Rope – A Movie Review
ROPE (1948) A MOVIE REVIEW
A journey into the macabre world of Alfred Hitchcock is a journey into the uniquely multifaceted, voyeuristic, intellectual and psychological world of the ‘master of suspense’.
Rope is a complex, intriguing and entertaining picture worthy of consideration with the finest of Hitchcock’s works such as ‘Rear Window’, ‘North By Northwest’ and ‘Vertigo’.
The story of Rope was adapted from the stage play ‘Rope’s End’, which in turn was inspired by the real life Leopold and Loeb murder case. The story presents the audience with a tale of two boys Brandon Shaw portrayed by John Dall and Phillip Morgan portrayed by Farley Granger, whom influenced by Nietzsche’s theories of the superman murder a fellow socialite. They believe his life to be of little importance as in their opinion he does not posses the same intellectual prowess as themselves. They regard themselves as supermen whom on account of individual inherent superior qualities exemption from the laws that govern the rest of society. They are motivated to commit the crime to demonstrate to one another the relevance of their philosophy.
In a macabre twist they dispose of his body in a large wooden trunk and in order to demonstrate their philosophy they hoax an elaborate dinner party with a select group of invitees. Janet Walker, portrayed by Joan Chandler the victims fiancée. Mr. Kentley, portrayed by Cedric Hardwicke, the victims father. Mrs. Atwater, portrayed by Constance Collier, the victim’s aunt. Kenneth Lawrence, portrayed by Douglas Dick the victim’s best friend and finally Rupert Cadell, portrayed by James Stewart the perpetrators teacher and mentor from their adolescent days spent in school. The invitees are served the dinner as a buffet all the while the audience is aware the body of the victim is decomposing in the trunk.
As the party progresses throughout the evening the tension builds, especially when Phillip’s nerves begin to get the better of him. With Rupert’s inquisitive and increasing suspicious nature the audience are treated to a game of cat and mouse and a jostling of intellects between the teacher and the former students to deem who is the intellectually superior. The sharp minded Rupert is meticulously connecting all the pieces of the puzzle leading to a thrilling and suspenseful climax before the night is over.
The original British stage play ‘Ropes End’ was adapted by Hitchcock and Arthur Laurents for a more mainstream audience as they decided certain aspects of the story too risqué. The homosexual undertones were severely downplayed due to the constraints of the production studio at the time. It was acknowledged that the character of Rupert Cavell was said to be a homosexual and had an affair with either one or both of the students, however no overt mention of this relationship appears in the film. Additionally, the emphasis placed on the dominant and submissive roles of Brandon and Phillip implies only friendship.
James Stewart was reportedly unhappy with his performance in Rope. Though given the homosexual undertones of the film and the fact that it is implied that both of the characters of John Dall and Farley Granger were indeed homosexual it could be well assumed that Stewart felt in unfamiliar territory. In contrast however, Dall is positively delicious in his performance as Brandon Shaw. Dall delivers a subtly gay performance that is truly frightening in its intensity. Farley Granger, who would work with Hitchcock later in his career in ‘Strangers On A Train’, (1951) also gives a noteworthy performance as Dall’s weaker antithesis. His emotional deterioration and paranoia throughout the course of the film is sublimely evident for the audience to see and his unpredictable behaviour only intensifies the tension.
Rope should additionally be praised in the pioneering manner in which Hitchcock chose to shoot the picture. Hitchcock conceived the idea to shoot the film in real time, in other words the film was shot in the order the story unfolds on screen. Hitchcock was attempting to heighten the tension of the actor’s performances and by asking them to consistently hold back he was able to assure the heightened tension needed to proficiently tell the story.
The action is continuous with the mobility of the camera and the movement of the actors, uniquely bringing the stage experience to the medium of film. The camera is able to vary the shot size of the image in relation to its emotional importance, such as the close up of the actors face to convey emotional importance. By choosing to shoot the film in this manner Hitchcock is able to utilise the point of view shot and place us inside the room with all the characters. In addition, the fluid mobility of the camera in Rope allows the voyeur within us to be placed in the small claustrophobic environment of the apartment. This technique stays very true to Hitchcockian style allowing privy information to the audience without affording the actors on screen the same luxury.
Hitchcock’s direction was unique, ambitious and creative in this picture. With the knowledge that all the action would centre in one set he took the decision to both cut the film and change the reel every ten minutes. With the continuation of the dialogue imperative to the narrative of the story he devised methods to continue the action whilst he changed the reels. For instance, a cut in the film is noticeable as the camera zooming in on Kenneth’s back and emerging in the conversation between Phillip and Mrs. Atwater. It should be of note today that many auteurs including, Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese utilise long continual takes in their narratives, though the circumstance of this picture suits this technique effectively.
With so many technological challenges Hitchcock was said to have referred to Rope as a ‘stunt’. However, this is an ingenious and accomplished film. The story is straightforward and the characters well developed. Though generally not considered with the same prestige as ‘Psycho’, or ‘Rear Window’, there is still much to admire here.