Rope (1948)

No matter how many times you see it, it still holds up well as one of Hitchcock’s most morbid and suspenseful works.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
1948 | USA | Crime/Drama | 80 mins | 1.37:1 | English
PG (passed clean) for some mature themes

Cast: James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger
Plot: Just before hosting a dinner party, Philip and Shaw strangle a mutual friend to death with a piece of rope, purely as a Nietzsche-inspired philosophical exercise. Hiding the body in a chest upon which they then arrange as a buffet dinner, the pair welcome their guests.
Awards: –
Distributor: Universal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Morbid
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: DVD
First Published: 18 Sep 2016
Spoilers: No

As far as movies set in a single space are concerned, Rope is one of its most famous early examples, a precursor to films from Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957), a dramatically intense treatise on prejudice, justice and humanism set in a stuffy juror room, to as contemporary as the conceptually bold Buried (2010), a movie set within the confines of a buried coffin. 

The setting of Rope, of course, is far less claustrophobic for any human being to be in—we are in someone’s apartment, with acquaintances of the two lead characters, Brandon (John Dall) and Philip (Farley Granger), turning up for a ‘farewell’ party. 

Before all that, director Alfred Hitchcock has economically set the context: a friend of theirs has been strangled to death (to satisfy their intellectual desires) and his body put in a chest originally for books.

As morbid as it sounds, Rope’s lighthearted nonchalance helps bring levity to the scenario.  But there’s an undercurrent of tension of being discovered, while the murderers toy with the victim’s father and girlfriend, whom are both present at the gathering. 

James Stewart, my favourite actor from the Classical Hollywood period, also shows up, whose character grows more suspicious as time drags on. Much of the dialogue almost always gravitate toward death, creating a layer of awkwardness amid perversity. 

“You’re quite a good chicken strangler as I recall.”

To experience how it all plays out is as fascinating as unraveling the enigma of the mysterious woman in Vertigo (1958), or finding out the truth about a suspected murder in the opposite apartment block in Rear Window (1954). 

One of the most suspenseful moments in Hitchcock’s canon has to be the scene where the housekeeper—a shot that stays static for a good few minutes—clears the food and utensils on top of that particular chest in hopes of returning the books to their original position. 

Because Rope is already audacious enough to be shot in a few long takes spliced together to assume a much longer faux long take (a technique that has continued to inspire countless filmmakers to push the technical boundaries of cinema, in particular Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men (2006)), this tense scene is made even more nerve-wrecking as time literally stretches. 

This early Hitchcock film may be slight (in runs no more than 80 minutes), and often talked about, albeit unfairly, because of its long takes, but dig deeper you will find a sharp and intelligent film that camouflages its inherent implicit homosexuality between Brandon and Philip, who regard themselves as superior beings with the legitimacy to eradicate inferior beings.  Smart ploy to evade the censors!

Grade: A-



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