Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Rope Review


Director/Studio/Author: Alfred Hitchcock/Warner Brothers/Hume Cronyn
Original release date: 1948
DVD release date: June 20, 2006
Format, Genre and length: DVD/Psychological Thriller/80 minutes
Publisher/Industry Age Rating: NR
Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Two young men, Philip (Farley Granger) and Brandon (John Dall) strangle a former classmate, David, because they can. They hide his body in a trunk in their apartment, on the same night that they are giving a dinner party—one that includes the victim’s parents. If this weren’t macabre enough, they decide to move the dinner from the dining table to the trunk, so that everyone is feasting off David’s grave.

Amongst the guests are David’s current girlfriend, Janet, and her former boyfriend, Kenneth, David’s father and his sister-in-law, and Rupert Cadell (James Stewart), former housemaster of the three youths.

Rope is Hitchcock’s take on Leopold and Loeb, the 1924 murder in which two wealthy, privileged young men kill a boy in order to commit the perfect crime. He didn’t reproduce the crime but rather the flavor of the crime, including their fascination with the theories of Fredrick Nietzsche.

In the film, Rupert unwittingly expounds on that theory, of the idea that the privileged few are allowed to get murder, which Brandon eagerly takes up and agrees with. When asked who should be the special few, Brandon replies himself, and Philip and maybe Rupert.

The film is told in typical Hitchcock suspenseful fashion, the audience often becoming privy to things that the characters don’t know. Such as when the housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson, begins to clear the meal from the trunk, including the two candelabra, while the others are engaged in conversation. The camera follows Mrs. Wilson in her seemingly mundane task,  made morbid only by the knowledge of what is in the trunk. The audience is held in suspense, wondering if she will open the trunk and see what is there.

The story flows from beginning to end without a moment of lag or boredom. Of the two young murderers, Brandon is the brash one with the devil may care attitude, while Philip has more of a conscience over what they’ve done. Philip is more fearful of being caught, while you get the impression, Brandon could talk his way out of anything, and probably has on more than one occasion.

I had heard of Rope a long time ago, but didn’t know anything about it, and made no effort to
watch it until I discovered that it was indeed based on Leopold and Loeb, and then it become a must-see for me. I’ve watched it twice already, and love it. Everything takes place in their apartment, as if it were a play. Not surprising, considering that Rope started as a play first.

What I find particularly fascinating is the pink elephant in the room that everyone is aware of and no one talks about. Namely, homosexuality. The clues are there. Philip and Brandon are obviously a couple and everyone treats them that way. They have one bedroom. They vacation together, as if it were only natural. Their interactions are of the intimate variety. Philip talks of being scared of Brandon, even when they were in prep school, and then admits it’s part of Brandon’s charm.

But not once in the film will you hear the subject mentioned in any way. Hitchcock pushed the envelope without appearing to do so. He was fascinated with the protagonists not because they were homosexuals, but because they were murdering homosexuals.

There is an extra on the DVD called Rope Unleashed that is well worth watching.

I can only think of two flaws off the top of my head. One is a continuity error, the other an error in casting.

There’s a scene where a tense Philip clutches his champagne glass too tightly and shatters it cutting his hand, bleeding well enough to need to bind it with his handkerchief. Yet, only a few minutes later, when David’s aunt takes his hand in order to read his future, both hands are unblemished.

James Stewart is, in my opinion, miscast as Rupert Cadell, the former housemaster. I didn’t realize, until I watched Rope Unleashed, that the character had an affair with one of the young men (my guess is Brandon), but you never get a feel for that. I love Jimmy Stewart, but I didn’t feel the connection there. He didn’t make me feel his guilt for teaching them Nietzsche to begin with.  Also, his role didn’t warrant his receiving top billing. Farley Granger and John Dall should have had that. If this had been made now, Jimmy would have received a mention at the end of the regular cast, such as And Jimmy Stewart as Rupert Cadell.

The action is all psychological as we get into the heads of the killers, and watch the
unsuspecting guests at their little affair. Waiting to see who, if anyone, will figure out what is wrong, especially when David never shows up for dinner. Of course, we the audience know why that is.

This is a great addition to Hitchcock’s legacy, and one I intend to watch over and over.

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