I first saw Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope late one night in my old college apartment. My roommate preferred to get to bed earlier, so I warned her about my movie and tried my best to be quiet. Within twenty minutes, my vocal excitement had kept her awake and curious enough to see what the hell I was watching. As I apologized and explained what was going on in the film, she stayed for a few minutes, standing, watching with me and getting just as worked up. Soon, we were both on the couch, yelling directions at Jimmy Stewart and becoming far too stressed out. It was a great moment for this Hitchcock fan.
In Rope, two young men, Phil (Farley Granger) and Brandon (John Dall), decide to pull off the perfect murder. We come in just as they have killed their friend, David (Dick Hogan). Instead of immediately disposing of the body, they tuck it away in a chest. They have bigger plans this evening, a party. What’s the point of pulling off the perfect murder without a little danger? Guests include David’s mother (Constance Collier), father (Cedric Hardwicke), girlfriend Janet (Joan Chandler), Janet’s ex boyfriend Kenneth (Douglas Dick), and Rupert (James Stewart) whom the murderous boys admire and got their idea from.
Some may consider this Hitchcock’s ultimate longshot film. It is mostly comprised of 10 continuous shots, edited together to give the illusion of one fluid piece. Simply put, when the camera ran out of film, the shot dissolved, usually into the back of a character’s dark suit, and the new reel began from there, fading back in without missing a beat. It gives you the feeling that you shouldn’t look away, or that you’re a silent guest at the party. However, if you can keep a sharp eye, there are seven conventional edits throughout the film.
The longshots and other elements make the film feel like a play. All the characters move within one connected setting, revolving around the chest that only Phil, Brandon and the audience can feel the weight of. Many times, the camera follows characters around, it bounces a bit, feeling a bit like footsteps. Its focus on different characters in a confined space, or closeups of tell tale objects is what really sets it apart from anything that could be put on stage.
Of course, my roommate and I were not shouting about the inventive camera work, but the suspense. Whenever someone hung around the chest too long, or looked at it questioningly or *GASP!* was about to open it, levels of chaos exploded in our minds. All we could do was hold our breath, yell like mad people and slowly exhale. Over and over. I think we were both glad the film was only about 80 minutes long, we couldn’t take much more of that thick tension.
It is not all about the chest that creates tension. While Brandon is surprisingly calm about their perfect murder, Phil slowly becomes a nervous wreck. Brandon’s grand idea of serving dinner on the vile chest, casually flaunting the murder weapon out in the open and inviting Rupert without Phil knowing is enough to send Phil into a drinking binge. Surely someone as superior as Brandon won’t be caught because of his friend’s loose lips.
Most Hitchcock films are centered around murder, even a few other than Rope discuss how to pull off a perfect murder. Here we get a warped philosophy behind a perfect murder. You see, their old friend Rupert once discussed with them how an elite group could be allowed to pick off those with less meaningful lives. There’s even a scene where Rupert and David’s mother casually joke about how murder could solve problems like unemployment and overpopulation. This talk can be all fun and games, but they don’t know that Brandon and Phil have taken it very seriously and intend to prove that they are part of that superior group that can get away with murder. How awful they must think of poor David. And some of the ways Brandon justifies his murder are downright disturbing.
Rope is an ingenious murder mystery dinner, where the guests don’t even realize there has been a murder, but they pick up on the mystery. They keep wondering where David could be, it’s not in his character to be so late. Meanwhile, we sit on pins and needles, worried sick like Phil or jonesing on the excitement of being so close to danger like Brandon. And all we can do is pray that Rupert does or doesn’t open that chest.
“By what right do you dare to say that there’s a superior few to which you belong?”