Rope (1948)


There is nothing better to watch this movie with than some ice cream and a devilish flute of champagne.

Noirvember Film Series #3:

“Rope” (1948) directed by Alfred Hitchcock, is a masterful, sharply constructed story that balances levity with its sinister underbelly in classic noir fashion. In the moments leading up to a dinner party they are hosting, Philip Morgan (Farley Granger) and Brandon Shaw (John Dall) strangle to death their mutual friend David, and deposit him in a chest hidden in plain sight, right before their guests arrive. Morgan and Shaw hardly have a motive, but are driven by philosophical ideas about the superiority and inferiority of man, and carry out this heinous decision simply as a matter of proving that they can.

Brandon is an over-confident narcissist who spouts his grandiose ideas about the world and himself incessantly, a stark juxtaposition to Phillip’s quickly disintegrating composure and apparent guilt. Their arrogance is on full display as the two mingle with their party guests which include the deceased David’s fiancée (Joan Chandler), his father (Cedric Hardwicke) and the group of young men’s old college professor (Jimmy Stewart), dismissing and dodging their growing concern for their missing friend.

Alfred Hitchcock, known as the “Master of Suspense,” his most well-known works include “Psycho” (1960), “To Catch A Thief” (1955), “Vertigo” (1958), “Rear Window” (1954) and “The Birds” (1963). Hitchcock’s ability to elevate a simple story or develop a concept that is innately full of tension is unprecedented. To place a dead body in the center of a room full of unsuspecting peers as they socialize is so brilliantly sinister and thrilling.

The screenplay was written by Arthur Laurents, adapted from the 1929 play of the same name by Patrick Hamilton, and the Hitchcock chose to showcase the story like a stage play for the screen. The entirety of the narrative takes place in the space of one skyscraping apartment, and more impressively, using clever technical tricks to avoid cuts and meticulously planned sequences (by cinematographers Joseph A. Valentine and William V. Skall, “Rope” is told in one-long shot. While it is most known for the aforementioned effect of taking place in real time, this is also Alfred Hitchcock’s first Technicolor film. Further, it is the first of many collaborations between Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart, which came in the following decade. Here, Stewart’s subtlety and sophistication is necessary to this role where the performance requires the ability to inform the audience of his discoveries without speaking it outright. He acts as the vehicle to drive the film forward and connect the clues which we already know to be there.

“Rope” is a fantastic dark drama that, without feeling weighted or heavy, explores theoretical ideas about morality. Hitchcock delivers a richly amusing noir. He keeps his characters slightly distant and mysterious, and sets traps for which they can become entangled with each other. He removes sentimentality and writes with a deadpan humor and detachment that has defined the genre. The film is paced well and a run-time of only an hour and a half, an approachable picture that is easy to digest, but still manages to showcase Hitchcock’s artistic and mechanical and refined style.

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