In a lot of ways, Rope (1948) has inspired several feature films. Two that come to mind are Rear Window (1954) and Murder by Numbers (2002). Next week, I will post my Mise-en-scène analysis of Hitchcock’s Rope and Rear Window using Rope and Rear Window’s opening scenes.
Oddly enough, both films are ones that star James Stewart. Rope is one of Hitchcock’s suspense films I feel is highly underrated. The man tried something new within filming Rope on two levels. First off, Rope is Hitchcock’s first film in Technicolor. One of the other interesting facts about the feature is the fact it takes place in real-time. Also, through long takes, the film is edited to present a single continuous shot. This interesting editing method is one most would not use today. People get too cut happy today.
One of Rope‘s other exciting aspects is that the original play, yes, this is an adaptation, was supposedly inspired by a real-life situation. In 1924 there were two men, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, who murdered a fourteen-year-old boy, Bobby Franks. The two decided that they could commit the perfect murder because they were superior. Rumor has it that before the murder took place, Leopold wrote, “A superman…is, on account of certain superior qualities inherent in him, exempted from the ordinary laws which govern men. He is not liable for anything he may do,” to Loeb. With such a different opinion on life, it was only time to write something inspired by the two individuals.
Rope explores the idea of being superior to other humans. If one is superior, that person is allowed to take the life of someone else. Rope focuses on two young men, Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger). The two men consider themselves superior in every way over their friend David Kentley (Dick Hogan), but especially in an intellectual aspect.
Together they decide they will invite David over one afternoon and murder him right then and there. With a rope, the two men strangle David to death and place the body in an old trunk within the apartment. Afterward, both Brandon and Phillip decide to throw a small party. To make this party a bit more twisted, the guests include David’s father (Cedric Hardwicke), his fiancée Janet Walker (Joan Chandler), and their old teacher Rupert (James Stewart).
The deranged ideas they have in their heads are the misinterpretations of words spoken via Rupert. Instead of playing everything cool, Brandon becomes far more daring throughout the entire event. Because of his daring actions, Rupert becomes suspicious more than meets the eye about this small get-together.
In addition to having a unique synopsis at the time, the film became banned in some areas. Another issue the film tackled during that time was the supposed homosexuality of real-life killers. This subject matter was not a theme explored on the silver screen back in the 1940s. After all, look at the uproar Brokeback Mountain (2005) caused. I cannot even fathom the uproad back in in 1948 when Hitchcok released the feature.
People have also noted that both the screenplay writers Arthur Laurents and John Dall were also known as gay men. In addition to these facts, rumor had it that Farley Granger was bisexual. So how did such risque themes get past the Production Code back then? No one can be sure, but in part, I think that is because there was not a point blank risque scene as seen in today’s films such as Rocketman. Instances that are not actual risque but merely a part of life.
As we all know, Hitchcock pushed the envelope on occasions, but he would not do something to give the studio reason not to go through with releasing the film. The man was far from stupid, considering how he handled all of his movies. After all, by using long takes in Rope, barely any editing had to occur, which meant he had more control over the film. Whether or not Brandon and Phillip were gay can be debated for many years to come, but if so, I applaud Hitchcock for taking such a calculated risk.
In terms of acting, John Dall steals the show. His arrogance as Brandon amazes me every time I watch this film. He shows very little compassion for anyone throughout the film, and in most parts, viewers already know why he chooses not to do so. After all, the man has the gall to relocate the table setting. To do so on top of the trunk where David lies is insanity, but he does it. Anyone who has the nerve to do such things with the man’s father in the room has absolutely no remorse whatsoever for human life.
Then we, of course, have Granger’s character, who is more or less the one with compassion after murdering alongside his friend. On many occasions, one can tell that Phillip regrets what has taken place in the New York apartment. He also does not understand why they have to move the place setting onto the trunk. He feels this adds insult to the injury if anyone at the party ever finds out David was in the chest. Brandon, of course, insists this will never happen because the man truly feels they have committed the perfect murder. Murder by Numbers much?
Last but certainly not least, there is James Stewart. In every single film I’ve viewed with Mr. Stewart, his performance is always exceptional. Rope is no different. Slowly one can see the man placing together the clues laid out for everyone. In many ways, it was like Brandon wanted him to know; he wanted caught for further praise. By being able to portray such sick characters, how can one not honor these performances?
Ultimately, Rope is always a film this writer will suggest to people at the end of the day. In many ways, Rope represents a time where Hitchcock was trying to try something new. After all, the film is an adaptation of a stage play. By using long takes, he gave a stage production feeling– think of 2003’s Dogville. By using long takes and keeping more of a set that did not appear to be an on-stage production, Hitchcock dared to be different. His desire to be different is partly why I admire the man Hitchcock was never afraid to be different in many ways. By exploring such themes and examining a real-life situation, the film is all the more powerful.