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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is always brushed aside as "minor", and "an experiment that
failed", EVEN by Hitchcock himself. I can't let that mistaken judgment
I have seen it many times over the years and always found it moving and disturbing but never analyzed why it had this effect. On viewing it again tonight immediately after watching To Catch a Thief, I became aware that Rope remains brilliant whereas the other movie was merely a pretty and lightweight, average 50's period piece.
The really strange thing is that Hitchcock's movies fall into certain distinct periods which have been written about at length (from early British to late Hollywood; from suspenseful dramas to macabre comedies), but this does not fit into any of them. It is a forties movie, like Saboteur, yet it is shot in colour so it looks like a much later film. To everyone, forties equals black and white. This is a stage play and takes place all in a one room set, but there is the remarkable effect of the huge window which shows the sun going down in real time over the course of the movie, over Manhattan buildings. This is of course done carefully with special lighting effects, but it gives the perfect illusion of the sun setting. It is just that there are fewer skyscrapers there than we would see today.
Some of the slang is dated (but charming), and such elements as a cigarette case could never play a part in a movie made today, but even with these few period references it seems to be a very modern film. The subject matter was horrifying and shocking for 1948, but is rather less so now, as we are unfortunately used to seeing gore and mindless violence. The homosexual subtext would now be played overtly, but the way it is filmed gives it a more ominous atmosphere than movies which have everything spelled out.
This is a movie filled with suspense from the first frame, without any extraneous footage. All the dialogue sounds genuine, not "stagey" as most plays generally do when made into movies. Examples: Glengarry Glen Ross, Oleanna, Boys in the Band etc. All good movies, but all scream out "filmed stage play - actors emoting!" whereas this movie simply draws you into its scenes of gradually dawning horror. I doubt if any Hitchcock film contains more pure tragedy and pathos, or a stronger moral message.
It is a powerfully modern film and yet it is 52 years old. Even the dinner party repartee is filled with wry comments that would not be out of place at a dinner party today - about such topics as the astrological signs of movie stars.
Yet under the witty dialogue is an undertone of tragic irony as the two hosts play an elaborate and secret prank on their guests, simply for their own smug satisfaction.
But it isn't simply the two hosts being in on it together; they are at odds, they bicker, and we are kept on edge because (as Hitchcock wants us to) we are forced to empathize with them to a degree, as well as hating them; we are fascinated by their quirks, played out in subtle nervousness. In taking us into the minds of the criminals as well as the minds of the innocent bystanders, we are left in torment for the horrifying state of humanity, until finally we are forced to take sides.
There are so many brilliant touches in this movie that I can only list a few (without giving anything away). Jimmy Stewart idly setting the metronome in motion as Farley Granger plays the piano, making him play faster and faster while he questions him. The preoccupied worrying of Sir Cedric Hardwicke as he looks out the window hoping to see his son, who is late, as the others chatter; the gradual coming together of the estranged couple who were hostile about each other's presence at the beginning; the unbearable tension as the plates and candles are being cleared away by the housekeeper while the guests and hosts are heard conversing off camera.
The devastation in Jimmy Stewart's face as he realizes that his careless armchair philosophy has fed the imagination of two unstable minds and therefore he too is guilty.
I can't say enough good about this film. It is underappreciated, never on any list of Hitchcock's greatest, but the time is long overdue for it to be appreciated as a masterpiece of suspense and art.
It has none of the irritating Hollywood production glossiness of otherwise great movies such as Vertigo and North by Northwest, none of the blatant psychological mood shots of films such as Marnie. It doesn't have the simplistic filmmaking style of the forties and yet it springs from that era, not fitting in with anything else from the period, decades ahead of its time.
Alfred Hitchcock directed so many brilliant movies that the best known ones like 'Rear Window', 'Vertigo', 'Psycho' and 'The Birds' overshadow equally worthy films like 'Shadow Of A Doubt', 'Lifeboat' - insert your personal favourite here - and this one, 'Rope'. It was the first Hitchcock movie to feature James Stewart and it is easily the most underrated of the four movies they made together. I think Stewart was brave for taking this part, which was much darker than the usual characters associated with him, and it's difficult to imagine him being able to play Scottie in 'Vertigo' without having done this movie first. Stewart is excellent in the movie, but equally good are Farley Grainger (who subsequently starred in Hitchcock's 'Strangers On A Train') and John Dall as the thrill killers. Dall gives the best performance in the movie. I'm surprised that after making this and the Noir cult classic 'Gun Crazy' he isn't better known. The technical "gimmick" of 'Rope' is usually mentioned more than anything else about it (Hitchcock wanted one long continuous take, which wasn't possible at the time, but compromised by using several long ones, a very innovative approach at the time), but there is a lot more to it than just that. Considering the strict censorship of the period it was a daring look at homosexuality. The word is never used at any time in the script but a sophisticated audience would have no doubt what was really going on. I've only seen about a third of Hitchcock's output but every movie of his I watch or rewatch makes me marvel at him all the more. The greatest and most influential director of suspense movies was also one of the greatest directors of ANY genre ever. 'Rope' deserves to be mentioned in any list of his ten best movies. 55 years after it was originally released it is as fascinating and entertaining as ever. Highly recommended!
