“I've always wished for more artistic talent. Well, murder can be an art, too. The power to kill can be just as satisfying as the power to create.”
With the aftermaths of the effects of World War II, Patrick Hamilton’s play seemed like the perfect choice for Alfred Hitchcock’s next film. A plot which centers on two highly intellectual men that decide to commit the perfect murder. The victim being one of their classmates who they consider to be inferior to them. This concept of superiority is handled pretty heavily as there are several discussions about it through the film, and it is easy to compare it to Hitler’s ideal of the superior Nazi race. Rope isn’t subtle at all, but the film is still engaging and perfectly executed as a criticism for such a dangerous concept at the time. Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger) aren’t satisfied with having murdered their friend, David. They want to celebrate their perfectly executed plan by having a dinner party with David’s father (Cedric Hardwicke), his Aunt (Constance Collier), his girlfriend, Janet (Joan Chandler), Janet’s ex, Kenneth (Douglas Dick), and their former tutor, Rupert Cadell (James Stewart) as their guests. Brandon is convinced that no one will suspect that they murdered David for the sake of experimenting, and it would be great to have his body hidden there while his relatives and close friends dine next to it. Phillip on the other hand is a nervous wreck and thinks that inviting Rupert is a terrible idea and that they are going a bit too far with everything.
Of course the first thing that comes up when talking about Rope is the way that Hitchcock decided to film it as if it were one continuos take. The film is actually shot in 10 long takes, and the audience can easily spot those moments (it isn’t subtle as in Birdman) but for a film made in 1948 it was a feat to pull off. This is by far Hitchcock’s most theatrical film and shooting the scenes as if they were taking place in real time was a way for him to approach the material in a different way. He had to build the suspense without relying on the score or parallel action scenes. Rope has a very exciting climax, but it is very predictable for audiences today. It is also a very wordy film, but Hitchcock never misses an opportunity to include his morbid sense of humor. I love James Stewart, but in this film his character has several flaws, one being the way he rationalizes murder at first during a conversation with the rest of the guests and later the character seems to take a 180 degree turn. I still have to give Hitchcock a lot of credit for trying something new with Rope and continuing to innovate in his films.
Beside the experimental element of Rope there is a strong underlying homosexual vibe between the two murderers although it is never referenced directly by anyone. They are going to travel together to the country and they use that as an excuse to invite their friends for a farewell party. The performances are all strong in this film and it is by far the most stagey film in Hitchcock’s career. He may have just been playing with the concept, but there is no doubt that he also inspired future filmmakers to do the same. Rope is another rich legacy from Hitchcock. The performances in the film are solid and Farley Granger plays a very different character from the one he went on to play in Strangers on a Train. James Stewart was obviously the star at the moment, but he doesn’t appear until almost thirty minutes into the film. His screen presence does elevate the film once he arrives at the home. John Dall plays the main villain very well, but it was his only collaboration with Hitchcock. I’d probably rank Rope around the middle of Hitchcock’s filmography, but it sure was ahead of its time.