Review: Rope (1948)

rope

That James Stewart is sure one smart fella!

Screenplay By: Arthur Laurents
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock

It’s strange to come away from an Alfred Hitchcock film and not be most impressed with Sir Hitchcock. However, in the case of Rope I was much more impressed with the writing and acting than I was with the direction of Sir Hitchcock. That’s not to say that the direction was lacking in any way. The direction from Sir Hitchcock was, like usual, strong and visually dynamic. He was able to create suspenseful moments and tense situations with very little camera movement. I was yet again impressed by the vast technical skills of Sir Hitchcock. It just so happens that in the case of Rope I was more impressed with other elements found in the motion picture.

I was, to use a bit of hyperbole, amazed at the writing in Rope. I did not expect such sharp back and forth dialogue. Whether it was the credited screenwriter Arthur Laurents, or either of the uncredited writers- Hume Cronyn, and Ben Hecht- I was taken aback by how cutting and to the point the dialogue was in Rope. I know that calling the dialogue in Rope to the point comes across as a bit of a misnomer. It is true that there is a heck of a lot of dancing going on in the dialogue in Rope. Each spin and twirl of the verbal dancing moves the story along and offers some new revelation in the verbal sparring that the characters have engaged in. There’s a directness to the dancing dialogue found in Rope. All the dancing serves a purpose, and while the dance may be grand each and every dance step leads to another important piece of dialogue. There’s no fluff, no frilly dance moves that exist simply to pad out the feature. When a character says something in Rope they are being as direct as they can be while held tightly in the embrace of a dance partner.

All the actors are magnificent in Rope. Of special note are James Stewart, John Dall, and Farley Granger. Their interactions, with each other and others, tell the story of the film. They are the key players in the giant cat and mouse game of Rope. They are also three very different men with very different approaches to the game. Mr. Dall, as Brandon, is the great games master. He orchestrates everything and feels that at every turn he is one step ahead of the other simpletons involved in his game. Mr. Granger, as Phillip, is the nut about to crack. He is in over his head and has no desire to be involved in the game he is playing. Mr. Stewart, as Rupert, is the outsider seeking to break down the game. In fact he doesn’t see the proceedings as a game at all, but rather as a sign of his failings as a teacher and philosopher. It is up to Rupert to fix what he has wrought and bring the truth to light by engaging in a game that sickens him to his very core. Misters Dall, Granger, and Stewart are all wonderful to watch as they engage in their hour and twenty minute long game.

I originally said I wasn’t the most impressed with Sir Hitchcock coming out of Rope. That is a statement I stand behind. But, there is one sequence in Rope that proves the idea of suspense and Sir Hitchcock being attached at the hip. The various partygoers are off to the side engaging in a conversation of very little value. The camera leaves them out of the picture and rests still on a very important chest. The maid, Mrs. Wilson, begins the task of clearing off the chest from the dinner party food and drink. The camera holds still the entire time as Mrs. Wilson makes trip after trip into the kitchen. She starts bringing the books that belong in the chest back out of the dining room to put into said chest. Closer and closer she gets to opening the chest, and still the camera does not move. Then, just as she lifts the chest a fraction of an inch Brandon appears from out of frame and tells Mrs. Wilson to leave the chest be for the time being. I breathed a startled sigh of relief at that moment. Nothing had been resolved, but I was finally free from the escalating tension of the sequence. Sir Hitchcock accomplished such tension and suspense simply by allowing his camera to remain still and film the action.

One would not be wrong to call Rope a chamber play. It is a lone setting with very few players. Yet, Rope feels larger than it actually is, and that is due to all the players involved in making the film. Sir Hitchcock is masterful in his direction, the actors engage in a tense cat and mouse verbal back and forth, and the writer/s put a stranglehold on the heartbeat of the viewer until said heart feels like it is going to explode. Rope is one of the tightest features I have seen from Sir Hitchcock, it is a great film and belongs in the upper tier of his catalog.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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4 responses to “Review: Rope (1948)

  1. Bill, I agree that the actors (particularly Stewart and Dall) are excellent. I think that Hitchcock’s device of using very few shots (with several “hidden” cuts) gives them room to work and really sell the characters. I was surprised by how much I was drawn into the movie when I watched it for a second time last fall. Like you mention with that great sequence, we’re feeling tensions about the killers being caught, and Hitchcock gets us to identify with the killers and hope they aren’t found out.

  2. It’s interesting that you bring up Hitch’s hidden cuts, because I actually found those distracting. Every time he would zoom in on a character’s back/front knew he was going to cut and I felt they came across clumsy most of the time. They weren’t enough to detract from the film, but they weren’t an appealing factor for me.

  3. I like the minimal number of shots and think that really helps the movie. However, I agree that the cuts in people’s bodies are pretty awkward. I noticed them a lot more in my second viewing.

  4. Oh yeah, I agree that the minimal shots help the movie. It was just the way of cutting from shot to sot that stood out for me in a negative way.

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