Newest Review: ... former prep school housemaster who filled their minds with this nonsense about the 'art of murder'. Also starring are Farley Grang... more
It will Rope you in
Member Name: Starlight81
Advantages: Clever filming, intriguing plot, the acting, a good length
Disadvantages: Hard to think of any!
I first saw this a few years ago and liked it so much that I bought it to watch again with my boyfriend, who liked it as much as I did. It was Hitchcock's first 'Technicolor' film so I thought it would be an interesting one to try.
This film must be very unusual, in that the very first image that comes onto the screen is that of a man in a New York apartment being strangled by two other men with a rope. It turns out that the murderers, Brandon and Phillip, are friends (for 'friends' read 'lovers', though this is never made explicit), and that David, whose life they have brutally ended, was a friend of theirs. It soon becomes apparent that they believe themselves to be intellectuals, and therefore superior beings, who consequently have the right to decide whether 'inferior' beings live or die.
Brandon is by far the cockier and more confident, whereas Phillip seems to be more concerned about the lack of morality in what they have done. Soon after they have committed the murder they shut the body in the chest in their living room and start preparing the apartment for the imminent arrival of their guests- yes; they have organised a party to take place shortly after committing their crime, in order to prove to themselves how easy it is to get away with it, and presumably to give themselves an adrenaline rush (though the whole idea is quite clearly Brandon's). So confident is Brandon that the guests will not suspect a thing that they move all the food and candles from the dining room and lay them on top of the chest.
The guests begin to arrive one by one- David's parents and fiancée among them, though the two men are most concerned by the last guest to arrive- their former housemaster, Rupert (played by James Stewart)- not only is he an intellectual, but he also shares their theories on life and death. Nevertheless, Brandon is convinced that even if Rupert discovers the body, he will be the most likely to understand why they did it.
Once the guests have all arrived, the tension begins to mount, and the emotional state of the two men changes as time goes on.
The way in which this film has been shot gives it a very similar feel to a play, and in fact it was a play originally, which was adapted for the big screen- though it would seem that not a lot has been changed! Some of the camera angles are quite interesting- the most prominent example being the moment when the guests are having a conversation off screen, and all that is on camera is the housekeeper walking to and from the kitchen, and the chest.
The film, most impressively, was shot using long takes, of up to ten minutes at a time, to give the impression of one continuous scene. Hitchcock managed to cut most of the time by zooming in on somebody's back, or a piece of furniture, to mask the switch. All camera angles had been decided beforehand.
The fact that the entire film is set mostly within one single room, and that this does not pose a problem at all in terms of enjoyment and interest, shows how clever the plot and dialogue must be. Having said this, care has obviously been taken to make sure that the one room has enough going on within it to build up the atmosphere e.g. one wall is entirely made of glass looking out over New York City, and as the party progresses, the sky gradually gets darker. As the film reaches a climax, darkness falls and there are neon lights flashing on and off just outside, a piano is being played in the corner of the room and a metronome has been set ticking, which speeds up as the tension increases.
I was also impressed with the acting- James Stewart (of 'It's A Wonderful Life' fame) was clearly the big selling-point of the film, since his name is the most clearly displayed as the film begins, but actually John Dall and Farley Granger, who played Brandon and Philip, were equally good, if not better. The supporting actors were not stretched in terms of dialogue, but they certainly gave above-average performances even so.
I also think the film is a perfect length- I hate films that are much longer than they need to be, and by the end of this I was left feeling that I would have liked to have seen more, if anything. It doesn't seem to have dated much either, considering it's a 1948 production. The themes are still relevant today, and the style of direction is still unique enough to be impressive despite today's superior technology.
I generally like to give a balanced view of a film, and try to write about the drawbacks as well as the advantages, but I'm honestly having a very hard time thinking of any flaws. I suppose that if you like typical modern Hollywood blockbusters then this may not be the film for you, and it's certainly not a typical Hitchcock, in the style of 'Psycho' or 'The Birds.' I would class it as a thriller more than a horror. However, I actually think this is one of Hitchcock's best, if not the absolute best.
Summary: 2 men commit a murder for the sake of it. Will they be caught?