I dig into another classic Hitchcock today, and despite the fact that James Stewart gets top billing, he is almost a supporting role, not really taking centre stage until the final act of the film that was adapted from a stage play by Patrick Hamilton, partially adapted by Hume Cronyn.
Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger) commit a murder at the beginning of the film, and then, promptly hold a dinner party to gloat about how they got away with it, while the body is tucked inside a trunk that stays in the room the entire time.
The murderers’ old head master, Rupert (Stewart) has been invited along, as have a number of people just so Brandon can toy and manipulate them as he fancies himself the superior intellect. But over the course of the evening, things begin to unravel, and Rupert begins to suspect.
Through it all there is a moral exercise at work, one voiced by Stewart’s character that murder is almost an art form, and should only be allowed by those of a superior nature. But who decides who that is?
But what is truly enjoyable is that Hitchcock, subtly hiding edits, which would occur at the end of the reel, makes the film look like one long take. And even knowing where the edits are, it’s still a stunning achievement, as you realise the craft and precision that would go into work to make something like that achievable, lines, marks, booms, camera, all of them and more have to be at the right point at the right time to catch the moment as the director visualised it.
Stewart, as always, is brilliant, tempering his performance with some great dialogue, featuring a bit of dark, gallows humour, that shakes up his fellow characters, and makes Rupert an interesting fellow, especially when he sees what he thought was just a mental exercise put into action.
Dall’s Brandon is snide, arrogant, and sees everyone else as someone to be manipulated, even his co-conspirator, Phillip. The only person he wants the respect of, the only person he thinks will understand him, and the only person he fears is Rupert. He wants the thrill of discovery and recognition, but also knows what it means.
Hitchcock proves that he is a master once again in storytelling, framing and doling out the tension. This one, with is sole location, feels smaller than most of Hitch’s films, but that doesn’t detract from the film’s excitement and presentation. Stewart fills the room when he performs, and Dall’s Brandon is almost able to go toe to toe with him.
I think this run on Hitchcock will have to continue.