August 29, 2011

Rabid Rewind: Rope (1948)

starring James Stewart, John Dall, and Farley Granger
directed by Alfred Hitchcock
screenplay by Arthur Laurents
adapted from the play by Patrick Hamilton
Warner Bros. (1948)

Earlier in the summer, I had a hankering to watch a Hitchcock flick. Cate Gardner recommended Rope, which I had never seen, so I borrowed it from my library and reveled in some darkly witty suspense. And, hey, it had Jimmy Stewart to boot.

Sometimes I forget how remarkably dark some movies were in those days. The movie starts with Brandon (Dall) and Phillip (Granger) murdering a former classmate, David, by strangling him with a rope. Scene one, murder. How's that grab ya? What makes the act even more macabre is the fact they are hosting a dinner party in the same apartment that evening, which is to be attended by David's fiance Janet and his parents, and they've hidden the body inside a chest. Oh, and did I mention the chest is being used as the buffet table for the party? Yeah, that's creepy.

Brandon and Phillip--Brandon at least--hold the opinion of being superior human beings, above the normal laws of man. It's through their criminal act, and subsequent perversion of the corpse's interment, they hope to exert their superiority. The cheery on top of their actions comes from Brandon's invitation to their former university housemaster, Rupert Cadell (Stewart), to join the dinner party, the very person who instilled the idea that even murder could be condoned--even encouraged.

The party itself is dull and stuffy, at least in my view, with these well-off characters behaving so droll and flippant, which makes the idea their dining in the company of a corpse just a tad satirical. James Stewart is basically my eyes for this film, with his sardonic--maybe even disdainful--demeanor through much of the dinner. Like, I can't believe I willfully surround myself with these cads. He picks up on the nervous behavior of Phillip, who is getting drunker by the minute, and Brandon, who seems to be fiendishly conspiring to set up the dead guy's fiance--a woman he himself was dating years before--with her ex-boyfriend that was surreptitiously invited to the dinner.

While the movies plays out, Hitchcock films it in huge blocks of single camera shots. Remember Good Fellas and that long shot of them making their way into the restaurant through the back? Well, imagine a whole movie filmed like that. The technology was a bit of an obstacle in more ways than one for Hitchcock apparently, because he not only was limited by only capturing scenes ten minutes at a time, but because the camera was one of the first technicolor cameras it was the size of a Buick. While the camera was rolled around the set following characters around the soundstage, walls and set pieces had to be moved and replaced, making the whole filming process some kind of strange stagehand ballet. The DVD extra included with this movie was as engaging to watch as the film itself with revelations like that.

As for the movie, it's probably a bit dry to today's audiences. But with such a captivating backstory on how it was made, and Hitchcock's own proclivities towards filmmaking, I really enjoyed the movie. The undertone of homo-eroticism in the movie didn't seem like a big deal at all to me, and had I not known of that little controversy ahead of time, probably would have ignored it altogether. I mean, I can see it if you want to pick the movie apart like that, but whether Brandon and Phillip were gay lovers or not seemed inconsequential to me. They were villains either way.

I'd definitely recommend the movie to anyone who hasn't seen it, and it has definitely got me hankering to watch more of Hitchcock's work. I'll have to look up his IMDB or something and see which movie he directed after this one. Maybe I'll try to watch them in chronological order, excluding the films preceding this one--unless you can offer up a recommendation in the comments section.


  1. We studied this movie in cinema class because Hitchcock claimed to have shot it one take, but it was impossible to do back then (the reels were too short). We had to identify when the shots were cutting. Usually it was when the camera zoomed in somebody's back.

  2. I am not sure I heard of this movie, but I do remember Hitchcock wanting to film a movie (or maybe he did) in one continuous shot. But maybe this is the movie I'm thinking of.

    I wonder if the crime is based on the two Harvard(?) students who committed a murder to see if they could make the perfect crime.

  3. Midnyte is right, this was based of the Leopold/Loeb murder.

    Loved this movie. This and Strangers on a Train both have homoerotic undertones to it. The source materails for both films almost dictated that it would have too.

    Glad you liked it.

  4. Ben - Yeah, the cuts were pretty obvious, but he made the most of it.

    Midnyte & Ryan - Yeah, if they mentioned anything about that in the DVD extras, I missed it.

  5. I've seen this film a few times since I was young, and it never fails to entertain. You may have heard it before, but this was based on a stage play. That explains the single setting and the focus on dialogue, which (to me) feels unusual outside of other plays-turned-movies.