Newest Review: ... former prep school housemaster who filled their minds with this nonsense about the 'art of murder'. Also starring are Farley Grang... more
"Cat and mouse, cat and mouse. But which is the cat and which is the mouse?"
Member Name: AbsintheFairy
Advantages: Innovative directing, gripping storyline, good acting, discusses important questions
Disadvantages: Some flaws in characters, scenes and story - but subject to opinion
Rope is the second film I watched from my new Hitchcock box set. I had seen it before, but wanted to watch it again as I really enjoyed it the first time round.
Rope, released in 1948, is based on Patrick Hamilton's 1929 play, adapted by Hugh Cronyn and Arthur Laurents and starring James Stewart, John Dall and Farley Granger. It is a murder mystery with a difference - the difference being you see the two main characters committing the murder right at the start of the film, and the tension comes from whether they will get away with it or not. Unusual, but it works, although it was not well recieved by the critics on release. Rope was the first of Hitchcock's films to be filmed in Technicolour.
Two rich intelligent young men, Brandon Shaw (Dall) and Philip Morgan (Granger) decide to commit 'the perfect murder', believing that taking someone's life could be considered an art form or an intellectual exercise. They kill a former classmate, David Kentley, in their luxury apartment before hiding his body in a chest in the front room and proceeding to host a party for David's best friend, fiance, father and aunt as well as their former teacher, Rupert Cadell (Stewart).
The film flows in real time and stays true to its theatrical roots, filmed soley in Shaw and Morgan's apartment (except for the opening scene) which gives it a tense claustrophobic feel. It is filmed in such a way as to seem like one continous shot: the first time I watched it I was convinced it WAS one continuous shot. Later I found out that it wasn't actually possible at the time for a film reel to hold more than 10 minutes' worth of film at once, and there are in fact a number of cuts in the film, hidden as the camera pans close to a character's back or a piece of furniture. I did notice the cuts the second time around, but was impressed at how cleverly they were done.
The acting in the film was very good, especially from the two leads. They have very contrasting characters: Brandon is the more arrogant of the two and is thrilled to bits at the apparent success of his crime. I found him repellent and at the same time oddly fascinating. Philip on the other hand was far more scared and nervous. I actually felt pity for him as I got the impression that he was in over his head and deep down understood the enormity of what he had done. I also thought James Stewart gave a good performance, albeit in a very different role than usual. His character was sharper and more sarcastic than those he usually plays. According to the DVD documentary, he was considered by many not to be the ideal choice for the role as he was apparently too 'wholesome' to convey the homosexual aspect of the film (the unspoken idea is that Brandon and Philip are in a relationship and one of them once had a relationship with Cadell). It's true that, while I picked up on hints of a relationship between the two leads, I didn't detect anything of the sort with Stewart's character. Having said that, I didn't see that as a problem or flaw while watching the film - it was only while watching the documentary that I realised an intended effect hadn't been achieved.
There aren't many supporting characters in this film, but they do give good performances. Janet (Joan Chandler) and Kenneth (Douglas Dick) are involved in a brief subplot: the two were once together but now Janet is with his best friend - David - and they gradually overcome their arkwardness. Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Constance Collier as David's father Henry and aunt Mrs Anita Atwater bring humour and energy to their roles and the film as a whole.
The film raises interesting questions about philosophy, most particularly the difference between theory and action: apparent in the scene where the party guests discuss the concept of random murder 'to end poverty and for good theatre tickets' while the body of their friend lies not far from where they are sitting. The motive for the murder - the idea that a Nietzschean 'superman' who is above good and evil and ordinary moral laws can kill for the the sake of it - reminds me of Dostoyevsky's novel Crime and Punishment, in which the hero Raskolnikov also reasons that it is acceptable for certain people to kill others who are considered worthless - although the two stories couldn't pan out more differently. Rope is in fact based on a real life murder case, in which Leopold and Loeb, two rich intelligent young men, killed a fourteen year old boy for similar reasons. I found the film a lot more disturbing on a second viewing, perhaps because I hadn't known about the real life inspiration the first time around. The first scene is perhaps the worst - watching the two men cold-bloodedly strangle their young friend is really awful. In fact, it's interesting to watch the documentary and discover that this scene wasn't supposed to exist - the idea was that you would watch the film not knowing whether David's body was in the chest or not. It was widely felt that the film was robbed of much of its tension this way. I'm not sure if I agree with this - I find this film incredibly tense simply because you as the audience know what the characters don't, and you are waiting to see if they will find out.
There is very effective use of props made in the film, from the rope used to strangle David to the cigarette case used by Cadell, and the telltale hat. The skyline visible from the apartment window is very impressive as it changes from day to night. As with all Hitchcock films the camera angles and tricks are wonderful. I especially love the scene with the swinging kitchen door as Brandon puts the rope away in a drawer.
My DVD contains the original trailer for the film, the first part of which is very original and clever, although it turns a bit silly later on. I'll never get over how much of the plot old trailers give away. I wonder that anyone went to the cinema at all! There is also a trailer compilation of all the James Stewart/Hitchcock films, narrated by Jimmy himself. In addition there is the documentary mentioned above, which is definitely worth a watch. It describes among other things how the walls needed to be on wheels so they could be pulled away to let the cameras in and pushed back when needed, and how the actors had to constantly walk over cables trailing on the floor of the small set!
Overall I would definitely recommend Rope. When I was going through my initial Hitchcock phase of renting anything and everything directed by him, this was one of the films that really stood out. It's very different, full of tension, and is again one of those films that you can watch over and over. The film is rated PG, but I'm not sure I fully agree with this classification. Although there is no swearing or sex, and the strangulation is bloodless, it is done in such a way as to be quite chilling, and the film as a whole is quite disturbing even to me. I can think of gorier, but shallower films I'd prefer children to see! If you have a particularly sensitive child I'd perhaps suggest watching it first to judge for yourself.
As well as being part of the box set, Rope is also available from Amazon as a standalone DVD for just over £4.
Summary: An unusual and too little-known film