Rope is one of the finer films that Hitchcock made. Philosophy, sociology
and psychology are contained in equal parts. The plot is simple, the
characters are complex and Hitchcock's treatment of the Leopold and Loeb
parallel quite deft. The final soliloquy from Jimmy Stewart's character,
Rupert, is not only one of the finest examples of Stewart's acting abilities
but also of film-making.
On the subject of filmmaking - Hitchcock filmed this in as much of a single take as possible. I believe there are only five edits in the whole thing. I can wholeheartedly tell you that it was no gimmick on Hitchcock's part. The play's plot requires that a certain amount of tension be maintained. Tracking shots are used for this purpose and quite well in my opinion. Timing, position and prop movements alone are to force us to stand in awe of a logistical challenge. All the actors are played superbly. The dialogue is natural and flowing. The finest bit of timing involves a swinging kitchen door, the rope, and the fear of discovery.
In short, this is a fine film that cannot disappoint. Highly recommended and will be well worth your time.
This 1948 Hitchcock film is mostly noted for its technical
achievements. Hitchcock filmed this story, about two well-to-do rich
kids who decide to commit a murder for the fun of it, as a play. Which,
it in fact, originally was, though based in London and not New York.
Technical limitations did not enable his original vision of making the
entire picture one continuous long shot. Instead it is made up of
several 8 minute continuous shots. This was the length of film that fit
into one reel. Using some very inventive cutting techniques the film
appears as if it was filmed all in one take. This is more impressive
when you see the actual size that color film cameras were during this
time period. They were absolutely enormous, bigger than a man standing.
To move the camera in and around the small stage space, many of the set
pieces were set on casters and rolled about to keep out of the way of
the camera. Some of the actors were noted in saying that they worried
every time they sat down, that there might not be a chair for them to
fall into. Another achievement of the film is in terms of lighting. The
apartment that the entire film is set in has several large windows
overlooking the city. As the movie is more or less uninterrupted from
start to finish we see the lighting change as the sun begins to set and
night falls. It is a testament to this achievement that upon first
viewing you don't really notice the effect. Yet, the filmmakers took
great pains to get it to look realistic, staging numerous re-shoots for
the final few scenes.
Though the technical achievements are quite wonderful, it is a shame that they have overshadowed what it really a very good bit of suspense. It seems the two high society murderers have planned a dinner party just after the murder. They store the corpse in a wood box that is featured prominently in the midst of the dinner. This creates an excellent mix of suspense and the macabre. Throughout the party the murderers become more unraveled even as they are enjoying their little game.
All of the acting is quite good. The two murderer (John Dall and Farley Granger) do a fine job of playing intellectual, society playboys, with a desire for excitement. It is slightly annoying watching their excited, nervous mannerisms (especially some stuttering by Jon Dall) but it is fitting with the characters. Their former instructor, Rupert Cadell, is played magnificently by the impeccable James Stewart. This is a bit of departure from Stewarts typical roles. Here he is a tough, cynical intellectual. This was his first of four collaborations between Stewart and Hitchock and it is hard to imagine his role as Scottie in Vertigo without having first played in this movie.
The story unravels in typical Hitchock fashion. The suspense is built, then lessoned by some well timed comedy, and then built again to a final crescendo. Hitchcock was excellent as a technical director and allowed his actors the breathing room they needed for fine performances. In the end I left the picture feeling more excited about the superb storytelling than any particular technical achievement. It is a testament to his craft, that Hitchock allows you to leave a picture being enamored with his story over his technical achievements. Some of the greatest effects are those you don't notice because they seem so natural and real.
Alfred Hitchock manages a triumph of technical brilliance and suspense in Rope. It's influence in the technical realm of cinema far outshines any effect the story has on future movies. This is a shame, for the story being told is one of suspense, macabre and excitement.
