Rope (Alfred Hitchcock, 1948)

15Jun10

James Stewart (Rupert Cadell), John Dall (Brandon Shaw), Farley Granger (Philip Morgan). Written by Patrick Hamilton & Hume Cronyn. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Rating: PG. Running time: 80 minutes.

Hitch aimed high with this one: an adaptation of the infamous Leopold and Loeb murder case which delves suprisingly deep for a film into Nietzschean philosophy, and aims to do so whilst creating the appearance of a single continuous shot for the entire 90 minutes. I think it works.

The protagonists, inspired by their teacher Rupert, decide to go one step further than him and instead of just preaching that contentious theory of superior and inferior beings, the former standing above morality, they also choose to put it into practice. They thus aim to show off their perfection and status as Supermen by committing the perfect murder and then showing off their act in the ultimate artistic way: have the dead body in the cabinet upon which they serve dinner to the victim’s family that night…

Rupert’s naturally invited to the party too, just to heighten the danger, and this leads to pretty strong discussion as the two men toy with him and dare him to suspect what they have done. He duly obliges, largely because of the nerves and paranoia of Philip, the less confident of the two murderers. He obviously liked the idea in the same way perhaps Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov did, but then couldn’t live with himself in the aftermath.

The best thing about Rope is without a doubt James Stewart. As Rupert, he increasingly suspects something odd is going on, and then when he is finally vindicated with a sight of the body itself, the horror that hits him truly is a peach. He taught them the ideas that inspired this. It’s unclear if he genuinely believed them beforehand, but one suspects he did. And even if he didn’t, he certainly doesn’t now. ‘You’ve given my words a meaning I could never imagine!’

As mentioned earlier, Hitch plays his part in making the film as ambitious as the murder. Rope has the appearance of being a play. Everything happens on one small set and the filming appears to be continuous. Clever editing by zooming in and out of walls and people’s backs means this isn’t actually the case, but the takes still go on for about twenty minutes at a time. And at the end, when Rupert fires a gun into the sky so the police are called and his project-Supermen are destined for death like the masses of incompetent murderers they so despise, the film fades out with the three characters sitting there, as if waiting for the audience to applause and the curtains to close.

It’s not clear what the reason for this is, though I’m guessing Hitch wants us to appreciate acting in films in the same way we value theatre performers. Both are shows of some sort, after all, and Rope is a pretty good one.

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