::Literate Blather::
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Ode to "Rope"

A Celebration of one of Hitchcock's Best Films

Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope” (1948) is a claustrophobic masterpiece – a spiraling descent into the dark recesses of human nature. Hitchcock explores the rough edges of ego and impulse and how they can lead to horrible consequences.

It may be Hitchcock’s greatest movie. Certainly it is his most tightly constricted piece – filled with long takes in near real-time. It’s an amazing achievement of controlled tension.

The only exterior shot in the film comes during the opening credits. The camera rests on an apartment window with the curtains pulled shut. There is a muffled scream and then suddenly we’re inside the apartment where David Kentley is being strangled to death by two of his friends.

The movie setting goes internal. It reflects the direction of the film because we’re about to get inside the minds, motivations, and the personalities of the characters. We’re trapped inside the apartment for good – just like poor, dead David who has been stuffed into a chest.

His murderers are two wealthy, intellectual young men named Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Philip Morgan (Farley Granger). They have killed their friend for one reason – to experience the sensation of murder. They want to pull off the perfect crime – and revel in their superiority.

To make matters even more horrifying, Brandon and Philip are throwing a dinner party and inviting David’s family, his girlfriend (Janet), the girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend, and their former academy teacher Rupert (their mentor who has inspired their crime with his misinterpretations of Nietzchian philosophies of the Superman).

“Nobody commits a murder just for the experiment of murder,” Brandon says as he pops a bottle of champagne. “Nobody except us.”

But the celebration isn’t what Brandon expects because the heavy weight of their crime begins to crush the more sensitive Philip. Brandon is the cold, charming snob – and a classic sociopath. Philip, however, slowly begins to unravel. He gashes his palm after crushing a wine glass in his hands when David’s aunt mistakes another guest for David.

But even the cool and calm Brandon has moments of panic. When David’s father asks where his son is, Brandon stammers: “I thought he was coming with you!”

Rupert (Jimmy Stewart) doesn’t show up until 30 minutes into the film. And once he arrives the film becomes his. Stewart – one of the greatest actors in American history – is amazing in “Rope.” Personally, he didn’t like his performance, but the movie is in essence about the transformation of Rupert – his growth from a bitter cynic into a connected human being. And it works.

Here’s a peek into Rupert. Introduced to Janet (Joan Chandler):

“Ah, Miss Walker,” he says.

“How did you know?” she asks.

Brandon has spoken of you.”

“Did he do me justice?”

“Do you deserve justice?” he asks and then waltzes off with a smirk.

The commanding personality of Rupert begins to melt Brandon. He joins Philip as the weight of his crime is reflected back to him in the presence of his mentor.

Rupert – a naturally suspicious and cunningly observant man – gets his first thread to pull when Brandon – a game player – serves chicken for dinner. Philip no longer eats chicken after having to strangle one at Brandon’s farm. When Brandon tells the story with an evil twinkle in his eye, Philip has an outburst of anger. The scene gives Rupert his first clue and his investigation begins.

He comes up with gems like this: “You’re more than unusually allergic to the truth tonight Philip. That’s the second time you haven’t told it.”

Ultimately the keen Rupert finally discovers the grim secret in the bottom of the trunk. It’s a chilling scene. The movie ends with Rupert throwing open the apartment window and letting the outside cleanse the inside of the apartment with its noise and voices.

And Philip utters the last words of the movie: “They’re coming.” They don't make movies like "Rope" anymore. But they should.

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Blogger Dave Zeltserman said...
It's a very good film but one of Hitchcock's best? Just to name 10 of his movies off the top of my head that were better:

1) Vertigo
2) Rear Window
3) Lifeboat
4) Shadow of a Doubt
5) Notorious
6) Suspicion
7) Rebecca
8) The Lady Vanishes
9) Strangers on a Train
10) North by Northwest

Blogger GFS3 said...
What happened to "Psycho" and "The Birds"?

I've never seen "Lifeboat" -- but I've been dying to. I think I might rent it this weekend.

I think "Rope" is up there with "Rear Window" and "North by Northwest." I'm not a big fan of "The Lady Vanishes" or "Rebecca."

"Rope" is one of those movies I can just watch over and over again -- it's that good.

Blogger Dave Zeltserman said...
Psycho and The Birds are great movies, and if I was making a list of my top 15 Hitchcock films they would've made it, as would've Rope. As you can probably tell, I'm a Hitchcock fan. Lifeboat is great, you're in for a treat. See if you can catch Hitch's very clever cameo.

Blogger Bybee said...
Lifeboat and Rope remind me of each other...that tight little locale, nowhere else to go.
I'd like to see Rope again...I've seen it a couple of times. Lifeboat used to be shown a LOT on the late show. Ditto Dave about Hitchcock's cameo. You'll LOL!

Blogger Uncle Gustav said...
Peter J. Dellolio wrote a lengthy piece about Rope which is online at Flickhead. Click here.

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