[There may be some people out there upset about the fact that Wrecked is kind of nonfunctioning so there’s no outlet for me to write movie reviews. No? Well… Fine. Either way, I just wrote this review of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope as an assignment for school, so I figured I’d scratch all your itches. NO DEMAND WITHOUT SUPPLY AMIRITE? Anyway, here’s my educationally mandated review of Rope!]
As a member of a modern, urban society, I’ll admit to considering the possibilities of casual murder from time to time. I’ve missed two busses in a row due to overcrowding and pushy passengers. My dinner has arrived twenty minutes later than it should have. On occasion, I just get stuck walking behind a group of people on a narrow pathway who’ve decided they deserve to take up the entire space and move very, very, very, very, very, very slowly. I’ll have the thought: “What if I just murdered this person? Surely this would solve the issue of minor inconvenience plaguing my immediate situation!” Then, sadly, I realize that I do not possess the forethought necessary to execute such a crime. I’m not cut out for murder. I suppose I should be proud of this.
To the lead characters of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 suspense film, Rope, this quality makes me somewhat of a lesser being. In the film, two young students (played by John Dall and Farley Granger) take it upon themselves to end the life of a peer. The crime is committed in order to prove that they are superior individuals capable of killing someone and getting away with it. They do this by strangling the poor fellow with the titular rope and dumping his body into a chest in their apartment. Worried that murder is not a sufficiently audacious undertaking, they follow this by hosting a party wherein they serve dinner on top of the chest containing the body to a handful of the victim’s family and friends. They even go so far as to invite their old professor (played by James Stewart), a cynical man who taught them the philosophies that led to this heinous act.
One of the key features of Rope is its loosely experimental style. Famously, the film is presented in what appears to be largely one ongoing take. There are a few visible cuts here and there which punctuate the action, as well as a couple poorly masked transitions where the camera pulls into and out of someone’s back, but for the most part events unfold as advertised. This technique artificially enhances the mounting tension of the story. The camera dances from room to room, only sparingly taking a breath to remind us we are indeed watching a film. Between those rare moments of punctuation, the affair feels quite uncinematic. As an opening credit announces, Rope is based on a play by Patrick Hamilton. Often, despite what must have been painstakingly laborious camera choreography, it feels as though we are watching a play with an unusually high production budget.
A theatrical approach such as this should lend itself well to showcasing the performances of its actors (seeing as there isn’t much else going on besides dialogue). For the most part, the acting in Rope is enjoyable if a tad ham-fisted. John Dall especially takes to chewing the limited scenery into comfortably swallowable chunks, revelling in his character’s giddy sociopathy. It is fun to see James Stewart playing slightly against type for most of the story, particularly showcasing the script’s deadpan dark humor during some intriguing dinner conversation. By the film’s end, however, his character becomes more accusatory and less wry, suddenly transforming into the good-natured everyman we’re used to.
While it has its quirks, Rope is still a sufficiently suspenseful thriller. The long-take gimmick is an interesting experiment hindered by technical limitations, but it succeeds in manufacturing tension in a confined setting. Hitchcock squeezes what he can out of a serviceably interesting premise, but in a career full of hallowed outings such as Psycho and Vertigo, Rope comes off as decidedly less-than. Despite the unspectacular finished product, it’s still worth seeing for the solid script and intriguing stylistic experiments.
This goes double if you’re considering casual murder. It’s a pretty decent deterrent.