“It Begins With a Shriek… It Ends With a Shot!”
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger
Synopsis: Two young men strangle their “inferior” classmate, hide his body in their apartment, and invite his friends and family to a dinner party as a means to challenge the “perfection” of their crime.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, an adaptation of a stage play based on the true life case of Leopold and Loeb, is an interesting experiment that Hitch himself admitted ‘didn’t work out.’ Attempting to recreate the experience of watching a stage play, but with the camera roaming amongst its players, Hitchcock shot the movie in a series of ten-minute takes, a time period limited only by the length of a reel of film. The film doesn’t work, it’s true, but it’s not so much because of any technical deficiencies but because of character inconsistencies and miscasting.
John Dall and Farley Granger play Brandon and Phillip, a homosexual couple who murder former college-mate David (Dick Hogan, in his last role before quitting movies for a job as an insurance salesman) purely for the thrill of it. Brandon, the dominant of the pair, interprets the Nietzschean theory of superman as taught by his former college professor Rupert Cadell (James Stewart) to mean that those of a superior intellect are justified in taking the lives of those considered intellectually inferior. To further the thrill of their misdeed, immediately after the murder the pair hold a party in their apartment with David’s body hidden in a trunk. Amongst their guests are David’s father, Mr. Kentley (Cedric Hardwicke) and aunt (Constance Collier), Janet (Joan Chandler), David’s girlfriend, and her former boyfriend Kenneth (Douglas Dick), and Cadell. Almost immediately, Cadell begins to suspect something is amiss…
The main problem with Rope is that the duo of Brandon and Phillip simply isn’t clever enough to have any conceivable chance of pulling off their murder. Phillip begins the movie in a state of high anxiety which quickly escalates into drunken hysteria as Cadell patiently picks at their claims to be ignorant of the murdered man’s whereabouts. Brandon, were he as intelligent as he is portrayed, would surely have realised in an instant what a liability Phillip was, but he simply ploughs on with his scheme of breathtaking arrogance, pausing only intermittently to issue cautionary asides to his emotional partner-in-crime. The duo even makes the kind of rudimentary mistakes that surely the clumsiest of murderers would avoid – leaving their victim’s hat in the cupboard in which guests’ coats are hung, for example.
Secondary problem is the casting. While John Dall impresses most as the egotistical Brandon – although one can’t help wondering what the likes of Orson Welles might have done with the role – Farley Granger is simply awful as the weaker Phillip. Granger was an actor of limited range – although Hitchcock obviously liked him enough to cast him again in Strangers on a Train (1951) – which is cruelly exposed in a role which calls for him to display high emotion throughout. Also, James Stewart, while acquitting himself reasonably well as the deadly duo’s former professor, doesn’t possess the necessary gravitas to truly convince as a man capable of arousing the kind of fervent admiration displayed towards him by Brandon.
(Reviewed 4th August 2012)