Like this review? Go to www.midnitcafe.blogspot for more.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Spellbinding. It's about two (purportedly) gay men, Brandon Shaw (John
Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) who strangle a friend to death for
the thrill of it. They then hide the body in a trunk just before a dinner
party they have which include the victim's family and friends. They also
proceed to serve the food on the trunk containing his body. They also
invite a headmaster they had at school together--Rupert Cadell (James
Stewart) a very cynical individual. As the party progresses Cadell realizes
something is very wrong--and is afraid he might be responsible in an
Absolutely fascinating. Hitchcock's first color film was also shot in 10 minute takes--Hitch thought it might provide a seamless flow of narrative. After all this was adapted from a play. I think it works very well--it's not distracting at all and the film does move very smoothly. Also he purposedly had the color toned down--he didn't think bright Technicolor was appropriate for the subject matter.
Purportedly Dall, Granger and Stewart's characters were all gay. It's never made clear but it DOES seem like Dall and Granger are lovers (and both were gay in real life) and the script was adapted by a gay man (Arthur Laurents). Also it's based the Leopold-Loeb murders in which two gay men killed a young boy for the thrill of it in the 1920s. So there is a strong gay subtext in the film.
Also there's plenty of black humor throughout. After the murder there are lines like "Knock 'em dead", "killing two birds with one stone", "I could strangle you" and "these hands will bring you great fame". They're actually quite funny and frightening at the same time.
With two exceptions all the acting is good. The two bad performances are by Sir Cedric Hardwicke (he seems to have no idea what he's saying) and Farley Granger. Actually Granger is so bad he provides some unintentional humor! The best acting is by Dall who is absolutely chilling and Joan Chandler (who Hitchcock kept tormenting on the set) as Janet Walker. She has some great lines and gives her all to every one of them. Best of all is Stewart--he doesn't pop up until the film is almost half over and he's incredible. He plays a very cold, cynical intellectual--this is unlike anything he's played before. His acting is very toned down (until the end) but you can see all his expressions through his eyes. This is easily one of his best performances. He hated making the film. For the 10 minute takes Hitch had to design a set which could accomidate the huge cameras. When the camera moved the set walls were designed to go flying up (off camera) so the crew could move from room to room. It distracted Stewart a lot and he couldn't sleep nights.
There's also the VERY impressive cyclorama background of NYC where we slowly see day turn into night.
This is basically all talk but every single line is fascinating. Stewart's lines especially are great and the philosophy described is intriguing. And the gay subtext adds another layer to it--see the looks Dall and Granger exchange once in a while. Actually Montgomery Clift was approached about playing Granger's role but turned it down. He was gay too but wanted to keep it hidden and that role was just a bit too risky.
All in all an absolutely fascinating picture. A definite must-see! It's short too (only 81 minutes). Don't miss this one!
What an unusual Hitchcock film... such a small cast, and the whole film consists of long takes. Before seeing this, I had heard enormously positive things about it... most of them coming from my father, who hadn't seen it for about fifteen years. I had high expectations for the film, but I must say it exceeded them. Though there are only a few cuts in this film, meaning the camera is running almost non-stop, Hitchcock makes great use of it; he manages to fit in many of his trademark angles and closeups in, without it seeming forced. At one point, the camera focuses for a minute and a half on an inanimate object with only one visible character moving back and forth near it, and he manages to drench the cut in suspense, leaving even the most calm and collected of viewers at the edge of their seat, biting their nails. Only the fewest directors could make that sequence work, and luckily Hitchcock is one of them. The plot is great. It's interesting and it develops nicely. The pacing is perfect. I was never bored for a second. The acting, oh the acting... John Dall is excellent as Brandon, the intellectually superior and very smug main character. Makes me wonder why he didn't get more roles in his career. Stewart is great, as usual. The rest of the acting is very good as well. The characters are well-written and credible. For such an unusual film, and despite the heavy feeling of watching a stage play rather than a film, it's very entertaining and effective. If for nothing else, watch this to enjoy Dall as the cold, calculating and manipulative psychopath. I recommend this to fans of Hitchcock and Stewart. 8/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Alfred Hitchcock was a lover of the dark and the perverse hidden
beneath smiles and complacency and in his relatively sparse ROPE,
perversity runs amok and at times seems ready to burst itself at the
seams. Based on the Leopold-Loeb murders, this is a pretty simple
premise with no shock tactics, no surprise ending, but it's all
John Dall and Farley Granger play college students Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan -- lovers even though it's all implicit -- who kick the first scene strangling another college mate, played by Dick Hogan. The instrument they use is the title of the film and will make its appearance on more than one occasion which will at one point send poor Morgan over the edge as he is consumed with guilt and fear. Nevertheless, they have planned a dinner party over a trunk holding Hogan's body, and as the guests arrive, they begin an increasingly dark game of cat and mouse and at one point it seems they actually want to be discovered, but it's all a ruse. Shaw, the Machiavellian of the piece, admires writer and thinker Rupert Cadell played by James Stewart and has materialized Cadell's bleak thoughts by committing an act of murder. What he doesn't know is that Cadell will force them not only to confess to the murder, but to surrender to justice.
