dantesring’s review published on Letterboxd:
Of all the Hitchcock films, it is crazy to me that I have seen this one this most. Perhaps it is because it hit me right at that sweet spot of age when I was beginning to really notice an actor's craft and with the staginess of the performances and the film it really allowed that to shine. It is also likely due to the fact that I received a copy of this when the Universal Hitchcock films were finally re-released in the mid-80's for the first time in years.
Much has been made of the films style, where Hitchcock went for long one shot takes. I myself find this to make the film more of a curiosity and find the ways that he would cut the film a little forced and quaint. It certainly makes the film feel like a high wire act and gives it more of a theater-like atmosphere, yet it is distracting. The art of how it was done is much more interesting than the way it came off and it will sometimes take me out of the film.
What brings me back in is Stewart's performance. He holds the screen in such a unassuming way and delivers his lines with such thrown off panache that he completely steals the film. While it is actorly, it never seems unrealistic.
The same cannot be said of Dall and Grainger who are fully in the grip of the stage, projecting their performances as if to a large crowd. This is not to say they are bad, in their own way they deliver the heightened sense of reality that this film is trying to achieve. Dall is all righteous acquiescence and has the more showy part as the "civilized superman" who executes the cruel plan. Grainger is much more a ball of nervous tics and pained gestures and it is he who gives the film its sense of things coming unglued. They do exist in a world outside our own, proven every time they interact with Stewart on the screen.
It is clear that this is the intent that Hitchcock was going for, making them so outsized so that we as an audience cannot empathize with them. It works the same by casting Stewart as our surrogate, he espouses the same theories and point of view, but his comforting presence makes us realize that this is just talk and cannot be part of someone's true philosophy.
Taking place in real time the film is a macabre thriller that is all about civility and caustic actions. It is clever and sad, yet a lot of fun as well. The lasting implications of the events are what make it unsettling. While I would never place this in the pantheon of his great films, I can soundly say that this one is the most pleasurable to me. The most shocking thing about this film is how modern it seems considering that it came out just 2 years after THE BIG SLEEP and a year before WHITE HEAT, films which feel as if they belong to a completely other generation.