Film Review: Rope (1948)

Release Date: August 26th, 1948 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Hume Cronyn, Arthur Laurents
Based on: Rope by Patrick Hamilton
Music by: Leo F. Forbstein, David Buttolph, Francis Poulenc
Cast: James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Joan Chandler, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Constance Collier, Douglas Dick, Edith Evanson

Transatlantic Pictures, Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 80 Minutes

Review:

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope is a film I am on the fence with. Generally, I like the picture but it has some issues, mostly with the narrative, that bothered me.

It certainly isn’t as refined and near perfect as Rear WindowNorth By NorthwestPsychoVertigo or The Birds but it does display some of the same stylistic approaches and tropes of those films. Rope also predates the youngest of those films by six years.

My real issue with the narrative is that the overall plot is just kind of silly. To surmise, two Ivy League students murder their friend in an apartment. Their motive is to commit the perfect murder with no real motive because without a motive, they can’t be discovered. It is also revealed that the two boys have strong elitist attitudes in which they believe that they exist in society on a level above all others. Therefore, any sort of suspicion against them, in their minds, is impossible.

The murderous boys then hide the body in a trunk and cover it with a table cloth where they plan to hide it, as party guests are on their way to the apartment. The rest of the movie deals with philosophical discussions about social classes mixed in with the realization that the murder victim is late to the party and that he’s a responsible person and always on time. This makes James Stewart’s Rupert Cadell, a housemaster at the boys’ school, very concerned and later, suspicious.

As the film moves on, one of the boys acts so blatantly guilty and strange that it is a dead giveaway that something happened. It is almost too convenient how much the boy gives away and points the finger at himself. As the party goes on, the boy stupidly provides clues and eventually loses his grip completely. While leaving the party, Cadell is mistakenly given the victim’s hat and thus, he knows something is definitely awry.

Ultimately, the story is really just a device to examine some philosophical points. Rope gives us some good debates in regards to social classes and morality and how the two interact. It also leads us to a point where Cadell’s words and lessons to the young students come back to haunt him in a way he never theorized. Rope is essentially a film about how words can take on very different meanings in the minds of other people. In the case of this film, those people happen to be evil.

From a technical standpoint, the film is comprised of a series of long takes and the entire film takes place in one confined space: the apartment of one of the killers. The film is comprised of just 11 takes over its 80 minutes, two of those takes being ten minutes long: the length of a reel of film at the time. A few of the edits are very noticeable for their deliberate attempt at cleverness but they feel a bit hokey, most notably the cut where the camera zooms into a suit jacket only to cut as the suit jacket then moves away from the camera. Ultimately, I feel as if this was more of an experiment in style for Hitchcock.

Rope is a compelling picture in regards to its philosophical tones but it falls short of Hitchcock’s later films. That isn’t to say that it isn’t a fairly fabulous movie, it is. Unfortunately, it seems like a rough cut of what could have been a much better picture.

I tend to hold Alfred Hitchcock to a specific standard; Rope just falls short of that standard.

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