Today I went back quite a while to the days of Old School Hollywood. I don’t know if I can call myself a Hitchcock fan since I’ve only seen about five of his films but I do admire his work. This film is one of my personal favourites and I hold it up there as one of Hitchcock’s best.
The setting is a luxury penthouse New York apartment and Hitchcock gets straight to the point by showing two men Brandon and Philip who are preparing for a dinner party involving about five guests who start to spend most of the night worrying about when the sixth guest David will arrive since he is unusually late. Except that the audience knows that David is actually early to the party – he’s currently stuffed into the chest that they’re eating food off of. Brandon and Philip strangle him with a rope at the start of the film in the hope of committing the perfect murder. And the guests at the dinner party are all connected to David in some way – his father, his aunt, his fiancée, his best friend and one of his old professors. There’s the housekeeper as well but she’s kind of hard to get rid of.
The film acts mainly as a reverse who-dunnit story since we know straight away that Brandon and Philip have murdered David and the question is will they get away with it? Rope was adapted from a stage play and it actually plays out like one thanks to the innovative camera techniques Hitchcock used. The whole film was shot in ten takes with the camera constantly moving around without cutting, so that the film seems to flow in real time. There are a couple of straightforward cuts but you don’t really notice them unless you’re looking for them.
One of the main things I enjoyed about this film is the conversation scenes. The dialogue is what stands out here and each of the characters is fleshed out. One of the more entertaining characters was David’s aunt Mrs Atwater. She reminds me of a family friend who used to come round the house every Christmas. Mrs Atwater definitely provides the life of the party and all of the conversations with her almost make you forget that there’s a friggin body in the room. The film almost works like a black comedy with all the dramatic irony that goes into Brandon’s touches – he insists on moving the food from the dining room table to the chest where David is and even ties up a stack of books for David’s father with the very rope he strangled his son with. It’s interesting to watch the differences between Brandon and Philip as the film goes on, as Brandon gets more excited and continues to throw new ways to challenge himself and heighten the risk of whether or not he gets caught. Philip on the other hand gets even more on edge and terrified about getting found out.
The performances are pretty enjoyable all around since each actor is given plenty of focus and development in the 40-minute dinner party. John Dall is almost unreal with how he steals the show as Brandon – he hides the fact that he’s a sick demented psychopath underneath a stream of witty jokes and charming puns (hmm, maybe I was giving Ellen Page a bit too much credit yesterday). Farley Granger is also equally good to watch and even at the end, you still don’t know whether Philip actually feels remorse for murdering David or just doesn’t want to get caught. Joan Chandler is also fun as the bubbly Janet whom Brandon is trying to manipulate into choosing David’s best friend Kenneth over him. Sadly if I’m talking about performances in this film then there’s a big grey haired elephant in the room. Mr James Stewart is in a film with a cast of other fine actors who rise to the occasion but he just falls flat as Rupert Cadell. Stewart himself even admitted that this was his worst performance with Hitchcock. The whole “did you think you were God” lecture really feels forced and you really just see Rupert as a nosy killjoy which is a pretty bad thing when he’s the only person trying to work out if a murder has actually happened.
I don’t normally notice symbolism in films but there are a couple of cool moments where the symbolism definitely sticks out. The first is when Rupert has suspected that something is going on and he grinds Philip at the piano. There’s a little clock beside the piano that keeps ticking back and forth while Rupert keeps his questions coming, in an obvious nod to Edgar Allen Poe and The Telltale Heart (yes I do sound pretty cultured now don’t I?). The second comes near the end where Rupert is questioning both Philip and Brandon, and the neon lights outside flash red, yellow, green and white.
Of course if we’re talking about symbolism then there’s another elephant in the room. For those who didn’t pick up on it while watching the film, Brandon and Philip (and possibly Rupert) are gay. Well Brandon is probably bi since he does mention a previous fling with Janet. But in the original stage play, all three characters were gay but of course this was the 1940s so that kind of thing in a film was a big no-no. But there’s a lot of gay subtext in this film without even outright stating it so it’s kind of impressive to see how much the filmmakers got past the radar in the conservative 1940s. Or maybe the censors fell asleep during those parts.
It’s pretty hard to mention a favourite scene for this film since there really are no defined scenes here. I enjoyed all the dialogue exchanges and liked all the development each of the characters got so I liked all the scenes, though the film does sag quite a bit when the guests leave and it’s just Philip, Brandon and Rupert.
So anyway if you’re a Hitchcock fan then this is definitely worth a watch. Until tomorrow then, be careful what you get tangled up in (get it, rope, tangled...hello is this thing on?). Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.