|"Nobody commits murder just for the experience of committing it. Nobody except us."|
|Time: 80 mins.|
There are two reasons why I decided to watch ROPE: because I recently got the special edition DVD and the talent of Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart. Unfortunately, even their combined gifts can't save this picture. This is one of Hitchock's films where he tried to stretch his directorial vision by restricting some element of the filmmaking process in this instance by shooting the film in long, unedited, continuous takes. There are some cuts every 9 minutes or so but he tries to hide them, giving the illusion of constant motion. The main problem with this isn't the technique, but the story itself. ROPE began its existence as a stage play and should never have been made into a movie...and certainly not one by Hitchcock. He tries to make the plot interesting, but shoots himself in the foot from the very first frame by showing the audience the truth that two young men murdered one of their best friends for the thrill of it. Once you know the secret, there's no suspense. There's no doubt they're going to get caught, so what reason does the audience have to invest their time and emotions in the characters, who are arrogant and evil, or the outcome, which is obvious and uninspired?
I guess Hitchock wanted to show his devilish sense of humor by having the killers throw a party right after the murder and serve dinner to their guests on top of the cabinet where the victim rests. It is very macabre, but not much fun to watch these young men try to behave normally. What makes the film even more unsettling is that it's clear from the dialogue and their body language that Brandon (Dall) and Phillip (Granger) are more than just friends. Brandon is clearly the man in the relationship, pushing Phillip around, making sure that he doesn't ruin the perfect murder. They believe they are superior beings, ones capable of not only committing this dastardly deed, but who had the right to rid the world of a person that wouldn't make a difference one way or the other. The fact that their victim, David (Hogan), was an old prep school friend makes their deed even more wonderful in Brandon's eyes. He planned the party to be the ultimate coup de gras. What could be more wicked than having David's parents and fiancée unwittingly dining over his cold, dead body.
Phillip fails to see the humor in the situation, but there's no turning back now. What's done is done. He just wants the evening to be over with. His nerves grow even tighter when he learns their old teacher Rupert Cadell (Stewart) is joining the group. Brandon got his crazy ideas about the murder from Rupert while they were at school. How it's justifiable to kill if the victim is inferior to you or makes your life more difficult. They even carry on a rather morbid debate about it over dinner that amuses Janet (Chandler), David's girlfriend, and Mrs. Atwater (Collier), David's aunt, but not his father Mr. Kentley (Hardwicke), who's growing anxious about David's lateness. Brandon and Rupert apologize for their conversation and turn Kentley's attention to some 1st edition books the boys wanted him to look at. The other guests, especially Janet aren't really thrilled with the way the evening is turning out either. The conversation keeps coming around to David and what could be keeping him. He's usually very punctual and responsible.
The weight of the secret and an unusually high amount of alcohol, begin to take their toll on Phillip. Rupert knows they're hiding something and he's determined to figure out what it is. Mrs. Wilson (Evanson), the housekeeper, has a crush on Rupert and relates to him how strange the boys have been behaving all day, sending her out all afternoon to shop, moving her beautifully set up table from the dining room to the top of the old chest. It doesn't take him long to determine exactly where David is and devise a plan to confirm his sinking suspicion. Phillip is hysterical when Rupert returns on a false pretense, but Brandon couldn't be happier. Who, after all, than the teacher who exposed them to the idea in the first place, would be more apt to appreciate the brilliance of their dastardly deed? It's too bad for them that Rupert has a conscience and a sense of justice. In the end, they get exactly what's coming to them. What a surprise.
As a stage play, with the right group of actors, I'm sure ROPE is a very enjoyable story. As a film, it just plods along to it's inevitable conclusion with some actors fairing better than others. Stewart is Stewart and could have done this part in his sleep. He and Hitch collaborated with much better results in VERTIGO, REAR WINDOW and THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. I guess they can't all be home runs. As for our lead couple, John Dall and Farley Granger, I have to say they made me believe they were lovers, but weren't very convincing as cold-blooded killers. At least not Granger, who also gives a much better performance for Hitch in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. He's too weak and annoying. As for Dall, he is both charming and despicable, which I guess is what they were shooting for. He certainly gives the most entertaining performance. The other cast members do a decent job with what they're given, but none of them come out very memorable.
As for Hitchcock's experiment, that works much better in REAR WINDOW as well, where he constricts the action to one setting, but keeps the audience guessing until the very end. In this case, Hitchcock is hampered by his restrictions instead of inspired by them. A lackluster story doesn't help. The continuous takes lends a hypnotic feel to the proceedings, but it's more likely to put one to sleep than to excite the senses. The only way I can recommend sitting through this film is if you're watching it for free and you're a huge, huge, huge Hitchcock fan. It does have some of his darkly warped little touches and a bit of suspense here and there, however, not enough to make the experience enjoyable. I won't be rushing out for a repeat viewing.