Monday, March 16, 2009
Alfred Hitchcock's Rope comes across as the kind of movie the great director may have agreed to make while drunkenly boasting about his ability. "Oh yeah, well I can make a movie about homosexual murderers, in real time, using as few cuts as possible, and without mentioning homosexuality at all."
Okay, so that probably wasn't the way it went down. But Hitchcock does curiously confine himself in the making of this film, testing his mettle as a filmmaker capable of building suspense in any setting.
Rope begins with two prep-school alums strangling a former classmate in an attempt to prove their philosophy that superior men should be allowed to step outside the moral conventions that inferior beings need to live in a civilized world. To top it all off the two are throwing a party to celebrate their accomplishment, where there unwitting guests (which include the deceased's father, aunt and fiance) will dine off the chest in which the body is stashed.
Brandon (John Dall) is urbane, witty, obnoxious and unlikable. His "roommate" Phillip (Farley Granger) is clearly under his control, but begins to crack under the pressure of having to deal with society so shortly after the murder. There is mordant humor in the double meaning lent to some of Brandon's remarks about why one of the expected guests is running late.
Jimmy Stewart plays the boys' former teacher, and a philosopher on crime who has influenced Brandon especially to commit his murder. There are some tense scenes in the movie where Stewart lightheartedly expounds on his repugnant philosophy, leading to a heated argument between Brandon and the dead man's father. We are treated to Phillip very quickly losing his cool and resorting to alcohol in a failed attempt to collect himself.
Hitchcock wanted to replicate the process of seeing a live play on film, but due to technical restrictions he had to instead film the action in ten takes, as ten minutes was the most he could capture on a reel of film. This leads to some awkwardness at the times when the reel must be switched, usually the camera pans in on the back of a suit jacket until the screen is blacked out. These are unnecessary within the world of the film and are therefore very distracting.
The real-time element is handled nicely in other ways, however. You don't really notice it while it's happening, but the skyline outside the boys' apartment windows is darkening in real time, and the neon sign next door begins to light up late in the movie. The movie actually feels like a party taking place, as we are shown people eating, drinks being served, and in one tense scene, the chest holding the body is cleared off by a maid until just before she is about to open the chest.
Jimmy Stewart's character eventually becomes suspicious, and the film ends rather predictably. There is an odd speech delivered by Stewart near the end where his character tries to exonerate himself of blame. Stewart doesn't really pull off the character's sliminess. He seems too charming even when talking about his Nietzschean philosophy.
Rope is a curiosity, but a strongly executed one. It gets a 6.8 out of 10.