Robert Walker gives his last complete on screen performance, as well as an against type performance as the socialite Bruno who comes up with the fiendish idea to get away with murders. Walker normally played the "boy next door" sort of roles such as in Since You Went Away where he played a squeaky voiced soldier. Although Walker takes on a completely different role here as Bruno you would not have guessed from the way he sinks his teeth into the role. You would think he had played these sorts of roles his entire career from the ease he has in his performance. Walker is effortless from his first scene where he approaches Guy Haines about his idea.
Speaking of Guy Haines he is portrayed by Farley Granger who also did not receive an Oscar nomination for his role in this film.
Anyway in the first scene Walker is amazing as he comes in with his most unusual performance as Bruno. This is definitely a performance with subtext as Walker definitely plays it that he is more interested in Guy than just for Tennis and just for his murder plot. The idea of this attraction is nicely handled by Walker adding a nice bit of subtle motivation for Bruno on top of everything else. Walker shows that in basically every way Bruno is far too into Guy and he brings out the unsettled desire brilliantly. Walker makes Bruno potentially just a little loopy in his way eccentric at first that would keep Guy at least seated next to him, but of course he just as efficiently portrays the psychopath burning underneath.
Granger in the first sets up the way Guy will be throughout the film which is a man in a very very awkward situation. He does well in portraying the part in a very unassuming fashion. He is able to sit and listen to Bruno because really Guy just isn't the type to really stand up and act rudely to someone. Granger is earnest in the somewhat meek quality to Guy. When Guy tries and eventually does run from Bruno Granger actually sets up the whole film beautifully by portraying the lack of distinction in Guy. He allows Bruno to believe the murder trade is on simply because he never shuts Bruno up in the way he probably should. Granger is absolutely genuine in playing up this weakness without overdoing though.
Walker at the end of the first scene is terrific in the way he sets up the plot. There is such a fiendish malice in Bruno that is always an underlying presence in him. Walker does well in downplaying this viciousness and actually far more effective because of it. When Bruno talks about his father it would be an easy time for one to overact putting the evil forefront, but Walker makes it far more unnerving through almsot conveying through that sight in his eyes that shows the pure murdering inside. Walker makes it abundantly clear that Bruno wants his father dead, therefore will even take Guy's lack of denial as a reason to enough to go out and murder Guy's wife.
Walker whole depiction of Bruno is just something special in itself. The way he sits too close to Guy to the way he is always leaning in a somewhat disjointed fashion, to just his distinct voice it all adds to Bruno as a memorable antagonist. This honestly is just one of those performances that is entertaining to watch all on his own. He is so odd as Bruno yet strangely fascinating in this behavior which Walker brings into his role as Bruno. What is outstanding about this performance is the fact that despite really "performing" a whole lot in his portrayal he never seems to obviously be acting in any moment within his portrayal. He brings Bruno to life in just an incredible fashion.
Granger on the other hand is not necessarily entertaining to watch all on his lonesome. He does lead the film well with his performance though by making Guy a fairly likable character by just playing him straight in his characterization. He actually very much adds to his performance by not avoiding the more negative aspects of his part. Importantly though when Granger portrays these scenes, such as when he says he could kill his wife, he is genuine in that Guy is far from perfect but he does have a good heart beneath. Granger makes it believable that Guy would say such a thing as just gut reaction sort of thing, but at the same time makes it abundantly obvious that Guy could never do such a thing.
I know some who put Walker in supporting something I cannot do as it tells both men's story and it follows Walker on his own very importantly through the amazing scene as Bruno stalks Guy's wife through a circus to find a chance to murder her. It is just a great scene from the images to the music, and of course Walker's portrayal of Bruno's method. The way he never seems to lose his stare or his precision is particularly eerie since we know exactly what his intention is the entire time. When he finally goes through with the muder the most chilling part of it is the way he greets Guy wife as "Mrs Haines" which Walker portrays so gently making it especially disturbing as Bruno goes right about killing her.
After the murder Guy and Bruno meet again as Bruno informs that he has done the deed. Walker and Granger work extremely well together. Granger portrays Guy's reaction correctly with a horrified surprise but with just ever so slight relief in their that he can't hide completely. Walker achieves a certain type of dominance in these scenes. He does not make it so Bruno commands Guy in a the traditional fashion, but instead Walker makes a different type of overwhelming pressure as he forces Guy to feel some sort of guilt in the situation. Walker does this through almost the pleasure and pleasantries he offers to Guy over the whole affair and is so quiet in the way he asks Guy to murder his father for him.
Granger is good in the way plays Guy's attempt to avoid Bruno in any way he can which he all plays as how one would expect someone like Guy to deal with it. He shows his disgust upfront to Bruno, but he does it well by the fact that Guy seems more trying to avoid Bruno than anything else. Granger makes this as bit of a personal struggle of Guy actually not trying to face Bruno factors in to him trying not to face his own feelings of guilt. He makes his side absolutely work in the way their relationship continues. The fact that Guy keeps it so much to himself is made believable by Granger because of his appropriate portrayal of the lack of internal strength to really confront Bruno directly.
The two play the game of the film perfectly as Granger makes Guy the very reluctant hero who is constantly pestered by Walker's Bruno who keeps showing up everywhere. The two play off each other well with Granger portraying Guy's increasing frustrations in a honest fashion showing him to be an average person in a terrible situation, and Walker keeping Bruno that ever so strange man who keeps asking Guy to complete his side of the murder bargain with the nicest yet grimmest of smiles. Walker is just terrific the way he will be so charming in a scene as he talks to everyone around Guy yet at a pin drop the true undeniable killer can come out of him this dynamic Walker so flawlessly portrays really makes Bruno the unpredictable villain he should be.
Farley Granger is just very good leading man here and he makes it easy for us to follow Guy through his ordeal. Although not overly complex Granger does succeed with the complexities that are offered to him and manages to make Guy likable even if a somewhat weak willed character. His journey which is both to stop Bruno and finally face up to him is well even if somewhat unassumingly portrayed. He makes Guy exactly as he should be which is the hero of the film, but a very specific hero. A hero that lets Bruno go as far as he does and for as long as he does, and is more of forced to face Bruno (through his soon to be wife finding out) than exactly propels himself. He makes Guy's whole path one that can honestly believed and this way was the best way to portray Guy.
The film though does belong to Robert Walker. I really don't think this is anything against Granger as the film probably would not have worked as well if Bruno and Guy stood on equal ground. Walker does steal the film as he should through his turn as Bruno. Its a very original take on a villain through his particular style and fashion that he takes in the part. He plays Bruno absolutely his very own way that makes it just an enjoyable performance simply to watch, and as well a very effective antagonist for the film. It honestly could have been a very easy part to mess up through overacting or playing him on a single note, but Walker nails it so every moment he's onscreen is something special all in itself.