Under Capricorn

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Under Capricorn
Under Capricorn poster.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock (uncredited)
Sidney Bernstein (uncredited)
Written by 1937 Novel:
Helen Simpson
John Colton
Margaret Linden
Hume Cronyn
James Bridie
Starring Michael Wilding
Ingrid Bergman
Joseph Cotten
Margaret Leighton
Cecil Parker
Music by Louis Levy (musical direction)
Richard Addinsell (score)
Cinematography Jack Cardiff
Edited by Bert Bates
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
8 September 1949
Running time
117 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Under Capricorn is a 1949 British historical thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock about a man who is in love with a woman who turns out to be an alcoholic. The film was based on the novel Under Capricorn (1937) by Helen Simpson, with a screenplay by James Bridie. It was adapted to the screen by Hume Cronyn. This was Hitchcock's second film in Technicolor, and like the preceding color film Rope (1948), it also featured 10-minute takes.

The film is set in colonial Sydney, New South Wales, Australia during the early 19th century. Under Capricorn is one of several Hitchcock films that are not typical thrillers; instead it is a mystery involving a love triangle. Hitchcock considered it to be one of his worst films and a disaster. Although the film is not exactly a murder mystery, it does feature a previous killing, a "wrong man" scenario, a sinister housekeeper, class conflict, and very high levels of emotional tension, both on the surface and underneath.

The title "Under Capricorn" references the Tropic of Capricorn, which bisects Australia. Capricornus is a constellation; Capricorn is an astrological sign dominated by the goat, which is a symbol of sexual desire.


In 1831, Sydney is a frontier town, full of ex-convicts. The new Governor, Sir Richard (Cecil Parker), arrives with his cheery but indolent nephew, the Honorable Charles Adare (Michael Wilding). Charles, who is hoping to make his fortune, is befriended by gruff Samson Flusky (Joseph Cotten), a prosperous businessman who was previously a transported convict, possibly a murderer. Sam says that because he has bought the legal limit of land, he wants Charles to buy up land and then sell it to him for a tidy profit so that Sam can accumulate even more frontier territory. Though the Governor instructs him not to go, Charles is invited to dinner at Sam's house and discovers that he already knows Sam's wife, Lady Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman). She is now a hopeless alcoholic who is socially shunned, but she used to be a good friend of Charles' sister when they were children in Ireland.

Sam invites Charles to stay at his house, hoping it will cheer up his wife, who is on the verge of madness. The housekeeper, Milly (Margaret Leighton), has taken over running the household and secretly feeds Henrietta alcohol, hoping to destroy her and win Sam's affections.

Gradually, Charles restores Henrietta's self-confidence. They become so close that they even share a passionate kiss. Henrietta explains that she and Sam are bound together profoundly: when she was young, Sam was the handsome stable boy. Overcome with desire, they ran away and married at Gretna Green. Henrietta's brother, furious that aristocratic Henrietta had paired up with a lowly servant, confronted them. Her brother shot at Sam and missed; she shot her brother fatally. Sam made a false confession to save her, and was sent to the penal colony in Australia. She followed him and waited six years in abject poverty for his release.

Sam becomes furious at Charles after listening to Milly's exaggerated stories and tells him to leave. Taking Sam's mare in the dark, Charles has a fall and the horse breaks a leg. Sam has to shoot her dead and, in a struggle over the gun, wounds Charles. At the hospital, Henrietta confesses to the Governor that Sam was wrongly convicted of the original crime; she was the one who killed her brother. By law she should be deported back to Ireland to stand trial.

Milly, still plying Henrietta with drink, is inducing hallucinations by using a real shrunken head. Milly then tries to kill Henrietta with an overdose of medicine; she is caught in the act and leaves in disgrace.

The Governor, Sir Richard, has Sam arrested and charged with the attempted murder of Charles. Sir Richard ignores Henrietta's claim that Sam is innocent of both crimes. However, Charles decides to bend the truth; he says, on his word as a gentleman, that there was no confrontation, and no struggle over the gun. It was all an accident.

Finally we see Sam and Henrietta together smiling. They bid Charles a fond and grateful farewell; he is going back to Ireland.


