Rope (1948)

David, Brandon and Philip are meeting for cocktails in a fancy Manhattan apartment. 

But Brandon and Philip strangle David and heave his body into a sturdy wooden chest.

This is the commencement of one of the most unusual of Alfred Hitchcock’s works, Rope (1948)

It was the first Hitchcock movie to feature James Stewart and is certainly the most underrated of the four movies they made together. 

It might not be classed as film noir by everybody ― Hitchcock’s films are sometimes seen as existing as semi-isolated in their own genre. 

And it’s also in colour ― unusual for a film noir.

But even if you argue that this is not film noir and that it never will be, discussions are never that exclusive, and Rope still shines bright light on many of the interesting movie-based fixations of the late 1940s.

James Stewart was brave for taking this part, which was darker than the usual characters he played, and there are numerous echoes between Rope and Vertigo, in which he also plays.

As the film kicks off, instead of trying to conceal this and the other evidence of their murder, the two throw a party, inviting the dead man's parents to drink the finest champagne and make small talk, just a few feet from the dead body.

Highly enjoyable too is the scratch-the-surface homosexuality of Rope, especially given the taboo of the subject in the 1940s. 

John Dall, who played Brandon, is believed to have been gay, while Farley Granger, who played Phillip, was known to be bisexual. Screenwriter Arthur Laurents was also gay, and the Patrick Hamilton play that the movie was based on quite explicitly portrays Brandon and Phillip as a couple.

The two men are killers-for-thrills type of guys however ― or rather, this is all the work of one of them, the dominant male, Brandon. Their relationship isn't about the sexuality, but is something of a bullying, controlling friendship.

Brandon: Nobody commits a murder just for the experiment of committing it. Nobody except us.

While Brandon schemes, boasts and lets his pride run riot, Philip cowers in paranoia, giving Rope its full-film-noir-flavour. 

There isn’t much subtlety in the characterisation, and it seems hard to believe that Philip would take things this far, given how scared he is. 

But Brandon’s Übermensch attitude carries the day, and his actions are exactly those of an overconfident male, morally privileged to the core.

Rope is intended to be a one-shot film, an audacious experiment in continuous-take cinema, giving the effect of something much more well-known and natural ― a trip to the theatre. 

For some, Rope is all the more enjoyable watching the camera movements and enjoying the action, pretty much as we might a play, as well as a play for camera. For some, all of this is just plain distracting.

Technically, the camera operators of the day were ready for this, and did well, especially moving in an out to catch individual clues, hand and eye movements, and best if all, framing the ensemble when they are all working together.

Better still, there is there is the studio skyline-backdrop to enjoy, with its fibreglass clouds, a travelling sun and neon lights that blink in lurid red and green as the film reaches its climax.

Joan Chandler as Janet Walker
In Rope, Alfred Hitchcock’s camera was loaded with 10-minute reels, and in all there are ten cuts, with the camera nipping behind an actor's back, or pulling into a piece of furniture, to allow the action to cut from one piece of film to the next. 

The actors use every possible aspect of the confined set, and so something quite unique happens as the cinematic experience is confused somewhat with the theatrical experience. 

Anyone who has seen live TV plays, as were often shot in the 1960s and 1970s, will recognise some aspects of this ― although of course Rope also is not ‘live’ ― and Hitchcock told François Truffaut in the book-length Hitchcock / Truffaut interview (Simon & Schuster, 1967) that he ended up re-shooting the last four or five segments because he was unhappy with the colours of the sunset.

The red neon sunset in the closing moments of Alfred Hitchcock's ROPE (1948)

Enjoyable ― but viewers will be glad that this is simply a stand-alone piece and that very few films are made this way. 

The Joys of Rope (1948) at Wikipedia


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