Film Review: Rope
In 1948, Alfred Hitchcock released Rope, based on the 1929 play of the same name by Patrick Hamilton which was inspired by the Leopold and Loeb case. Starring James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Joan Chandler, Cedric Hardwicke, Constance Collier, Douglas Dick, Edith Evanson, and Dick Hogan, the film grossed $2.2 million at the box office. The film was nominated for the Saturn Award for Best DVD/Blu-Ray Collection, the Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best Motion Picture and the Satellite Award for Outstanding Classic DVD.
Two young Manhattan elites, Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan, murder their acquaintance, David Kentley, and hide his body in a chest as part of a desire to commit the perfect murder. In order to see how perfect is, the two men host a party with the chest in plain sight, with the guests including Kentley’s fiancé and their former teacher. The guests grow worried while Brandon continues to push his luck and Phillip starts showing remorse. Meanwhile, their former teacher starts growing suspicious.
Though Hitchcock considered it to be one of his weaker films, Rope is actually quite good and very interesting to watch. The story is a fascinating adaptation of the Leopold and Loeb case, where two young men decided they wanted to murder a classmate simply because they believed themselves to be Übermensch above society’s laws as well as just to see if they could. Here, Brandon and Phillip do succeed in murdering their acquaintance and the only reason they don’t get away with it is because Brandon continues to push his luck and keeps putting him and Phillip in a situation where they’ll invariably get caught. Brandon’s basic plot of having Kentley’s body be hidden in plain sight is a notable concept as no one would ever assume that someone who hasn’t shown up has been there the whole time. Hitchcock, as always, makes the film very suspenseful as Rupert grows more and more suspicious and the question goes from if he’s going to find out to how and in what manner. The film also ends on a pretty good note, with the only resolution given being Rupert discovering the body and alerting the police by firing a pistol into the air.
As a whole, Brandon and Phillip are pretty interesting characters, with the former having pride as his Achilles Heel. He and Phillip would most likely have gotten away with their murder, but Brandon had to host a party where the body was in plain sight as well as push his luck, take stupid risks and drop hints because he felt he was so superior that he could get away with it. Brandon had to have an audience so he could flaunt his perfect crime, but his hubris caused his downfall and piqued Rupert’s suspicions. Furthermore, he shows absolutely no remorse in what he does and flaunts his philosophy of the Übermensch, going so far as to outright stating that he approves of murder. He’s a perfectly written sociopath. At the same time, Phillip suffers a slow nervous breakdown throughout the film, with it speeding up near the end. What’s really interesting though is that it’s ambiguous whether or not he has a weak will and is just being manipulated by the sociopathic Brandon or if his breakdown is because he keeps fearing getting caught.
Rupert is also a pretty interesting character, since he’s the one where Brandon and Phillip initially got their Übermensch ideals. However, he changes his stance on it at the end of the film due to how the two murderers took his philosophy and enacted it. Rupert even states that he can’t abide by it any longer after seeing the philosophy put into action. His method of making sure the police are notified while also keeping an eye on Brandon and Phillip so they don’t get away is notable as well, with him opening the window and firing the pistol he took from Phillip into the air so those who heard it would call the police. As stated above, the film doesn’t show what happens when the police arrive, but it doesn’t need to. Brandon and Phillip have failed and anything after that would be too much.
The film is also pretty fascinating on a technical level, with Hitchcock having filmed it with only 10 takes and making it look like one continuously long shot. It works pretty well too, even with the technological limitations of the cameras they were using. When there needed to be a cut, the camera would zoom in and focus on a part of a character or item and then zoom out. It works quite well, making it look like one fluid motion.
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