This 1948 film was Alfred Hitchcock’s first colour production. It features Farley Granger and John Dall as two young men – Brandon Shaw and Philip Morgan – who murder their former classmate, hide his body in a chest in their apartment, and then hold a dinner party for the family and associates of the dead man. None of the guests realise the grisly secret that is in the room with them, and are actually expecting the dead man to come to the party. James Stewart plays Rupert Cadell, the young men’s former schoolmaster, who is invited to the party and begins to suspect that something is amiss.
The film is shot in real time (almost – the timeframes are speeded up, so that the events take place over 100 minutes, although the film is 80 minutes long) and as it all takes place within the apartment, it has almost the feel of a stage play. It is extremely entertaining, and although I felt from the outset that things could surely not possibly end well for the two murderers, I also had no idea how the story would end. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I did think the ending itself was excellent.
James Stewart was not the original choice for the role (Cary Grant was in fact first choice – although he did not play the part, two of the characters discuss him at the party, and make reference to a film of his; clearly they are referring to Notorious, a Hitchcock film which started Grant), and did not apparently like the film. He felt that he had been miscast in the role of Cadell, but I actually thought that he was perfect.
There are some surprising moments of humour in the film – mainly due to Constance Collier who plays the aunt of the dead man, but mostly this is a thriller of sorts, with plenty of tension and atmosphere.
The film is loosely based on the real life case of Nathan Freudenthal Leopold and Richard Albert Loeb, who in 1924 murdered 14 year old Robert Franks. Both men were subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment. More can be read about the case here.
Year of release: 1948
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writers: Patrick Hamilton, Hume Cronyn, Arthur Laurents, Ben Hecht
Main cast: James Stewart, Farley Granger, John Dall, Joan Chandler, Cedric Hardwicke, Constance Collier, Douglas Dick, Edith Evanson