ROPE is an interesting film in the way it treats its homosexual subtext. Hayes Code aside, you don't have to see an actual physical contact to know that Shaw and Morgan are lovers and that Dall is clearly the dominant male to Morgan's almost effeminate, weaker, submissive male. There also seems to be some unexplored subtext involving the blind admiration Shaw feels for Cadell, who's wife is never mentioned and who's books told about the 'darkness' of the world. This is not implying Cadell is also homosexual, but the message is certainly clear due to the fact the script had it that Cadell had had a fling with one of the students. Why else would Shaw talk to Cadell with puppy dog eyes, and go to such lengths to impress him? At a time when being gay was unspoken of finding each other in itself was anything less than a miracle, especially if this someone had some deep thoughts which were mutual. Natural for Shaw to want to catch his eye, win Cadell's approval, not knowing he had twisted his work and made it ugly.
Technically, again, the Director proved he knew his "ropes" in terms of how he wanted us to see his picture. The suspense he creates doesn't lie in will the killer be revealed -- had he not included the opening shot of David's murder we might wonder if they actually had done the deed or were merely trying to shock their guests -- but how long will it take for their murder to be revealed. Long takes make us see the trunk at all times, never forgetting that despite the jokes and witty banter about astrology, there is a corpse waiting to be found. Along the way, Hitchcock allows his actors to talk about murder and play with the "where is David" motif until it's certain something must happen, and then, finally, it does, in the form of Jimmy Stewart's deft handling of the scene in which he unmasks the boys. Suspenseful, funny, and ultimately tragic: this sums up the experience of watching ROPE.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Naturally, Alfred Hitchcock, could not resist the temptations of
confined time and space in which to spin his spells
One of his more
interesting attempts was in his first color film, "Rope," made in 1948.
The story was about two young socialites, John Dall and Farley Granger, who strangled a college friend just for kicks and hid his body in a chest in the room to which his parents were coming to a cocktail party Among the guests was James Stewart, who sifted out the truth before the evening was over
One could imagine what Hitchcock would do with such a situation but in fact he did a great deal more For a start, he played out the drama in the actual time of the story: 80 minutes on a summer evening in that New York skyscraper He dispensed with the usual cutting techniques and, for the first time in history, shot in ten-minute takes, with not a single interruption for the different camera set-ups...
'Rope', as many reviews here point out, is shot in a "real time" format.
movie lasts 80 minutes and takes place over a period of 80 minutes - with
8 minute takes spliced together smartly (such as switching when focused on
back) to give the appearance of one long take. Even current "real time"
dramas such as "Nick of Time" or "24" use cuts - and perhaps
"Rope" is about two college students - the slimy Brendon Shaw (John Dall) and his friend and sub-texted-gay-partner Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) who murder an old college mate and then, minutes after, host a dinner party to prove their calm, intellectual superiority and their "right" to kill off the lower echelons of society - they believe they are exempt from common morality. Central to this is their smug desire to show off their theory to their old mentor, Rupert Cadell (James Stewart), who is attending the party, and to get him to agree with their theories.
As the movie is essentially confined to one room, and one take, there's a definite "play" feel to the movie. While this worked wonderful with "12 Angry Men", the script and character interaction isn't quite smart enough here to sustain it. There's a lot of pontificating by Shaw, and some fine retorts by Cadell but there's a sense of forcedness about it at the same time. Only 3 of the characters are drawn with enough conviction, and it is only Cadell who we can really admire (Granger's Morgan seems to be too much of a nervous twitching type to add much to the movie). The script does allow us to gape with incredulity at the Nietzsche-esque theories of the "superman" espoused by Shaw, and the gay subtext is amusingly, and cleverly, done but there's an inevitability about the whole story - we know what will happen, it does, and this creates an ultimate lack of tension (when compared to, for example, Hitchock's "Vertigo").
