Having watched a good but disappointing Hitchcock, I followed it with an underrated one. To reaffirm my faith in the bloke. Or just to watch a great film, I suppose. Reputedly Rope is a film without cuts; a stage play filmed by a moving camera in real-time and that’s almost true. But not quite. There are eight ten minute takes neatly edited to look seamless. I only spotted a couple of cuts – though I wasn’t especially watching for them- most notably on 33 minutes when a shot of John Dall cuts directly to James Stewart, which is the only one there’s no attempt to disguise. But that’s most likely to do with the impossibility of filming the whole thing on one reel as opposed to any ‘cheating’. The film does run in real-time and is, as near as makes any difference, a one camera one take film. It’s a tremendous technical achievement in my eyes even with the odd trick.
And it’s simply so dramatic- from murder to conclusion in about eighty minutes of intense dialogue and psychological cat-and-mouse. The impossibility of an unhappy ending in I Confess isn’t replicated here, there’s every chance that the protagonists of “the perfect crime” here may evade detection. The tension, present from the opening death-scream, never relents. Hitchcock marshalls the audience superbly in this film, ratcheting up the tension discretely- a pointed comment, a panicked look, the foregrounding of the cabinet and so on. Truly this one goes right up to eleven.
The protagonists whose attempt to commit that “perfect crime” are documented here are Farley Granger’s Philip Morgan who is completely under the spell of John Dall’s Brandon Shaw. Shaw is himself besotted with James Stewart’s Rupert Cadell- the murder is done simply to impress him- and the whole thing is charged with an electric homo-eroticism. Each of them clearly has something going with the other- whether a history or an infatuation- and their range of mannerisms (affectations would be a better word) are clearly intended to suggest homosexuality: Granger- five years on from his similarly homo-erotic relationship in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt– is sissyish, John Dall is preening and Stewart bitchy. The play was, I understand, based on a real-life case involving homosexual partners and the original cast was to include Montgomery Clift (gay) and Cary Grant (reputedly bisexual) which would have made the matter even more blatantly obvious than the coded, allusive nature of it’s suggestion here- the dialogue about Dall and Stewart having both seen Granger ‘strangling a chicken’ would have been as risque as it was possible to get past the 1948 censors.
Aside from the nerve-jangling tension and the technical excellence (see the night sky become dusk before your eyes) and the intriguing undercurrents and the audacity of the whole project then, what has Rope got to offer? Well, there is a fantastic Jimmy Stewart performance. The keenness of Cadell’s intellect is obvious in every measured comment, every searching look, every pause in the dialogue and yet to see the certainty and arrogance he has displayed throughout crumble almost instantaneously during the climactic sequence is astonishing. In a second you see the man’s world turned on its head. Superb stuff. John Dall (who couldn’t look more like Ben Affleck even with the help of CGI) and Farley Granger are also really good, but not in Stewart’s league. The dialogue is fantastic, full of pointed lines (Kentley to the strangler Morgan: “these hands will bring you great fame” as he plays the piano, for example). Also, while not being as densely layered as his absolute finest films like Rear Window, Vertigo or Psycho this still raises questions about the capacity for murder- the distinction between the mens rea and the actus reus if you like.
Really, it is a very interesting piece and deserves a much better reputation than just being an experiment in film-making, it is simply a fine film. 9/10