Two Cineasts’s review published on Letterboxd:
A "BIRDMAN" LIKE CINEMATOGRAPHY WITH THE IDEA OF "THE PURGE"
Hi everybody, first I want to sent a decoration of love to the master himself, Hitchcock. With every film I watch more of his repertoire I'm a bigger fan. In the meanwhile he rised up to be favorite director really close above Sergio Leone, Denis Villineuve and Christopher Nolan. Like we wrote in our previous reviews "Torn Curtain" and "The Trouble with Harry", Hitchcock is so versatile, and had used that to create groundbraking films, technical and storywise. Yeah sure similar films like this and others are existing today, but Hitchcock had laid the foundation, decades ago, often as the first one. Hitchcock is for me a visionary in the medium film, as he created new ways of storytelling and effects that we see in every movie today.
Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) not only planned the perfect murder they already finished with this kind of "art". The reason was simple to kill for excitement and joy with the attitude of "why not?" Both hosting a dinner party where the body is hidden in the chest they use as dinner table. Nobody will expect a dead man there, right?
Rope was adapted from Patrick Hamilton's 1929 play with the same name. Said play inturn based on the "Leopold and Loeb" case in 1925. Both students believed in Nietzsches theory of the "Supermen" and considered themselves as one. "Supermen" superiority of intellect exempt them from laws that govern the rest of us. So the young men killed a third one for the thrill and kick like in the movie. Even if Hitchcock never denied or discussed that the film is based on that case it's obvious.
"Good and evil, right and wrong were invented for the ordinary average man, the inferior man, because he needs them."
(John Dall as Brandon Shaw)
So besides the summary I had originally no clue what I was getting myself into and that we have here Hitchcocks only intimate play. The first 5 minutes seemed pretty normal as I slowly noticed that there was no cut up to this point. I heard once of a Hitchcock movie which was (you can probably say once again) far ahead of his time, with a similar cinematography as "Birdman". The entire time "Rope" is a mix of a normal intimate play, playing in one room or apartment, with the camera rides of "Birdman". I finally found him and as the first "invisible" cut takes it's place I was fully excited.
It's simple but genius: The camera zooms in the back of someone until the screen is black for one second and zooms immediately out. The camera does that in a swipe to the side in action so it feels even relative natural. Like you watch slowly to the side and in the movement you focus a certain point and go on then. Clearly you can see this cut and today it's not such a big deal then back in 1948. Hitchcock wanted to hide the cuts completely what obviously not really worked out, but that's not a shame because the film feels like a theater play and looks thanks to the idea like it too. But not only the technical aspect is tremendous also the actors performances who can't afford a mistake for round about 10 minutes unless they wanted to shoot the scene again. The film reeles simply had only capacity for 10 minutes. I tried to count the cuts but missed seemingly a few, actually there are 10 cuts in the entire movie. Hitchcock effectively maskes half of the cuts. The effort that was necessary to give you the impression of a stage play was huge. And Hitchcock wanted to make a movie like a stage play for a very long time. Finally after he started his own company "Transatlantic Pictures" he created this film the most experimental one he should ever do. Everything you not see in the picture was continuesly moved, the walls on wheels, the furniture, even the cables on the ground. Perfect timing was needed, the actors themselves said after it they never knew when they sit down if the chair may be still there. It is nearly like a choreography. Everyone had to know their place and timing or 10 minutes were gone. The actors had to kept a carefully to that choreography. Therefore almost no editing is available and no noteworthy effects too. The entire film was shot in this single set. The cyclorama in the background was extraordinary and the largest ever used on soundstage. It was pictured so detailed that neon signs light up, smoke is coming from the roof and the sunset slowly unfolds in the movie progress. The camera was very sensitive and everything had to submit to the camera even the costumes were not aloud to be glaring. Overall the stagehands were probably the most important factor by filming "Rope".
"I've always wished for more artistic talent. Well, murder can be an art, too. The power can be just as satisfying as the power to create."
