Rope Movie Review

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Along with The Birds and Psycho, Rope was one of the very first Hitchcock films I saw as a kid -- a dusty old videotape sitting on a shelf with an odd title scrawled on its edge. I loved it then and still have a fond memory for the film, which led me to explore nearly 50 pictures from the Master of Suspense.

Rope is a complex and dazzlingly unique picture. Subversively based on the Leopold and Loeb murder case, it presents us with two boys (Dall and Granger) who have been taught by their old headmaster (Stewart) in the Nietzchian philosophies of the Superman and the unimportance of the lives of simpler people. Dall masterminds a plot and Granger follows as his half-willing pull-toy; together they strangle a mutual friend, dump his body in a chest, and throw a party for his father -- serving a buffet from his makeshift casket.

More macabre writing you aren't likely to find, and a more interesting way to tell the tale you won't likely see. Based on a British play, Hitch opted to shoot the film as if we were indeed watching a stage performance -- seemingly in one long take from beginning to end. (Actually there are about eight cuts in the film as we zoom in on a dark background -- like someone's jacket -- due to the limit on the amount of film that can be stored in a camera reel at one time.) Regardless, the effect is astonishing, as we follow the characters from room to room and as the plot is nearly uncovered -- an amazing feat considering the enormous size of the color cameras back in the 1940s (this was Hitchcock's first color film).

James Stewart was reportedly unhappy with his work here, and that's understandable considering the character he was playing was meant to be homosexual, as were the two leads. Dall is incredible, however, in his role -- a subtly gay performance that is frightening in its intensity; it's a shame he died having appeared in only eight films. Granger (later seen in Strangers on a Train) is also fantastic as Dall's weaker antithesis. The subject of the homosexual undertone of Rope and its ultimate cover-up is the subject of a fascinating 30-minute documentary included on the new DVD release, wherein the writer of the film also casts a surprising amount of dismay on the finished product. (See the film Swoon for a different, and blatantly gay, take on the Leopold-Loeb case.)

It's too bad the restoration of Rope has received nowhere near the effort of other recent Hitch releases like Rear Window. Especially in closeups, the picture breaks up, and the color has clearly faded. Try not to mind that -- take it all in, and all at once, of course -- and pay special attention to the gloriously complicated set design, which features a model of New York City in the background, complete with moving clouds and a sky that slowly fades from day to night. Amazing.

Hitch on the set.

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Rope Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: NR, 1948

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