The Directors’ Chair: Rope (1948)
ROPE ( 1948 ) – SUBVERTING THE DRAWING ROOM PLAY
Right off the bat, Hitchcock shows us a murder.
“Good Americans usually die young on the battlefield, don’t they? Well the Davids of the world merely occupy space, which is why he was the perfect victim for the perfect murder. ‘Course, he was a Harvard under-graduate. That might make it justifiable homicide.”
Hitchcock shows us a murder and that no more spoils things than watching an episode of Columbo. Thing is, Hitchcock makes us co-conspirators. How? Well if you’re not screaming: “David’s in the trunk,” or you hold your breath when the housekeeper clears the table setting off the trunk…you’re an unindicted co-conspirator.
Hitchcock sets up a challenge for himself by doing the movie in ten-minute takes where he hides his edits and the changing of camera film. I understand walls were moved out of the camera’s way to make following the action smoother, and one little mistake would cause everything to start over from scratch. Interesting. Something you can watch for. I’d also say this is the ultimate ‘drawing room play’ whose restrictions Hitch puts himself under. But don’t let any of this distract you from the movie.
It’s all so in our face. See, that’s the sick, sweet, tantalizing, twisted, unholy glory of it all. It happens in plain sight. John Dall and Farley Granger are the murderous lovers in Rope. Now their relationship is not blatant in the context of the movie. This is 1948, after all. I’m just speedily 21st-century-ing things up by stripping away all the layers of coded language and behavior.
The boys’ entire conversation is coded for ‘après-sex.’ You know, smoking cigarettes, fiddling with opening a champagne bottle…“how did you feel during the murder” substitutes for “was-it-as-good-for-you-as-it-was-for-me?” Why murder? To prove their intellect? To show they’re the smartest crayons in the cookie jar? To challenge themselves or keep themselves amused. Dall explains it pretty succinctly:
“We’ve killed for the sake of danger. For the sake of killing.”
That plain enough for ya?
And the murderers keep upping the ante. Well, to be more accurate Dall keeps upping the ante. He’s the alpha and brains of the duo. Granger looks squirrelly, has a conscience, feels the danger more. He’s scared…a follower. No, Dall is running the f ~ uhmmm, show, calling the shots. He’s the type of guy who would stick a pin in a fly and twist. He taunts his guest in ways we, the audience, knows but they do not (though two have an inkling). He ups the ante when he:
* puts the body in the chest
* has dinner served on the trunk
* invites the dead boy’s father, fiancee and rival to the party
* …and wraps the first edition books for the dead boy’s father with the rope that has strangled his son
The cat and mouse game REALLY begins to get real when Dall tests his mettle against their old school master who’s been invited to the dinner party as well.
Interesting dynamic in the triangle of Brandon (Dall) ~ the egomaniacal sociopath; Phillip (Granger) ~ the heart, conscience and weakest link…and Rupert (James Stewart) ~ the Teacher, who talks in witty abstractions until he sees how much his words matter.
At first I thought this role might have been better suited to someone like George Sanders with his built-in air of erudite insouciance, who casually tosses bon mots espousing murder committed by superior human beings. I didn’t 100% buy Jimmy. He IS cagey though, and senses something’s afoot. When he finds his theories have actually been put into practice by these two murderers…I see he IS the right choice. Who am I to question Hitchcock who has used Stewart in four of his films.
When you start at the top WITH murder, where is there left to go? Champagne, anyone?
— Theresa Brown for Classic Movie Hub
Theresa Brown is a native New Yorker, a Capricorn and a biker chick (rider as well as passenger). When she’s not on her motorcycle, you can find her on her couch blogging about classic films for CineMaven’s Essays from the Couch. Classic films are her passion. You can find her on Twitter at @CineMava.