(John Dall as Brandon Shaw)
Let's talk about the characters and the two murders. Once we have the supercilious Brandon Shaw portrayed by John Dall. There is one particular scene that I can't delete out of my mind. He swings a major speech infront off the assemble characters and Dall performs it so passionately I really believed him. The character couldn't get enlightened better by sharing his conviction in such a way. He has an argument so hard he don't allows a different opinion because he's so convinced to be right, everyone knows that. But his radical believes are truly disgusting, but this kind of people existed and will always exist. Murder another person and get away with it too just to feed the own intellectual vanity is a amoral stunt. This is not the place to open a discussion but it brings discussion potential for days on a psychology and philosophy level. The way he is humiliating the victim also after death let the character appear even more cruel. The more sensitive Phillip is his friend and heavily implied lover too. Everything said about Brandon is also true for Phillip besides he feels at least some sort of guilty, what we absolutely miss with Brandon. Both are absolutely convincing in what they are doing. Phillip on the other hand is more empathic and feels the morally reprehensibility of eating on a chest that represents a coffin. Every Hitchcock film has this mostly macabre moments. The piano play from Farley Grangers character fits perfectly in the atmosphere of this cynical tone.
James Stewart on the other hand is the one who has a major part in Brandon and Phillips evolution to take responsibility for. He was the teacher of both who announced the theory of Nietzsches "Supermen" to them and has a share of ruin them. You feel literally how uncomfortable Stewart and his character Rupert Cadell feel. But is it just good acting? As mentioned above there are homosexual trends in this film. To be more explicitly, both protagonist are gay and their former teacher in the is actually supposed to be too, like in the original play. The play it based on portrays all explicit as homosexual even though it was a highly controversial theme in that time. The film however never mention anything and the crew behind the project called the topic homosexuality only "it". Nobody felt comfortable with that, but it's also because of the "National Legion of Decency" that forbid only to adress this kind of topic. So great actors like Cary Grant who should have played the teacher and Montgomery Clift as one of the murders turned the roles down according to Hitchcock because they didn't want to identify with "it". "Rope" feels like the dark shadow of "Rear Window", we know exactly what sickness happened and the question is how long can we bear to look at it? Hitchcock always wanted his audience to suffer and it works quite well here.
"The good americans usually die young on the battlefield, don't they? Well, the Davids of the world merely occupy space, which is why he the perfect victim for the perfect crime."
(John Dall as Brandon Shaw)
The little nuances and allusions are making the film so great besides the technic. The characterization of every figur with an eye for the details is tremendously well written. Even though some actually have only a few lines to say, that lines were chosen so well that you have the feeling to know the characters and their behaviors. Decisions like to never show the mother of David, the victim, but to explain their relationship with only through dialogue of the others. You never see the mother and only 5 seconds of the son but have a good idea of both. Unfortunately Hitchcock interfered that plan and shows the murder in the first seconds. Arthur Laurents the screenwriter said and only agree with it, the dramaturgy would be very more tensional if you would not know there is a corpse in the chest or not. There are no effects to mention and almost no editing at all.
"Rope" is Hitchcocks most experimental and unfortunately one of the most underrated, but it laid the foundation for further movies. For instance "Birdman" created exactly that feeling of a stage play with invisible cuts that Hitchcock intended to do 60 years ago. The technology was not enough then but Hitchcock did something never done before, with this long unbroken scenes. It's a shame that this method is so rarely used overall. Besides of the groundbreaking technical aspect, the movie deals with the topic "superior people" and the different personalitys very refined and creates a intimate play absolutely worth to watch. I personaly focused more on the technical facets, the long takes, and the perspectives of the camera and the colors it provides. Murders in most movies are usually about the motive not about the consequences. Inspired by a real-life murder "Rope" rejects every formula of normal and often seen crime film. After all this unique movie provides a very suspense atmosphere and is a absolute recommendation for every fan of the genre and the interest on the highly fascinating technical experiment with the continues flow.