A smart thriller with terrific acting and directing.
After 2 young men named Brandon and Phillip strangle a classmate named David who they believe is inferior to them, they put his body in a wooden chest and have several of their friends over for a dinner party to test the perfection of their crime. They put the food on top of the chest and they use his grave as a centerpiece. As Brandon says hints about David's disappearance, one of the guests, Rupert, begins to suspect that something is up with them.
This film was shot to make it look like it was filmed in 1 consecutive take (minus the opening credits). Hitchcock wanted to film it in 1 take without any interruptions. However, he could only record 20 minutes at a time. To get around this issue, Hitchcock tried to hide the cuts. For example, the camera could zoom in on a jacket, stop and start recording again, and zoom out so it looks like the movement happened at the same time. Some of these cuts were noticeable and could've been hidden better, but most of them were hidden decently enough. Also, Hitchcock had a backdrop of a city in the window behind their room. Every time a cut happened, it would look like time was moving along in the film as the sky would slowly get darker, changing from evening to night. It wasn't until 2002 when "Russian Ark" became the first and, currently, the only film to be shot in 1 unbroken cut.
Suspense is a trademark of Hitchcock films. He's made many suspenseful scenes in the past which have worked very well. As the party guests continued to get more suspicious of Brandon and Phillip, tension kept on rising. There is a man who keeps on getting more suspicious and questions both of them. There is a woman who has to open the chest later in the night to put books into it. I'll argue that out of all of Hitchcock's films that I've seen, this is his most suspenseful film. There are large portions of the film dedicated to keeping the viewer on the edge of their seats. Also, there are some added touches to certain scenes. For example, the movie had a metronome ticking as one of the characters questions one of the perpetrators, causing him to feel increasingly uneasy. Also, one of the characters could be visualizing how he thinks the crime would've went down as the camera moves around the room, in accordance with his theory.
However, the long take actually helps the suspense factor. In order for the suspense to work, the viewer had to be positive that the chest remained in the room for the entire film. That way, the viewer would be certain that his body hadn't been moved out somehow during a jump in the time. The fact that the film looks like it's filmed in 1 take reassures the viewer that the body hasn't left the room. If a character tries to open the chest, the viewer feels a lot of tension, because they know for a fact what that character will find. Top this off with some very solid acting from John Dall (Brandon) and Farley Granger (Phillip), and you get some firm, well-done suspense.
The dialogue is one of the highlights of the film. One of the perpetrators, Brandon, continues to give hints about the crime throughout the discussion. When one of the characters asks if he's throwing the party because of a birthday, he says that it's the exact opposite, implying David's death. When the character he said it to gets confused, he says that it's a farewell party. At one point in the film, a character asked Brandon a question. Brandon paused for a few seconds before giving a normal answer. It's almost like he was trying to think of a hint to say. Also, there are other scenes such as when Joan, one of the party guests, says that she could strangle Brandon as an exaggeration. Also, there's the discussion when all of the party guests briefly discuss murder, and Brandon tells a story about Phillip choking a chicken. I picked up more hints from the dialogue on my 2nd viewing. I'm assuming that there's a few more lines of dialogue that I could pick up on if I watch it a 3rd time. The dialogue slightly contributes to the films' suspense as it's a factor in what causes Rupert and the other guests to become suspicious.
Since the film has a lot of suspense, the 80 minute runtime feels a lot more like a mere 40 minutes. As I started to approach the ending on my 2nd viewing, I felt like it was over too quickly. I would've liked to see more of it as it was engaging me from beginning to end. Also, since suspense is a main driving point of the film, a lot of it is gone after you watch it a 2nd time. However, this is present in all suspenseful movies. The first viewing is always the best one as I'm not sure how the film will end.
In conclusion, this was a very suspenseful film. From what I've read, Hitchcock apparently called this an "experiment which didn't work out". It may not be one of Hitchcock's best films, but it's a really good film at showing us Hitchcock's suspense at its finest. It accomplished a few things pretty well, and I'm glad that I watched it. It was a pretty good film.
The experimental nature of the film makes it stand out and is the one movie from Mr. H that I I return to most.
And it vizivel the influence of this film in the years 60/70.
Intriguing but ineffectual film which was entirely done in one shot, as camera constantly follows two college grads who murder someone, hide his body, and invite people over all in the same apartment just for the thrill of it. An irresistibly clever idea never quite takes flight and suffers from neurotic acting. Alfred Hitchcock zoomed into the back of someone's clothes to provide basis for easy editing.