A period piece directed by Hitchcock? Yes, it is a surprise. It wasn't the first though It must have surprised Hitch as well. While produced by his own company (Transatlantic Pictures), Under Capricorn would seem a natural choice for David O Selznick as producer but all wrong for Hitchcock as director. While Under Capricorn is flawed, it's got a number of strengths chiefly the performance by Ingrid Bergman and the unusual experiment begun in Rope with long takes. Under Capricorn doesn't rely on as many gimmicks as Rope did and, while Joseph Cotton may seem odd for his role (Burt Lancaster was Hitchcock's original choice), he does a solid job in the role. Although the Irish accent perpetually eludes the three principal actors, it's no worse than watching a film set in, say, Germany with actors attempting German accents while speaking English.
Yes, the material might seem appropriate for Hitch given the themes explored but this romantic melodrama was really quite a stretch for him as a director. The experience here certainly made his later works richer (such as Vertigo) but, on the whole, Under Capricorn was clearly a learning experience for Hitch.
The performances are grand and as florid as one might expect given the material. The screenplay by James Bridie (with considerable rewriting by Hume Cronyn)leaves Hitch in a lifeboat without oars; Hitch pretty much goes nowhere over the course of the film's 116 minutes. Unfortunately, this expensive miscalculation would do in Hitch's Transatlantic films (Rope was the first Transatlantic production and, despite some obvious flaws, is a much better film).
Still, despite its considerable flaws, Under Capricorn is a worthy experiment and worth a look from Hitchcock fans. The transfer is solid although not as rich as I expected and the extras are pretty slim (especially compared to Rope and Shadow of a Doubt).