Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Written By Arthur Laurents and Adapted For the Screen By Hume Cronyn
After I received my generous income tax return this year, I did what any responsible parent would do and I spent it all on blu-rays for myself. I can just pretend its for my children’s future film education, and all is well on my conscience. One of the things I purchased was the Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection. This set contains 15 films and some cool bonus swag. I didn’t get the plain-Jane American release in the blue book thing, though. Fuck that. I got this bad boy right here:
Anyway, having seen most of Hitchcock’s popular films, I’m obviously interested in seeing more. I’m sure most people don’t even realize how much work the man has done. Hell, I didn’t. So last night, my sexy lady and I decided to crack that bad boy open and watch Rope.
Rope, made in 1948 (and is Hitchcock’s first color feature), begins with two young men strangling their friend to death with the titular murder weapon. A fine start to any film, in my book. Immediately after, the two men are spent, one lighting up a cigarette. You can’t help but notice a sexual tone in this scene. Actually, the film is riddled with not only sexual undertones, but homosexual ones, which is quite bold for 1948 and adds a very rich layer to what is going on.
The two friends and lovers are Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger), who needlessly murder their friend, David, for no other reason than his “intellectual inferiority.” But this is not enough. After hiding the body in a large chest, they immediately host a dinner party to prove they have committed the perfect crime, going so far as to even serve food off of the makeshift casket. The guests include David’s father and aunt, his girlfriend, “rival” Kenneth, and their former teacher and mentor, Rupert (played by the always awesome Jimmy Stewart). They take things to this level to prove their intellectual superiority.
Of course, nothing is that easy. Aside from the opening murder scene, the film is all dialogue. You are witnessing the dinner party and everyone wondering where David could be as the clues to his murder are dropped around like loose change from an overstuffed pocket. The tension builds so thick, you know someone will find out. But who? When? How?
Jimmy Stewart is great as always as their former teacher who inadvertently gave them their superiority complex with his philosophy lessons back in college. His character of Rupert is a darkly comic and very intelligent man who seems to see right through Brandon and Phillip from the get-go. But for me, the most fascinating character is Brandon.
Brandon is a fucking psychopath. Played with charm and cockiness by Dall, Brandon treats the murder as one of life’s greatest victories, practically foaming at the mouth over the thrill of possibly getting caught. When asked what felt best about the murder, Brandon casually replies, “I don’t remember feeling very much of anything… until his body went limp and I knew it was over…” He may have well been talking about sex.
Phillip, on the other hand, is a paranoid, terrified wreck. You’re just waiting for him to come right out and confess.
This is one hell of a film. It sucks you in right at the beginning and there is no turning back. Hitchcock virtually filmed this using one tracking shot. I say virtually because this wasn’t possible at the time, and any cuts (I believe their are 8 in total) made are seamlessly blended into the action. This really gives the viewer a feeling of being there, and really magnifies the nuances of the murderers.
The film itself is adapted from a play which was inspired by a real life murder of a 14 year old boy by two male lovers who wanted to prove their superiority. Sick shit, isn’t it?
Side note: Hume Cronyn wrote the treatment of the play for the screen. I wish I could go back in time and show him Batteries Not Included.