“Did you think you were God, Brandon?”
When you say the name Alfred Hitchcock to people who like movies, they say, “Yeah, ‘Psycho’, ‘The Birds’, that guy?” When you say it to a critic they may say, “Yes, ‘Vertigo’, North by Northwest’, he was a visionary filmmaker.” When I hear the name, my mind goes to the one of his films I watched the most, and I even went as far to make one of my early (at the time very hesitant and overpriced) on-line purchases back in the late 90’s of the video cassette of his 1948 film “Rope”.
The film opens with the murder by strangulation of David Kentley (Dick Hogan) by his two college friends Brandon (John Dall) and Philip (Farley Granger). Then they begin their preparations for a party with the family and friends of David in attendance, all the while his body hidden in a trunk that food is being served from. This is done with the intention that the crime is now even more perfect in the minds of the pair of killers. While excitement stirs in Brandon over their flawless plan, panic starts to swell in Philip for what they have done and his anxiety only heightens when Brandon reveals that their former housemaster will be in attendance as well.
Playing the housemaster Rupert Cadell is Jimmy Stewart who put into the heads of the boys the notion that some people are more superior than others and stemming from this belief in supermen is what drives the young men commit this heinous crime. He is also one of the only people at the party who may uncover the dastardly deed. As the night goes on, Philip is practically daring Cadell to figure out the crime while Brandon is cracking-up in a “Tell Tale Heart” kind of way. Things begin to eventually unravel like the strands of a…well a rope.
What makes “Rope” a unique film in Hitchcock’s catalog of over 50 films is this one consists of a series of continuous 8-minute shots ( which is how much film a camera could hold in those days). When it was time to change the reel, Hitchcock would zoom in on a characters back, or anything dark enough to make the transition. I remember being fascinated by this when I first watched it. Not that it was unheard of for anyone to attempt to shoot a film this way, since this was still the days when most actors on film got their start on stage where there were no cuts or coverage.
Aside from the visual aspect of the film I found the ideas presented eerily familiar by today’s standards. Do people who kill do it to feel that sense of superiority over another weaker person? The feeling of playing God dealing out death as if it is their right to do so? It kept me thinking long after the movie ended, unlike Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”, “The Birds”, and “Strangers on a Train” which are all great films but the themes presented in “Rope” are powerful both with its obvious intentions, but with its subtleness as well.
If I’m being honest, “Rope” is by no means a perfect film, it could have used some signature Hitchcock shots and close-ups to give you the sense of claustrophobia seeing as how the movie does take place in one room. This was accomplished much better almost a decade later in Sidney Lumet’s classic first film “12 Angry Men”. Plus the idea of ‘survival of the fittest’ played better a few years earlier by the diverse characters in Hitchcock’s own underrated “Lifeboat”, here it’s a couple of well-to-do American boys. Given that this was a based on a play by Patrick Hamilton, and a lot of plays depend on characters over setting and plot, you don’t necessary feel for any of the characters in the film. Also Jimmy Stewart looks to be underplaying the part, but still manages to be amazingly watchable.
I would still have to say that since I’ve seen this film almost a dozen times, I have to admit, this is my favorite Alfred Hitchcock film, not his best mind you, just my favorite. Lastly, what this did stir in me is the desire to see more films by Hitchcock. Since I’ve seen just over a dozen of his films, generally his most revered, I definitely need to venture back into his catalog and uncover more gems by this extraordinary master filmmaker.
–Robert L. Castillo