Under Capricorn Review
8 Oct 1949
Behind the Scene and other Major Plot Points
In 1958, Cahiers du Cinema (French Film Magazine) voted Under Capricorn (1949) as one of the ten greatest films of all time.
Many French critics consider Under Capricorn as one of Hitchcock’s finest films.
“Ten Minute Take”
Alfred Hitchcock began to use the “Ten Minute Take” of continuous one-reel shooting which he had enjoyed refining on his previous film Rope (1948), but as the process proved far more difficult here than in the enclosed apartment-set drama, only a couple of sequences were ultimately shot for the finished print.
Milly wanted Hettie out of the way so she could have Sam to herself. She wanted to be the ‘lady’ of the manor. Why would she not root for Adare even help him out as best she could. If he managed to lure Hettie away, as Milly suspected, that would work in her favor.
Initially Milly did not root for Adare because he was making her lose her control of the household. But when she saw the romance between Adare and Hettie, I think she did root for Adare, though not openly. She was only a servant after all, so there was not much she could do.
If Adare had managed to lure Hettie away, Hettie would still be in Sam’s mind/heart. More importantly, given that this took place in the 19th century, Milly would never have been able to marry Sam. The only solution for Milly was for Hettie to die.
It’s been a while since I saw the movie but as I recall Milly had already convinced Sam, and Hettie herself, that Hettie was a worthless, crazy, lush who couldn’t do anything right. She had given up running home and, by all appearances, everyone believed her to be a complete embarrassment to Sam. They didn’t want to associate with her; that’s why a lot of people had stopped accepting invitations to their home.
Milly had already taken over the role of caretaker and the person on whom Sam could rely. He was an ambitious man who wanted to fit in and be accepted so if something had happened to Hettie he might have continued to love and care for her but he would have moved on and probably taken Milly as his wife (or not, but that’s what Milly would have anticipated).
Once Adare came arrived killing her off no longer made sense; especially since she hadn’t thought to do it before. Milly’s best bet would have been to convince Hettie to leave with Adare and vice versa. They had a past. She could have, and I think she did, work on Sam to get him to see her in a negative light.
Don’t you think he was quite presumptuous at moments – especially when Sam told him to leave his house and he took his horse even though he’s a bad rider which is why horse so dear to Sam broke her leg and Sam had to kill her. Charles liked Henrietta too, but he really got over the line a couple of times and it took him a while to back-off.
It wasn’t just Adare. There was a general disrespect of Flusky. He wasn’t on their level not only because he was a convict but also he was not of their class. Milly made reference to it many times when she was trying to get under his skin.
They were in a mixed up world. Adare was an aristocrat but it was Flusky who was helping him. His cousin was governor but it didn’t really come with any perks the way it would in English society. Flusky invited him to the dinner party at his house hoping it would attract the society women who had always refused to come. In British society, it would have worked but not there.
Adare was also Irish which some looked down on but he was still a gentleman. In Sydney he was there like any other person trying to make a name for himself and to acquire wealth. He had to work hard to achieve it, his family ties wouldn’t do it. On some level he resented Flusky and blamed him for what Henrietta had become. It was out of concern for her that he did the things he did but underlying it was his inability to make sense of the new world in which he was living.
When she confesses to Charles about the shooting of her brother, he asks her how she managed to live out there while Sam was serving his prison sentence. Her comment was along the lines of “you don’t want to know,” or “it’s not a pretty story” or something like that. Then she goes on to talk about the huts near the docks with screaming women and children, and says something like she would have done anything to support Sam. Later in a fit of rage Sam calls her “trash.” Are we supposed to conclude that she may have been a prostitute to survive while he was in prison? So many of the classic movies tiptoed around subjects like that, so I’m not sure if I’m reading more into it or not.
No, I thought that’s where she was going but after she tells her story I got the impression she was only talking about the horrendous conditions under which she had to live. She’s a cultured lady who came from wealth, lived on an estate and had a different kind of life.
Living under such conditions was difficult for anyone especially someone who had been so far removed from it. At the dinner party early in the movie one of the guests was asking Adare how he was adjusting to life in Sydney society and saying how it was hard on his wife. He said ‘refinement counts for a lot but it’s a handicap in a way.’
Also, when the governor was in the tub, he was talking about the conditions on the harbor. The focus was on how unsanitary and unsafe but they didn’t mention anything about other issues like sex crimes. Hattie’s problem is she’s lost some of her refinement. She walks around not like a refined lady but a barefoot hobo-looking, drunken common woman. It’s why the other woman won’t go to her home.
She doesn’t like all the noise the women in the kitchen keep making because it reminds her of those difficult times. And, the relationship between her and her husband changed because he married a lady and has worked hard to make something of himself but, as she says, she keeps slipping further down. Later we find out she had been getting a lot of help from old common Milly. When he calls her trash it is in reference to her not being having in a lady-like fashion but rather like common trash. Refined ladies don’t take up with a lover right under her husband’s nose and flaunt him around. They’re hypocritical but discreet. It also references how he found her when he got out of prison. She said she wanted to make a home for him to come home to but the harbor was about all she was able to do. She’s still a lady so he feels unworthy of her in some ways yet she’s not really that.
RT/Meta Critic Review
A strangely unexciting but emotionally intriguing Hitchcock costume drama with echoes of Rebecca and Suspicion. (click here to see)