic wife Henrietta, who was a friend of Charles' sister many years ago back in Ireland.
The long takes the film is composed of are often masterful. Whereas his previous film Rope felt like a gimmicky experiment (albeit a successful one), here the technique is perfected, and actually serves a purpose. It widens the scope to allow the actors room to deliver fine performances, and to exploit the lavish sets. It also serves to narrow the scope, either to focus attention or withhold crucial information until the last moment (it's especially effective at these two). This focusing/concealing also adds to the sense of Bergman's isolation and entrapment in her environment, and allows for some of the film's best shots.
I'm not a fan of Jack Cardiff, but his colour cinematography is considerably less jarring here than in his Powell-Pressburger outings, and although it does take a while to adjust the eyes, it's perfectly suited to the mood and setting.
Ingrid Bergman delivers what I consider to be her best performance. Henrietta is frail and very vulnerable - a pathetic creature. Yet the strength and dignity that she once possessed is glimpsed at the outset, and gradually comes to the fore without ever completely displacing that vulnerability.
Joseph Cotten likewise does an excellent job. His 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.
Michael Wilding's performance as Charles is less technically brilliant, but as the carefree, opportunistic cad who sees in Henrietta the chance to do an act of great kindness he's wonderful. There is great humanity in all three leads, but it's most overt and infectious in Wilding.