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