Rope (1948)

Synopsis:

Two young men (John Dall, The Corn is Green, and Farley Granger, They Live by Night) strangle to death an ex-classmate for no apparent reason and hide his body in a trunk located in the same room where they are planning to throw a dinner party.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“He’s dead, and we’ve killed him; but, he’s still here.”

“Why not cut? What is he trying to prove?,” director Billy Wilder (The Lost Weekend) reportedly said after watching Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller Rope, which was shot entirely in long, uninterrupted takes. For years, I have asked myself the same question — Rope is equal parts interesting and frustrating.

For some bizarre reason, Hitchcock, whose signature style is characterized for its judicious image editing, decided to go against his own cinematic credo. Hitchcock often chastised colleagues for failing to exploit the full potential of the resources available to filmmakers, and yet here he is, not practicing what he preached.

Rope is based on Patrick Hamilton’s 1929 stage play of the same name. The play was inspired by the infamous Leopold and Loeb murder case, about two friends who kidnapped and callously killed a teenager for the thrill of it. The screenplay was written by celebrated playwright Arthur Laurents (The Way We Were). In the end, I found the one-take gimmick far less engrossing than the story and the performances.

Despite being primarily an exercise in technique, Rope is worth seeing because of Laurents’s multilayered screenplay. Laurents explores such themes as masochism (the dinner party is nothing but self-imposed agony), sadism (the dead kid’s father is invited to the feast) and queer anxiety (it’s implied that the killers are lovers).

What’s more interesting, however, is how the story proposes that the killers’ former college professor, played by James Stewart, is at least partly responsible for the heinous murder. We are told that the teacher’s fascist speeches inspired the killers to commit the crime, therefore the movie can be interpreted as a cautionary tale about what happens when an influential person fails to understand the power of his/her words.

Aside from a superb script, the film features outstanding performances by a small but great cast. John Dall and Farley Granger are impressive as the killers. Sir Cedric Hardwicke (1956’s The Ten Commandments) is first-class as the murdered kid’s worrisome father. Constance Collier (Wee Willie Winkie), who plays Hardwicke’s chatty sister-in-law, adds lots of humor to an otherwise morbid storyline.

Stewart is very good, but there is something about the actor that prevents me from accepting him as an intellectual. Hitchcock wanted Cary Grant (Suspicion), but I don’t see him as a scholar either. James Mason (Kubrick’s Lolita) would have been my choice, or maybe Michael Redgrave (Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes). Anyhow, I did like Stewart’s scenes near the end where he finally confronts Dall and Granger.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

I’ve watched the film three times, and I still have mixed feelings about it. It’s a little too self-conscious for my taste. And it isn’t even the best use of continuous takes — the technique worked much better in Jim Jarmusch’s indie classic Stranger Than Paradise (1984) (the long takes feel organic). In any case, Rope, The Master of Suspense’s first color movie, is a good but not great movie. Color, 80 minutes, Not Rated.

Hitch’s (unconfirmed) cameo                                     Hitch’s (official) cameo

5 responses to “Rope (1948)

  1. I did like this, but like you, it’s not the best of his films. I know one of the things he was deciding on was whether or not to show the killing of the guy at the beginning of the film. I wonder how that would have changed the film if we didn’t know for sure whether someone was dead in the box.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Rope was very difficult to take in when I first saw it. Somehow it grew on me over time, enough for me to choose James Stewart’s finale speech for a monologue in one of my acting schools which I got some good praise for. It may still have much to say today about the consequences of failing to grasp the potential of one’s own words. Indeed, teachers in particular should be most responsible. Thank you for reviewing Rope.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m with you: Rope has gown on me overtime. It does help that the movie is very short. By the way, it was smart of you to pick Stewart’s monologue for your acting class: it’s the kind of speech that, when done right, impresses the audience. Coincidentally, I have a friend who is an actor and told me he used Norman Bates’s monologue (the parlor scene in Psycho) for his acting class.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ooh – James Mason would have been amazing in this role, but I don’t mind Stewart as the professor. His anguish at the end is a good payoff, I think.

    As for the continuous non-editing, it’s weird and somewhat distracting, but it’s grown on me. I think it had to be tried, although, as you say, Hitchcock went against what he preached.

    Like

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