Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rope (1948)

"Murder is - or should be - an art...."

- Rope (1948) is a perfect example of Alfred Hitchcock's brilliance behind the camera. The story, based on a British stage play which is itself loosely based on the true Leopold and Loeb murder case, is a decidedly twisted yet relatively modest story (in terms of length and scope) that creeps along to an unexpectedly poignant climax.

Two college students Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger), for the sheer sick thrill of it all, commit murder in their apartment right before they open their home up to a host of party guests. Brandon somewhat subtly flaunts the deed in the faces of his guests all night and Phillip just tries to hold himself together through it all, catching the eye of the boys' intelligent professor Rupert Cadell (James Stewart).

If there was a flaw in the film it would be the duel performances of John Dall and Farley Granger. Dall and Granger serve their characters well in many areas (especially subtly developing the hidden homosexual relationship between the two of them, helped by the actual homosexual tendencies of the two actors) but are far too over-the-top (more so Dall than Granger) to be able to be praised as great performances. Some claim James Stewart as a flaw in the casting, including Stewart himself who felt that he was miscast, but I contend that Stewart is the film's strongest acting card. One of the great things about Hitchcock was the way that he was able to get type-casted actors to play against their type and, while 1940s audiences may not have enjoyed seeing the straight-laced Stewart play such a flawed soul, watching Stewart break form so well is one of the film's finer points.

Either way, the idea that Hitchcock felt that "actors are cattle" could possibly be vindicated by this film since Hitchcock's style and storytelling function in the film far more significantly than the characters do, as rich as they are in their own right.

Telling the story in real time with as little editing between takes as possible, Rope, the first of Hitchcock's films to be shot in color, wraps the viewer in high Hitchcock style. Hitchcock tried to do something different with the visual presentation of Rope by shooting on a dismantle-ready set in as long of takes as possible while tying each sparse edit together as seamlessly as possible. The experiment was a success, in my view, and as a result, Hitchcock creates a very compelling story. Trapping the narrative within the walls of Brandon and Phillip's apartment, Hitchcock envelops every single square inch of space with atmosphere, stirring up tension in the room as the day turns to night.

Because of the relatively low box-office numbers, the lack of critical praise, or maybe because he was just trying to get a rouse out of whoever was interviewing him, Hitchcock himself apparently dismissed Rope as a stunt of an experiment - but I am not in agreement with this position. I found Rope to be a unique, quality film rich with character, theme, and style and deem it a must-see Hitchcock thriller.

CBC Rating: 9/10

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