TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 10 August 2017
This is Hitchcock directing James Stewart and as a result it was always going to be a superb film, I was very surprised that I had not heard of it, given how many of Hitchcock's films are critically acclaimed and routinely recommended. This film I only heard about when carrying out a google search or browsing wikis, I cant remember which, I found it recommended as an existentialist film.
The film's opening scene is a bit of a shocker, the first cut which I watched features a scream and someone has obviously been killed off screen, a small rope is produced and it is evident a strangulation has taken place, however, I discovered this was a censored cut, as the second version actually features the strangulation, or at least it opens with the two perpetrators standing either side of the victim who stands about to collapse with the noose around his neck. Now, it is done more theatrically, perhaps, than a lot of the present day shockers both takes surprised me, I thought, wait, you're going to begin with this?! What can possibly follow this?
Far from being anti-climatic the rest of the feature is pretty smart and has a perfect pace, the killers are friends of the victim (this reminded me of the talented Mr Ripley) and their motivations are examined throughout the length of the feature, they rationalise their actions, one to the other discussing the crime, then with guests who visit the crime scene for a pre-planned dinner party, then once again with one another, just out of ear shot of a maid and finally when confronted by one of the guests who have returned on an invented pretext who has succeeded in rumbling their game, that clever sleuth.
On one level it is a simple whodunnit, two perps with very different personalities, one the classical, heartless, cold as ice killer, trying to commit the prefect crime practice murder as an art form, the other with motive but full of regret, drowning is sorrows with alcohol, actually eager to confess. During the dinner party the murder weapon moves in and out of view, so confident is one of our killers that he actually hands it over to a guest, motives are also openly talked about. When finally the confrontation between sleuth and perps takes place the more remorseful one telegraphs what has been taking place by crying out "Cat and Mouse, Cat and Mouse, who is the Cat and who is the Mouse?".
What makes it more of an existentialist movie, I think, and it is a far, far cry from any of the other movies which I have heard described as existentialist such as The Seventh Seal our other movies by that director, is the content of some of the dinner party conversation and the motivation of one of the killers.
It is a lot of uber men/superman versus inferior/dumb masses kind of thinking, there is someone who appears unashamedly to endorse their message, which one of the perps is almost ready to confide in, excited to have found a like minded person but it all is quickly halted by another guest who finds the whole table talk grotesque. It is Stewart's character who appeared to be warming to the idea of the murder as art and uber men idea, when he returns to the crime scene to confront the killers he actually narrates his own self-disgust that his thinking could result in others taking actions as they did.
This I thought was really interesting but beyond making the point it doesnt go anywhere particularly, I did think about Hitchcock as director and how this could be a response to pundits suggesting that his films could inspire or motivate killers who watched them to commit actions in the real world. The point is not exactly laboured but Stewart's character, who has a fire arm at this point, states that he now will be responsible for their deaths but rather than shooting them he uses the gun to let loose shots and draw the attention of the authorities. In a way this could be comment on responsibility and capital punishment for murder.
The entire film is shot in a single room, the set is not fantastic, in fact it is obvious that it is a set and it could as easily have been a stage production, however, those are not entirely criticisms and the writing itself, direction and acting I thought was fantastic. Naturally focus is going to be on James Stewart, rightly so as none of the rest of the cast can hold a candle to his performance and stage prescience but I also thought that the two killers were acted very well, no hammy over acting at all, which can be a factor in older single set, "stage", shots. I would not for a second suggest that this ranks alongside movies like 12 Angry Men, which is also a single stage performance, nor even many of Hitchcocks superior works, though I would still recommend it.