This film is a taught 80-minute study of two twisted minds at work. Well, three—counting the director. 🙂
Two young men lure a friend to their Manhattan apartment, where they proceed to strangle him to death. Then, dump him in a chest. Which they drape with a tablecloth and use to serve food for a nice, cozy get-together they have afterward.
And everyone at this a gay fete (no pun intended) (and, yes, film critics have made much of the homosexual subtext between the two killers) knew the victim by virtue of blood relation, friendship or marriage engagement. So, naturally, there is building discussion about why he hasn’t made an appearance, etc.
While one of the young men, Brandon (played by John Dall) seems to get a slightly nervous charge out of this game he and Phillip (played by Farley Granger) have devised, Phillip becomes increasingly unhinged and starts drinking like a fish too much.
Jimmy Stewart plays their old prep school housemaster and publisher Rupert Cadell, who’s not only the odd man out at this weird party, but apparently sparked the idea for committing “the perfect murder” when he discussed his theories about Nietzsche and the “art of murder” with the deadly duo back in the day. Brandon imagines that, of all the invitees, Cadell should most appreciate what he calls their “work of art”.
Hitchcock’s use of a confined space adds a claustrophobic touch to the film, despite the panoramic view through a long line of windows. The movie unfolds in real time and the background vista changes colors as the sun sets. Even as one watches the players interact, one’s eye is drawn to the ever-changing skyline which looks artificial and painted, as if to wink at the audience and say, “Don’t worry. It’s just a movie.”
The film is also structured through a series of long shots made to appear as if the movie were done in one take. Hitchcock managed this by focusing on someone’s back, cutting the shots together there, and moving on. It’s not only a tension-filled device, but an inspired (if ever-so-slightly clunky) feet of technical wizardry.
However, for all its artifice, this movie was inspired by real-life events: none other than the Leopold and Loeb murders. Now, that’s scary!
The combination of the Hitchcock touch (complete with his characteristic dark humour) and the sheer technical mastery in making this film makes it a winner in my book!
Respectfully submitted today, as part of The Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon, hosted at Maddylovesherclassicfilms! 🙂