Jul 5, 2013

[Movies] Rope (1948)

After watching the interesting biographical movie Hitchcock and with most of our TV shows of interest on season break, I figured it was about time that I addressed the Alfred Hitchcock gap in my film education. And since Tobie already had a rich collection of his movies on-hand the project wasn't too difficult.

And with so many movies to choose from, I can't quite explain why I ended up watching Rope as my very first Hitchcock movie. I suppose I should blame one of those quirky top 50 lists that included this movie as one with potentially LGBT subtext. And while I don't fully buy into that notion, it did remind me that this was certainly a movie that I wanted to see for completely different reasons.

What really drew me to this movie was the fact that it was shot using a series of intricately choreographed long shot sequences. That is hard to pull off with even today's movie standards, so to have a director manage it with an amazing attention for detail is just fantastic. So I definitely wanted to see how he'd pull that off here.

Synopsis: Rope is a 1948 thriller movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The movie was based on a play of the same name as written by Patrick Hamilton. The adaptation was handled by Hume Cronyn and Arther Laurents.

The movie starts with Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger) strangling a former classmate, David (Dick Hogan). The two are known to be aesthestes and this murder was motivated primarily by intellectual curiosity and not actual ill will against the man. The goal is to prove that they are intelligent enough to execute the perfect murder. However they had also scheduled a dinner party in a few hours and thus they hide the body in an antique chest in the living room. And to push this intellectual pursuit to the limit, they end up using the chest as a serving table for the dinner itself.

And even the party appears to be part of Brandon's scheme given the nature of the guests. These include David's father (Cedric Hardwicke), David's aunt (Constance Collier), David's fiancee Janet (Joan Chandler) and Janet's ex-lover Kenneth (Douglas Dick) - also a close friend of David's. And finally there's their former college housemaster Rupert Cadell (James Stewart), who had inadvertently suggested the idea that led to this murder so many years ago. And thus the stage is set for Brandon's elaborate scheme with David's corpse in the very center of the room where the party is being held.

Now the movie is divided into ten sequences up to ten minutes in length - which in modern terms reminds me of traditional YouTube video length limits. Each sequence was shot in one continuous take with the use of the backs of various characters acting as a black screen being typically used as a transition device. It only makes sense to use a play as the basis for such a movie - plays, after all, are played out real-time all the time. The only difference is the fact that Hitchcock was still able to fully utilize the principles of film to highlight various details and such while sticking to his complicated long shot commitment.

The amount of preparation work that went into this movie staggers the mind. Through the use of a moving set and well-rehearsed blocking and direction, Hitchcock was able to move all throughout the house, feature different conversations and still drop key shots for the viewer to heighten the sense of suspense. This include various shows showing the murder weapon - the rope - passing from character to character. And of course there's the eventual effort to open the wooden chest and inadvertently reveal the grim contents inside.

Dall and Granger make for a most interesting pair of actors and their on-screen chemistry as friends really makes you believe that they had known each other for years and years. And particular credit has to be given for the complex emotions that each of them portrayed. Granger's character was increasingly nervous as the party dragged on and showed this in a variety of ways ranging from the subtle to the almost manic. And Dall's character starts off as being all cool and confident with Granger but eventually shifts dramatically once Stewart's character is introduced into the movie. Brilliant acting all around.

This movie is far more than just a gimmick or a trick. Instead it truly is a masterpiece that shows just what a visionary director Alfred Hitchcock was. This project was tremendously ambitious and he executed it nearly without flaw. I can't think of anyone executing the same level of art even with all the benefits of modern technology. This is more than just about the tools - this is about the will and vision of a single, most unique man.

Rope is certainly a great movie under any standard and I'm glad that I started off my Alfred Hitchcock adventure with this particular film. It's going to be hard to top it, but then again I know I have a long way to go in terms of exploring his various movies. I happily give this movie a full 5 uncomfortable conversations at the dinner party out of a possible 5.

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