Genre: Mystery & Suspense, Drama
Runtime: 84 Minutes
This is Hitchcock’s first Technicolor film and is one of his experimentations. With very little cutting, the film almost plays out like a stage play and has plenty of tension and drama to keep you satisfied. The amazing thing is how the film is set in the one room, but is not boring one bit thanks to Hitchcock’s clever camera angles and actions and of course, the terrific dialogue. The film’s unique filmmaking is some of the best Hitchcock has done and is certainly ahead of its time. For its 80-minute runtime, “Rope” is an excellent drama of consequence, sophisticated homosexuality (I will explain more lately) and suspense.
The plot concerns two implicitly homosexual college friends Phillip and Brandon, played by Farley Granger and John Dall. Their heads filled with Nietzschean philosophy by their kindly professor Rupert (James Stewart), Philip and Brandon kill a third friend just for the thrill of it. The boys hide the body in an antique chest in the middle of their posh apartment, then perversely arrange to hold a dinner party around the chest, inviting the victim's family, friends and fiancée (Joan Chandler), as well as their intellectual role-model Stewart. As the guests wander obliviously around the sealed chest, the killers make snippy, veiled comments about their deed--never going so far as to reveal the existence of the body nor their involvement in the murder. As all the guests file out, however, Professor Stewart begins to suspect that something is amiss.
When I said sophisticated homosexuality I meant by what I learnt from the ‘making of’ featurette. The film is based on Patrick Hamilton's play “Ropes End” that uses words quite homosexual, and during this time people tried to act as if it did not exist. This was an English play so phrases and words were to be translated to American. For instance, things such as “My Dear” were taken out. Not once does the film mention ‘IT’ (as the interviewee said) so it is what makes it one of the most sophisticated films based on the subject. At this time, it was hard to get by ‘the production code’ as the subject was highly controversial, so it is good that it made it through.
The treatment of the script was by Hume Cronyn then Arthur Laurents wrote the screenplay. Cronyn said that the great achievement all goes to Laurents, which I think is a very respectable thing to do. The screenplay was beautiful. All the dialogue was effective and as the film progressed, you were put on edge as you see the reactions of these two murderers. Brandon was the weaker of the two and throughout the picture; it leaves you thinking if he is going to crack. They both become nervous wrecks towards the end and add to the film’s excitement.
But, it is not just the terrific dialogue and actions that make the film so full of tension, but the deliverance of the actors. There are few cast members in the film but every character makes an impression as ‘a character’. James Stewart as the professor was golden and was nothing less than terrific. Two other performances I found great were the victim’s parents. Mr Kently (Cedrick Hardwicke) is a proper English man who enters the house with his sick wife’s sister, Mrs Atwater (Constance Collier). Atwater was a delightful character because of the comedy she brought to the film, which Hitchcock is excellent at inserting into his films. The two others who come to the house are Kennith and Janet. Janet is the boyfriend of David and Kennith is David’s friend and Janet’s ex-boyfriend. This added more tension to the film and made the suspicions rise.
Not enough critics online have brought this one to their attention. “Rope”, for what it is, it is absolutely genius. There is barely any cutting, to be exact only about 11 takes, which amazes me. The film is one of Hitchcock's most experimental and one of the most interesting experiments ever attempted by a major director working with big Hollywood names. The film’s theme is cynically marvellous. The idea that people are eating food from the top of the coffin, at a party that is technically a funeral was pure genius.
Seeing it was Technicolor, it made it difficult to shoot because Technicolor cameras back then were gigantic. During the film chairs and tables had to be moved out of the way whilst the camera moved and it is amazing how well executed the film was. Hitchcock clearly knew what he wanted on the screen before shooting which he was always good at doing. He is a master of pre-planning. “Rope” is among the best from Hitchcock because of the marvellous tension it has even if in its 80-minute runtime it never leaves the room. This is one of Hitchcock’s unrecognised classics. Where was Hitchcock’s cameo this time? In the opening credits, he walks across the street.