I have been reviewing movies on this site for almost 10 months now and this is the first film I have looked at from one of the greatest directors of all time(some may say there is no question he is the greatest). I will have to say that Alfred Hitchcock is the reason I started watching classic film noir. I seen Rear Window and wanted to see more films like it and if it had Grace Kelly in it…all the better. This lead me to more Hitchcockian films and film noir. Some may argue this is not a film noir and they maybe right, it might be an early neo-noir? I’m not sure how you would classify it, all I know is it is noir.
This film is based on a play by Frederick Knott and was released in 1954. It revolves around a very small cast of characters with most of it taking place in a small apartment in England. The film starts out with Tony, played by Ray Milland and Margot played by Grace Kelly in what appears to be a happy marriage. This scene even has background music more akin to a Walt Disney movie then a Hitchcock film. After we see the kissing couple we go to the next scene with Margot kissing…a different man. This man is crime writer Mark Halliday played by Robert Cummings. This film has great dialog to tell the story as we find out Margot and Mark had an affair and Margot would have left her husband, but he has changed since Mark has been gone and now she is conflicted. In the next scene Tony has Lesgate (or is it Swann?) played by Anthony Dawson, come to the apartment to talk about selling his car. This is where Tony tells Lesgate his perfect murder and how and why Lesgate will kill his wife. When Tony and Mark go out to dinner, Tony steps away to call his boss, but he is really calling his wife so she will be in position to be murdered by Lesgate. When Margot fights back and kills Lesgate in self-defense, Tony has to change his plans, but this may still work for Tony.
When Chief Inspector Hubbard played by John Williams gets involved in the case the tension gets cranked up a notch. With Millard and Kelly at the top of their game and Hitchcock doing some of his best work I don’t think there is any question this is an all time classic and should be watched by every movie buff. I can not imagine any fan of noir not finding this film entertaining.
But, is this a classic film noir or not? This is part of the fun of the noir genre as it is a genre with a lot of different takes on how it is classified. Other genres you recognize as soon as you watch them, Westerns, Science Fiction and Horror are easy to spot. Some people will look at a film and call it a film noir and some might say it is just a crime film or a thriller or maybe a murder mystery. Here are some argument points for and against this being classified as a film noir.
The main character of this film is a bad guy trying to pull off the perfect crime.
It has a very claustrophobic feel with most of the film taking place in a small apartment. Also both our main characters are prisoners in a marriage they do not want to be in anymore.
Characters like Margot and Lesgate have choices, but none of them are good. Tony also seems to be stuck in a situation he can not get out of, once Lesgate fails to complete Tony’s original plan.
This film does not have a happy ending for many of our characters, I will not go in-depth here because I do not want to spoil it for those that have not seen it yet.
Though Hitchcock used many techniques in filming this movie, he did go to the classic film noir well in quite a few scenes:
Like this one where he uses shadows and a fish eye point of view.
And the complete murder attempt is shot in the shadows and gives a very black and white feel.
Some say film noir can not be filmed in color, though this is not the norm, I have seen a few films in color that are considered film noir by many.
Grace Kelly character isn’t a femme fatale. This is true and some say every film noir has to have one. I don’t like this rule, though I love a good femme fatale, I believe there are plenty of great film noir movies without one.
I would love to hear more points from you on FOR or AGAINST this being a film noir. Leave your point of view in the comments below.
Favorite Tidbit: Though this is almost always shown in 2D it is actually Hitchcock’s first and only attempt at 3D and was completely filmed in stereoscopic 3D. Now this is a Blu-Ray 3D I would love to see released.
Update: This has been released on Blu-Ray 3D and is available.