Some years later, even Hitchcock admitted that this movie was a stunt. And it is, but it’s an interesting one. The whole film was shot in just ten long takes, and an attempt is made to disguise most of the cuts. It was a practical matter. That’s as much film as could be loaded into a camera of the day. And it posed all sorts of problems. Walls and prop furniture had to be on rollers so the crew could move things so the camera could get through, the actors had to step over cables on the floor and, of course, one fuck-up by a grip, one dropped line, and you had to start all over. The movie takes place in real time, and features a big window where the city can be seen. The light has to fade as the sun goes down, city lights come on, and the fiberglass “clouds” have to be exchanged when the window is not in view. Lots of tricky technical stuff. It’s all accomplished flawlessly.
The story … well, it’s far-fetched. Two young men strangle a third young man for kicks, just because they want to do it, put him in a trunk, and have it there in plain sight while they have a party. One of them quickly turns out to be clearly not up to the deception, suffering multiple panic attacks. Jimmy Stewart their mentor and the man whose half-baked philosophy of superior beings and inferiors who account for nothing and therefore deserve to die, figures out what’s really going on.
I thought it was all pretty silly. Then I heard that Hitchcock initially told his screenwriter, Arthur Laurents, that the murder would not be shown, as it is here in the first minute of the film. Would that have worked better? On the one hand, the tension as the film exists is derived from wondering whether or not the weak one will break down, Perry Mason style, and shout out his guilt. Might it not have been better if we didn’t know for sure if there was a corpse in the trunk? I’m not sure.
There is a funny bit of business during a conversation concerning current movies and movie stars. One woman mentions Cary Grant and how brilliant he was in “that new thing with Bergman.” No one can think of the title. Of course, it is Hitchcock’s Notorious. This is also the only Hitchcock film I know of where there is controversy concerning his traditional cameo appearance. Some say he is a passerby on the street in the only exterior shot, while the opening credits roll. We looked at it carefully, pausing every time someone went by, and none of them looked like Hitch. The more prevalent opinion is that his profile is shown in an advertising sign outside the apartment window. If so, I couldn’t find it, even on our HD big screen. I paused it and went over the background carefully, and I sure couldn’t see it.