My first movie is Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope. It follows two upper class gentlemen, Brandon and Philip that throw a small get together in their affluent apartment. The twist being that they have strangled a former classmate to death not 15 minutes prior to the start of the party, and hidden the body in a chest that is in full view of their guests. The murder was preformed just for the act of murder, and to prove they were smart enough to get away with it. As the events play out the former teacher of the men figures out what has happened. He of course has a bit of help in the fact that he placed the idea of murder in the heads of the men while they were in school.
Brandon is played by John Dall to great effect. His pure smugness he gives off makes you want to smack him. You believe that he could do this murder just to prove he is the smartest person in the room. James Stewart plays the teacher, Rupert Cadell. Stewart seems to enjoy playing the shades of grey that encompasses Rupert rather than the good guy he normally plays. As with all Hitchcock films there is a healthy injection of dark humor and Rope is no different. There are a lot of allusions to death in the conversations by both the killers and the party guests. Also just like all his other movies Hitchcock himself cameos at the beginning, walking on the sidewalk in front of the guys’ apartment.
In the original screenplay the murder was never shown and the tension was in the question “is there really a body in that chest?” Hitchcock felt that people would feel more tension if the main characters were constantly in danger of getting caught. I personally like the film the way it is, however I feel like it may have been tenser had the murder not been shown. The trailer also was an early form of “viral” marketing in that it showed the victim with his girlfriend just before he leaves to meet with his killers. Something you would not see unless you happened to see the trailer. Rope was written by Arthur Laurents from a treatment by Hume Cronyn, which was based on the play “Ropes End” by Patrick Hamilton. So as you can see there were a lot of hands that this screenplay went through. It shows sometimes in the final cut due to the dialog being a bit over blown.
I was first introduced to Rope through film school when we watched it in my film history class. I was instantly drawn to the film due to the two things it did first. On the technical side of things this film was shot one reel at a time. What does that mean? Well one reel of film is about 10 minutes long, and Rope was shot with each take being an entire reel. It plays out much like a stage production. Although the “hidden” cuts are pretty obvious, it is still a neat trick. All the walls and furniture were on wheels in order for the camera to get through the scene. At the time color cameras were extremely large so the grips had to act more like stagehands, moving and quickly replacing set pieces in order for the camera to get through the scene.
The second thing this film did was treat homosexuality in a non-exploitative way. In 1947, when the film was shot, homosexuality was almost completely invisible in the movies. In fact at the studio and on set the undertones were referred to as “it”. “It” is never mentioned in the film and it is played – pardon the pun – straight. Dall and Farley Granger, who plays Philip, always have “it” bubbling under the surface. The original concept was to also have Rupert gay as well and to have had an affair with one of the boys. Stewart was to have none of that however and played Rupert straight as an arrow. Because of those two things Rope was way ahead of its time. See ya tomorrow for pick number two.