Third film from my Hitchcock boxset, but not watched at my friend's house this time as he had already seen this one.
Hitchcock directed, with the screenplay coming from Arthur Laurents. It is based on the play by Patrick Hamilton
The film opens with two men, Brendan (John Dall) and Philip (Farley Granger), murdering another. They hide the body in the apartment and prepare for a dinner party that had previously been arranged; a dinner party that the murdered individual was invited to. The guests include the victim's fiancee, her ex (also an old college friend of the two murderers and the victim), the victim’s parents, along with the victim's and murderers' college housekeeper; the intellectual, calculating teacher Rupert (James Stewart) who unwittingly sewed the seeds of the boys' idea of killing.
What it did particularly well:
Mise-en-scéne, scripting, pacing, choreography on and off screen were all breathtakingly brilliant. The fact that these things were almost flawless anyway is amplified by the fact that they were all completed in ten minute chunks, as the film only cut to another shot when the camera had ran out of film. Had the technology permitted, I am sure it could have been achieved for the film's duration (That really would blow my mind). Not only was this sheer spectacle in its most impressive form, due to its sophisticated setup and captivating cat and mouse routines, but it constantly commented on wider issues; on morality, art, the nature of mankind and other such philosophical quandaries.
What could have been improved:
The way the camera zoomed right in on somebody’s back when the cuts occurred was jarring, but I understand why it had to be done that way. Also, considering the whole thing took place in real time, the prospect of such a great party - or any party for that matter - lasting less than an hour whilst never seeming unduly rushed is a little far fetched.
well it was as subtle as a brick in it's interrogation of certain philosophical principles of morality, rolled up particularly in Nietzsche's concept of the superman, or the superior being. This concept was then combined with a bourgeoisie concept of art and of the idiotic lower classes, or lower beings, just not understanding it. The way that this belief can manifest itself in complete disregard for the humanity of others and can therefore lead to this sort of amoral killing; this cold, calculating 'death as art' that was seen through the character of Brendan. This was reinforced through his complete disregard for the maid, in contrast to Rupert's concession that he would ‘talk to her all night if he could’, which symbolised the difference between the two. Rupert could know all the same things that Brendan does, and share many similar thoughts, yet still has his humanity intact enough to understand where the boundaries lie.
The reference didn't stop at Nietzsche; there was much reference to Freudian psychoanalysis, which is to be expected considering the themes of the unconscious and the death drive, wrapped up in Brendan’s almost sexualised admiration of Rupert.
The theme and emphasis of art and perfection are reinforced by the film itself; the spectacle of the choreography and the meticulous construction of the screen on every single shot was breathtaking and embedded you firmly in Brendan's perfection obsessed, artistic consciousness.
Finally, this idea that Brendan took the knowledge that Rupert imparted within him (perfect murder, or murder as art) and took it to the extreme, following through with it, seems reminiscent of the fact that it has been widely documented that Nietzsche was Hitler’s inspiration for the ideal race and his justification for ethnic cleansing. Again, taking some well thought out, balanced theory and twisting it, taking it out of context and driving it through with blind conviction.
For this one I’d rather just say that it was an all round collective performance. Every single cog in the wheel made it go, including every single performance. But having said that, at a push, I guess I would say that I was most impressed by Stewart. this might be mainly due to the fact that from my limited experience of James Stewart, this role was against type. I have seen him this charismatic, but never quite so wise, in control and infallible.
The scene where Brendan loses it about inferiors is very revealing. It reveals his feeling on the matter; it reveals why he has committed this murder and it reveals that he has done it in a desperate attempt to impress Rupert.
If this was done the whole way through with no cut at all, it would be the most perfect piece of film ever made.