The good Americans usually die young on the battlefield, don't they? Well, the Davids of this world merely occupy space, which is why he was the perfect victim for the perfect murder. Course he, uh, he was a Harvard undergraduate. That might make it justifiable homicide.
A 1929 stage play by Patrick Hamilton, more famously known as the 1948 Alfred Hitchcock
film that was shot in ten takes and cut to look like one
One day, two elite young Manhattanites, Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger), murder their acquaintance, David Kentley, and hide the body
in a chest. Their reason for doing so is to commit the perfect murder; to see how perfect it is, they host a party with the chest in plain-sight. All the guests in the party, including David's fiancÚ Janet Walker (Joan Chandler) and the killers' former teacher, Rupert Cadell (James Stewart
), grow worried at his absence. As Brandon pushes his luck, Phillip shows remorse and Rupert investigates his suspicions. All of this leads to a discovery...
The film is particularly known for its experimental style. Hitchcock abandoned typical shooting and editing methods in favor of long unbroken scenes. Each shot ran continuously for up to ten minutes without interruption. He would went to use the same technique in Under Capricorn
(1949) and to a lesser extent Stage Fright
(1950). The homosexuality subtext was also considered daring for its time. While not a major hit at the time of its release, the fim gained in popularity over the following decades. Today it is often listed among the best of the director.
This film features examples of:
- Adaptational Sexuality: Brandon and Philip being gay was a lot clearer in the original play but is reduced to subtext in the film (mostly due to the censorship at the time) and Brandon is implied to be bisexual.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
Janet: Well, now, you don't really approve of murder, Rupert? If I may?
Rupert: You may... and I do. Think of the problems it would solve: unemployment, poverty, standing in line for theatre tickets...
- Bittersweet Ending: Rupert figures out what Brandon and Philip have done and alerts the authorities, but it's clear that by now he is a broken shell of a man.
- Break the Haughty: Brandon, the least-remorseful of the two killers, gets his comeuppance when Rupert alerts the police to the murder.
- Complexity Addiction: Brandon's insistence on style is the reason they get caught almost instantly.
- Creator Backlash: James Stewart said later that this was his least favourite collaboration with Hitchcock (he hated how he acted in it, not the film itself).
- Creator Cameo: The setup made it impossible for Hitchcock to do his usual cameo; instead a red neon sign of his famous self-portrait silhouette is visible out the window once the sun goes down.
- He appears during the opening credits.
- Dead Man's Chest
- Depraved Bisexual: Brandon is implied to be this, as there is obvious subtext that he and Philip are involved and he also refers to a past relationship with Janet.
- Dramatic Irony: Any time the other guests wonder why David is late to the party. The audience knows he isn't late at all and was actually early to the party.
- Dull Surprise: James Stewart as Rupert Cadell.
- Enforced Method Acting: The actress playing Mrs Wilson was apparently treated like a maid by the rest of the cast during filming.
- Extremely Short Timespan: The events take place over the course of a single evening, and more or less unfold in Real Time.
- Faux Affably Evil: Brandon. He loses whatever "charm" he has very fast.
- For the Evulz: Brandon's motivation.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: It's pretty clear that Brandon and Phillip are in a relationship, even considering the strict censorship of the time. That said, this was apparently clearer in the play.
- Godwin's Law: A discussion of Nietzsche and Brandon believing in the concept of supermen prompts the response "so did Hitler" from David's father.
- Guilt Ridden Accomplice: Phillip.
- Have a Gay Old Time:
- "I just couldn't be the gay girl anymore".
- "How queer".
- Given the homosexual subtext, this may be intentional.
- Heel-Face Turn: Rupert does one at the end. Although...Jimmy Stewart could never really be a heel, anyhow.
- Hollywood Old: Jimmy Stewart is greyed at the temples, but it's still obvious he's the same age as his supposed former students.
- Inspired By: The story was inspired by a real-life murder committed by Leopold and Loeb.
- Insufferable Genius: Brandon. He puts on as elaborate a display he can of the murder as part of a joke only he'll enjoy. Phillip calls him out on this, accusing him of secretly wanting to get caught just so he can boast about how cleverly he committed the act.
- MacGuffin: It's Hitch, so it's pretty much required. In this case, it's David's body.
- Missing Trailer Scene: The film was originally meant to open with a scene of Janet and David in Central Park but that was cut and put in the trailer instead.
- Nietzsche Wannabe: Our two "heroes" decide that David's "inferiority" justifies his death. Rupert Cadell also counts, considering the murder was inspired by his rhetoric, but he renounces his way of thinking once he realizes what happened.
- The Oner: Hitchcock wanted to make the film one long, continuous shot. Sadly, this wasn't feasible with the technology of the time: film would run out after about ten minutes, so the camera would zoom in on some person or something, and zoom out when it cuts. But because film reels in the cinema would run out after ten minutes and need to be changed over, some cuts are straightforward and normal.
- The Perfect Crime: Brandon brags that it is "the perfect murder", which leads to him being so cocky about it.
- Playing Against Type: James Stewart as Rupert Cadell.
- Reverse Whodunnit: We know the two are guilty; the only question is if they can get away with it.
- Ripped from the Headlines: The stage play from which the movie was adapted was inspired by the infamous Leopold and Loeb murder case from 1924. Another fictionalized version would come about a decade later with Richard Fleischer's Compulsion.
- Shout-Out: Janet's and Mrs. Atwater's conversation about Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman starring in a movie with a One-Word Title that neither Janet nor Mrs. Atwater can remember might refer to Notorious.
- Sissy Villain: Brandon and Phillip.
- Smug Snake: Brandon. Brandon. And Brandon.
- Spanner in the Works: Rupert Cadell.
- Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer shows the final scene of Rupert finding out about David's murder thus eliminating a lot of the suspense.
- Villain Opening Scene