Rope ★★★★

Finally free from David O. Selznick's iron clutches, Hitchcock creates one of his greatest 'failures' with Rope; a movie known primarily for its self-imposed formal gimmick of being filmed in one apparent uninterrupted take. This is Hitchcock at his mischievous best and while it's not an entirely successful experiment, the seeds of many of his future masterworks are planted here.

It's a testament to Hitch's singular skills that he's able to create such a compelling work without the use of some of his most vital tools. By taking away the ability to use edits and montage, and with limited camera movements, he is stuck telling a story in real-time and has less control over manipulating perspective and point of view. It's insanely impressive that he's still able to generate tension, suspense, and drama without these elements, relying instead on an excellent cast, the thematic strength and daring of the material, and his uncanny ability to tap into the dark side of human psychology.

By showing us the murder that Brandon and Phillip commit at the beginning, Hitchcock removes the element of mystery from the story. As always, he's more interested in generating suspense, but he's also interested in manipulating his audience. Because we have the privileged knowledge of knowing that there's a body in that chest we are now complicit in Brandon and Phillip's crime. Hitchcock implicates us by perspective and association. On a moral level we might not be rooting for them to get away with it, but on a voyeuristic level we are because we know that the movie ends when the chest gets opened.

Dall and Granger are fantastic as Brandon and Phillip. Dall is all cocky bravado and unrestrained id. He gets most of the best lines and bites into them with relish, wonderfully highlighting the dark comedy inherent in the situation and all of the Nietzsche-ian philosophy. Granger has the more difficult role as the introverted and sensitive Phillip. He spends the whole film in a state of discomfort and agitation. Granger's performance is the one that makes the film work as we can empathize with his feelings of guilt and remorse for his actions. Stewart is perhaps the one weak link in the cast, through no fault of his own. He does fine work with a difficult part, but his inherent decency and lack of ambiguity feels wrong for a character who spouts existential philosophy and had an affair with one of his male students. I can't help but think Hitch's first choice of Cary Grant would've been a better fit.

Rope should be remembered for more than its formal contrivances. It is an important work from the Master of Suspense that sees him delving into darker and more macabre aspects of human nature and revealing the consequences of indulging in one's fantasies.

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