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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Movie Review: ROPE


"Nobody commits a murder just for the experiment of committing it. Nobody except us."
-- Brandon

Rope is a 1948 dramatic thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock that served as a bit of a technical experiment for the acclaimed filmmaker. The story follows two young intellectuals named Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger) who strangle and murder a former classmate named David in order to experiment with the idea of committing the perfect murder. The two then hide the body in a chest and await the guests of their dinner party, which they have scheduled specifically in accordance with their heinous act. Slowly, the guests start to arrive, and we learn that each of the guests has a distinct relationship to the victim. Also in attendance is Brandon and Phillip's former school housemaster Rupert (James Stewart). As the even progresses and the other guests start to wonder about David's absence, Rupert begins to question whether their hosts might have an idea as to the missing man's whereabouts.

I first heard about this film after hearing about its relatively revolutionary technical aspect. Rope was intended to tell its story in real-time, and to make it feel as such, Hitchcock elected to create the movie as though it were filmed one continuous shot. Back in the 1940s, however, it wasn't physically possible to do so seeing as a film reel could only hold roughly ten minutes of film. Therefore, Hitchcock filmed Rope in ten sequences ranging from four to ten minutes then used clever sleight-of-hand techniques in order to make it feel as though the shot never truly ends. Technically, it's quite an achievement, and I'm sure there are quite a few aspiring filmmakers that can learn quite a bit about film-making from a movie like Rope.

Were the technical aspect the only reason to watch Rope, then this would probably prove to be a very short review. But this is Alfred Hitchcock, after all, so you can be sure that the rest of the film will be firing on all cylinders as well. I'd like to start with the acting component today. While it's not the greatest bit of acting I've ever seen in a film, I do have to say that the cast of Rope performs splendidly, especially given the way the film was shot. As always, Jimmy Stewart manages to steal the show, despite the fact that you can make the argument that he's not even the film's central character. He's important, yes, but we as the audience spend very little time without either Brandon or Phillip on-screen. The interplay between Dall and Granger is utterly fantastic, and we get a very deep sense of their respective characters despite the film's relatively short run-time. The rest of the cast fills out nicely and provides decent characterization, and I'd like to give special credit to Cedric Hardwicke and Constance Collier, who played David's father and aunt respectively, for bringing forth great supporting bits. Also very good is Edith Evanson, so be on the watch for her role as the maid. But this is really a film about the relationship between our murderers and their suspecting former teacher, and you can see that Hitchcock wanted to place most of the emphasis there. And the three men steal the show.

In addition, we're getting an utterly brilliant screenplay that's equal parts dramatic, comedic and thrilling. After the murder, which takes place in the film's opening moments, we're already thrown into Hitchcock's trademark sense of suspense, and it never once lets go of its hold on the viewer. At the same time, however, there's a massive level of bitingly hilarious black comedy throughout the film. Once the dinner party begins, the dialogue takes a turn of the hilarious, and I couldn't keep myself from laughing at some of the guests' remarks. The dialogue is where this film utterly excels. Although the acting isn't necessarily brilliant, the dialogue between each of the characters is top-notch, and I'd argue that I haven't heard dialogue this crisp and refreshing in any film I've ever seen. That's pretty high praise, mind you. What's truly fascinating, however, is the look at Friedrich Nietzsche's √úbermensch - or "superman" - that the film provides. I had first heard of the concept of the "superman" in school. It essentially posits that there are some men who are superior to others, and these supermen could, in theory, murder their inferior kinsfolk as they pleased without any moral affliction or punishment. The murderers in Rope take this idea to heart and use it as their reasoning behind their strangulation of David, and over the course of the film, we get a rather deep look into the concept. It's truly fascinating, and it helps life this screenplay into the conversation as one of the best I've ever seen.

At the end of the day, Rope is a brilliant film that's definitely worthy of your attention. It hooked me from the very outset, and I felt as though I didn't want to blink for fear of missing some key bit of information. Hitchcock always knows how to draw his audience into his films, and Rope is no exception. Although it's not quite his best film, I do think that it has to be placed near the very top echelon. And that's saying quite a bit for a man who made a living creating some of the greatest and most timeless films ever dedicated to a film reel.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A
Should You Watch It? Yes

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