#280 Rope

(1948, Alfred Hitchcock)

“Nobody commits a murder just for the experiment of committing it. Nobody except us.”

It should be no surprise to anyone by this point that I’m quite fond of Alfred Hitchcock and his movies. So be warned, this is a Hitchcock review, so if you don’t want me to sit here and tell you how fantastic he was and why Rope is such a good movie, then feel free to sit this one out. Sound good? Okay, let’s get going.

Rope starts with the murder of David Kentley by his former classmates Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) in the duo’s apartment. They strangle him with a rope and stuff him in a chest in the lounge. Their reasoning is that they wish to commit the “perfect murder”, even going as far as holding a dinner party immediately afterwards. As the guests arrive, Brandon maintains a psychopathic calmness while Phillip’s panic and guilt threatens to reveal itself in front of the party. Cue the arrival of their former teacher, Rupert Cadell (James GODDAMN Stewart!), who begins to suspect them.

The notable thing about Rope is that Hitchcock went to great lengths to make this feel like a live play rather than a movie, going as far as attempting to film it as if it was all one long take, covering up necessary edits by panning over people’s clothing to create a natural fade to black. It sounds like a gimmick, but it works surprisingly well. Sometimes the edits are ludicrously noticeable, but the overall effect worked.

The acting also keeps things moving along nicely. Dall is particularly unnerving as the psychopath who feels he has the right to decide who lives or dies because he’s superior, presenting himself as cold and calculating and slightly smug, completely unapologetic for the crime he’s committed.

Granger on the other hand, is excellent at subtly (and not so subtly) indicating his guilt and fear of being caught as the dinner party gets underway. In fact, subtlety is this movie’s real strong point, with every single actor on screen showing superb timing at dropping in subtle hints to what they’re really thinking. Granger’s flinching and uncomfortable glances away at the mere mention of death or even just David are nicely subdued, and I wanted to just stand up and applaud this constantly.

Which brings me onto the scripting. So, early on, Rope toys with the audience by sneakily weaving in references to death and murder in a way that’s barely noticeable were it not for Phillip’s nervous twitching. We’re talking things like the food being “to die for” (may not be an actual quote, I’m working from memory here), and it’s so masterfully weaved in that I found myself chuckling every time it happened.

It’s also interesting how much of the movie is a very mundane little dinner party filled with idle chit-chat. On its own, this would be an extremely boring movie, with a bunch of well-off people sitting around and chortling about things, but the fact that we as the audience know there’s a dead body right underneath the food adds a delightfully uncomfortable level of tension that keeps the movie going.

I’ve also deliberately gone throughout this review without mentioning James Stewart’s performance. Regular readers will know that Ol’ Jimmy is one of my favourite classic actors, and this movie certainly keeps him in that position. He kicks ass here, acting as a smooth schoolmaster who deducts that something fishy is going on, and the one who openly confronts the pair, and his final action of the movie is just so damned awesome.

Basically, Rope is probably my favourite Hitchcock movie now. There are no faults to speak of. Everything works, from set design to cinematography to the script to the acting. The whole movie is an intricately-woven tapestry of suspense and danger and subtlety and watching it, I was reminded of exactly why I feel Hitchcock was probably the greatest film director of all time.

But you knew I was going to say something like that, didn’t you?

Starring James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Joan Chandler, Cedric Hardwicke, Constance Collier, Douglas Dick & Edith Evanson
Written by Patrick Hamilton (play) and Arthur Laurents
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock
Music by Leo F. Forbstein
Cinematography by Joseph A. Valentine & William V. Skall
Edited by William H. Ziegler

Favourite Scene: The tense scene when the maid almost opens the chest with all the guests present.
Scene That Bugged Me: All I can say is that maybe the dinner party was a little short to be realistic, but its length is kind of necessary due to the filming techniques.

Watch it if: You like movies
Avoid it if: No, watch this movie, seriously

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Posted on April 29, 2014, in 1940s, Crime, Mystery, Thriller and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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