Monthly Archives: July 2015

Rope (1948) re-evaluated 

ROPE is a film which I fell in love with nearly 20 years ago. For too often a film wryly ignored as little else but a technical curiosity, this is hands-down one of Hitchcock’s best movies. 

I, Confess that the film has a near magical hold over me. Is it the opening murder (or perhaps sex?) sequence, the shot of the swinging kitchen door, James Stewart’s metronome interrogation, the books being tided away from the ‘coffin’ or the fatalist final shot at the closing credits? It’s all of these and so much more.

Controversial in many ways, ROPE has aged very well and it’s astonishing how fresh the film still is. The homosexual subtext is glaringly obvious to the audience in a way which perhaps it wasn’t on its initial release, whilst the macabre subject matter remains audibly troublesome even today.

The festering tension in front of the viewer is hard to differentiate between that which is intended by the screenplay and that which is caused by the incredible pressure of the long-takes. In terms of impact, the root cause is immaterial, for me this is Hitchcock’s most claustrophobic film. We are trapped in the same room as the party guests and it’s not until James Stewart opens a window and fires a gun into the night air that we leave the morbid morality of the apartment and its owners. 

Coming to the melodrama of the cast’s performances, a criticism levied at the film over the years, Hitchcock shot ROPE as essentially a stage-play. The theatrics unfolding on screen are to the audience indeed just like watching the movie from a theatre stall. Farley Granger, John Dall and Jimmy Stewart all succeed in pulling off quite over-the-top performances but it actually works a treat. I’d single out Granger, who has some of the best lines in the script towards the end of the picture, as emotionally and physically inebriated he loses control completely : my favourite line being  “Cat and Mouse…Cat and Mouse….only which is the Cat and which is the mouse!!” 

In terms of Hitchcock’s impressive cannon, ROPE stands out as the first true example of the great director’s casting of the camera as a character in itself. His camera joyfully probes each character – for moments which seem like eternities – and studies the intricate details and clues contained within the set just as a sleuth would. The camera’s wandering eye is an innovative device to employ here, although Hitchcock would wait until 1954’s REAR WINDOW to achieve real perfection with it. 

 Further little touches such as the darkening skyline, the witty script and the finale bathed in intermittent neon light finish off a movie so fascinating that I have re-visited it at least 15 times myself.

So go on, I urge you to lose yourself in this darkest of Hitch’s slow-burners. 

Hotdog rating: 10/10

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CLOWN (2014)

Produced by Eli Roth, CLOWN is a movie I had been rather desperate to see. The premise of the movie had me enticed from the trailer: a man dons an old clown costume for his son’s birthday but afterward cannot remove it. In addition, clowns as protagonists have a fine history with a line of genre movies perhaps best represented by the under-appreciated CLOWNHOUSE (1989) and the more polished Stephen King’s IT (1990). 

CLOWN is grimier than either of the above movies but laden with the darkest of comedy. The make-up department did a sterling job on this one and the transformation from ‘family man’ to ‘clown-demon’ is pulled off very well. There’s plenty of gore, and some of it coming from very young children – still a bit brazen even in the current environment of rather loose censorship. The mythology built around the ‘costume’ is also well-thought out and somewhat original, and for that I give the filmmakers a lot of credit.  You really feel as if this is tale of legend, more fantasy than horror. In many ways, the cast do little wrong but neither do they shine.  That said, Peter Stormare welcomly pops up as Karlsson, a man who has unenviable past experience of the demon. Stormare also has the best, and worst, lines in the film’s script (“Jack, you have to kill your daddy”). 

But the simmering problem here is that the material isn’t really sufficient to fill a feature length film. It would be better-suited to a 60 minute episode of The Twilight Zone or something.  If you lack in material, you have to ace the on-screen visuals and atmopshere – think of minimalist horror movies like HALLOWEEN (1978) or the more recent IN FEAR (2013) – but director Jon Watts just misfires a little.  Unfortunately, aside from a fantastic final third (involving a glorious and clearly parodic scene inside a Chuck ‘E’ Cheese) the rest of the movie is rather workmanlike, and even forgettable, in its visual style. 

For horror fans, CLOWN does enough to warrant significant attention, but it won’t interest anyone else. Of course, it never set out to. 

hotdog rating: 6/10