Kitchen Staff at Mr. Flusky's House

  • Olive Sloane as Sal
  • Maureen Delaney as Flo
  • Julia Lang as Susan
  • Betty McDermott as Martha


The movie was co-produced by Hitchcock and Sidney Bernstein for their short-lived production company Transatlantic Pictures and released through Warner Brothers. The film starred Michael Wilding, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, and Margaret Leighton.[1]

The film was Hitchcock's second film in Technicolor and uses ten-minute takes similar to those in Hitchcock's previous film Rope (1948). It is thought that the audience had imagined Under Capricorn was going to be a thriller, which it was not — the plot was a domestic love triangle with a few thriller elements thrown in — and this led to its box office failure. However, the public reception of the film may have been damaged by the revelation in 1949 of the married Bergman's adulterous relationship with — and subsequent pregnancy by — the married Italian film director Roberto Rossellini.[2]

The long take[edit]

In Style and Meaning: Studies in the Detailed Analysis of Film, Ed Gallafent says:[3]

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 characters 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. In 3, 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.

Gallafent, professor of film at University of Warwick, also explains these aspects of Under Capricorn:

The inscription on the Flusky's mansion — Minyago Yugilla — means "Why weepest thou?"

St. Mary Magdalene (the patron saint of penitent sinners) in religious iconography: the bare feet, skull, the flail, the looking glass in which the beholder’s face is not always reflected, the jewels cast down to floor. All of these images are in the film. Sources for the imagery that Hitchcock might have had in mind are the paintings St. Mary Magdalene With a Candle (1630–1635) and St. Mary Magdalene With a Mirror (1635–1645), both by Georges de La Tour.

Note: "Minyago Yugilla", according to one source,[4] is not written in a real language; however, according to other sources,[5][6] it is in Kamilaroi (Gamilaraay), a now moribund Australian aboriginal language. See also this similar translation[7] of the phrase "Minyilgo yugila".


  • Alfred Hitchcock cameo: A signature occurrence in three-quarters of Hitchcock's films, he can be seen in the town square during a parade, wearing a blue coat and brown hat at the beginning of the film. He is also one of three men on the steps of the Government House 10 minutes later.
  • In Truffaut/Hitchcock, Hitchcock told François Truffaut that Under Capricorn was such a failure that Bankers Trust Company, which had financed the film, repossessed the film, which then was unavailable until the first US network television screening in 1968. In the Truffaut interview, Hitchcock also mentioned the New York Times reviewer, who wrote that the viewer had to wait almost 100 minutes for the first suspenseful moment.[8]
  • In Peter Bogdanovich's interview with Alfred Hitchcock, Bogdanovich mentions that French critics writing for Cahiers du cinéma in the 1950s considered Under Capricorn one of Hitchcock's finest films.[9] [10]
  • Playwright James Bridie, who wrote the screenplay for Under Capricorn, is famous for his Biblical plays, such as his Jonah and the Whale. Other Christian references in Under Capricorn include a moment near the end of the film, where Milly says "The Lord works in mysterious ways," and Samson Flusky says "What is it they say in the Bible? Great Gulf Fixed."
  • Cecil Parker's character Sir Richard may be a representation of General Sir Richard Bourke, who was Governor of New South Wales from 1831 to 1837.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Under Capricorn (1949) – Company Credits". Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  2. ^ "About Ingrid – Biography, page 3". The Official Ingrid Bergman Web Site. Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  3. ^ Ed Gallafent's article "The Dandy and Magdalene: Interpreting the Long Take in Hitchcock’s Under Capricorn". Style and Meaning: Studies in the Detailed Analysis of Film. 2005. Manchester University Press.
  4. ^ Hitchcock's Ireland: The Performance of Irish Identity in Juno and the Paycock and Under Capricorn, by James Morrison, North Carolina State University, §20
  5. ^ Tinted Glasses: Gobblydook blog, retrieved 12/10/09
  6. ^ The wrong house: the architecture of Alfred Hitchcock, essay by Steven Jacobs, p. 251
  7. ^ Kamilaroi, and other Australian languages, by William Hilley
  8. ^ Truffaut/Hitchcock. 1967. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  9. ^ "Under Capricorn (1949) – Trivia". Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  10. ^ Hillier, Jim (1985). Cahiers du Cinema The 1950's. RKP/BFI. pp. 138, 200, 288. ISBN 0-7100-9620-8. 

External links[edit]