The direction is, as would be expected, smart and - naturally - innovative here. The camera drifts about from character to character, as Hitchock tries his "one cut" approach, and there's some nice background detail (such as Hitchcock's flashing neon signs) to show the passage of time/current theme. Overall "Rope" is well worth seeing - it's not quite a failed experiment, nor a successful one. It's a "curio" which is worth appreciating for realizing why it was never really emulated since.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw ROPE for the first time in a widescreen theatre in Manhattan
about 1989 or so. It is rare to say that one saw for the first time any
film by a movie titan like Alfred Hitchcock, but ROPE was not released
to television like NORTH BY NORTHWEST or THE BIRDS or SHADOW OF A DOUBT
or even THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY. It was released late, presumably due to
copywrite problems (similar problems keep many films from public
viewing), so it was a movie that most people had heard of, but never
watched. Many may have read of it in books like Francois Truffaud's
book on Hitchcock. They may have been aware that Hitchcock decided to
conduct a filming experiment: ROPE was a stage play by Patrick Hamilton
(best remembered for his thriller ANGEL STREET...better remembered as
GASLIGHT), and Hitchcock shot the film in a series of long takes of 9
to 11 minutes each, not moving the camera from the set (except for a
few brief moments when the number of actors were reduced and
concentrated in a different direction of the set). The content or story
was barely noticed.
Hitchcock, being an intelligent director when choosing his properties, made sure there was some element of the story that would hold the attention of the viewers. And normally his film stories were interesting (though some were not quite as interesting as he believed - witness his film of 19th Century Australia UNDER CAPRICORN). His choice of ROPE was good for it's story, based on the Leopold-Loeb case (see COMPULSION). As for the experiment, it is interesting the first time you see it, especially in Hitchcock's attempts to make the long takes flow effortlessly from one to the other. But once you see the film, all further viewings are handicapped by the experiment. It is too static: one wishes to see more camera movement (especially as it is already static from being a one set melodramatic play).
The actors are able to alleviate this somewhat, as when Jimmy Stewart explains his theory of permissable homicide to Constance Collier. John Dall's sneaky, vicious persona aids in the film, his venomous little strokes usually followed by his "philosophical" explanations as to why they are acceptable for society's supermen - and Farley Granger's fretful and nervous behavior is a perfect balance to it. The three leads manage to carry the film very nicely. But they just barely make one forget the static nature of the film experiment.
The film, as mentioned as above, is based on the Leopold-Loeb case of 1924, although here the film seems to be set in the late 1940s. Also it is set in Manhattan, in an apartment. Bobby Franks was killed in an automobile, and his body dumped in a culvert in a park in Chicago. However, it is interesting that here we see the murder (at the start of the film) unlike in COMPULSION. The film shows David Kentley (the victim) strangled by Dall and Granger. The murder weapon is a rope both of the killers grabbed and tightened around David's throat (thus linking them to each other in the murder). His body is put into a trunk, and the trunk (which is in the apartment's living room) is carefully set with a tablecloth and dishes for the guests coming to see Dall and Granger. The rope is used throughout the film, even somewhat sadistically by Dall towards David's father (Cedric Hardwicke)when Dall uses it to tie some books David lent him together, which are handed back to the victim's father.
The real interest in the story to most viewers is the homosexual relationship of the two killers and their connection to Rupert (Stewart) who was their teacher at prep school. Rupert's relationship is possibly closer.
Was he also gay? It is never quite settled. But the attitude Dall shows Stewart (somewhat defiant) suggests that he feels that the latter fully accepts his (and Granger's) actions and lifestyle as acceptable for the elite Stewart's superman theories support. But Stewart does have a sense of responsibility that overcomes his twisted Nietzchean ideas. In the end he will not cover up for his two students, and fires the pistol shot that will lead the police to come up to the apartment to find the dead body of David and arrest his two killers.
The Nietzchean theme is part of the Leopold-Loeb Case (and appears in COMPULSION), but Hitchcock plays with it a bit more here, in such pieces of business as Stewart's conversation with Collier, and in Dall's determination to stage manage the dinner party he has invited everyone to in the apartment (not only the Victim, but his parents - although David's aunt comes and not his mother - the Victim's girlfriend and her former boy-friend). Dall does all this to watch Mr. Kently increasingly worry about David's failure to show up, and to watch David's girlfriend and her former boyfriend squirm in this unexpected reunion. As Dall (apparently a bi-sexual) was also a former boy-friend of the girl he is doubly gratified by this squirming, reassuring the nervous Granger that he only means to be bringing the girl and the former boy-friend together again. John Dall's career in films was short due to his premature death at an early age, but he was a very good actor who should have left a larger mark in film had he lived longer.
ROPE is not Hitchcock's best film, and the experiment is far from a success, but it is a worthy movie to watch. Not top-draw Hitchcock, but in the second tier.
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