Saturday, March 25, 2006

Give Two Men Enough Rope and They'll Strangle Their Friend With It.

Hitch Part 4 0f 15

Alfred Hitchcocks Rope was an experiment, an attempt at putting a one set play on film, it is something that Hitch would do again six years later with Dial M for Murder, only then with less rigidity and to more success. Based on Patrick Hamilton's play 'Ropes End' and inspired by the famous Leopold & Loeb case of the 1920's, Rope was both Hitchcocks first color film as well as first of four memorable collaborations with actor James Stewart. This technically innovative dark comedy was staged like a theatrical play, only filmed in 8-minute takes to accommodate the capacity of the cameras. I have seen this movie quite a few times and while it runs 80 minutes I can still only notice about 4-to-5 cuts.

Rope concerns two 'intellectual' young men, Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger, whom Hitch would use again three years later as the lead in Strangers on a Train), who kill their friend David with the titular instrument out of a sense of being superior and to see if they could get away with it. This murder takes place in their apartment just before a party they are hosting which is to be attended by the deceased father, girlfriend and best friend, among others. For added effect Brandon choses to serve their company dinner on top of the old chest in which they are temporally storing Davids body. Stewart enters the picture as the boys boarding school headmaster Rupert Cadell, a disciple of Nietzsche who through his teachings is indirectly responsible for the boys act (this applies to both Nietzsche and Rupert). Starting out as a darkly comic suspense film it gradually shifts into a philosophical detective story as Rupert begins to figure out whats going and to regret the part he played in leading the boys to commit murder.

Not a big success when it first came out Rope is now considered both an oddity and a classic, and is like no other film of its time. In addition to all its technical and performance achievements the films writing is a definite stand-out. While the treatment was by Hume Cronyn and some additional dialogue was provided by the great Ben Hecht, the bulk of the screenplay was written by Arthur Lauvents, who in the companion documentary to the film has his own theories as to why this movie was not originally successful. First off he faults the casting of James Stewart, who although very good in the film is not completely credible as the type of character he is suppose to be playing. Secondly Lauvents says that the films homosexual undertones scared off audiences (insert own Brokeback Mountain joke here). Apparently both the British stage play from which the film was taken, as well as the perpetrators of the original crime that inspired it were fairly blatantly homosexual. This is not something I noticed the first time I viewed the film, being then so caught up in the story, but further viewing has reveled this subtext to be there albeit very subtly. If this was indeed intentionally the case on the part of the screenwriter it should be noted that the gay characters seem much more politically correct then most offered on film today. Indeed the 'gay' charictatur most commonly offered in current media portals of homosexuals is no where near as sophisticated as the portraits offered here, which stand up on their own as characters not merely as token representations of their 'orientation'. Current screen writers should note that ideologically driven portrayals of any group, Gay, Mormon, Black, or what have you are not that interesting. Give us real characters and the audience is much more likely to go further with them then when presented with a cookie-cutter stereotype. Rope was indeed very ahead of its time, in some ways even beyond today.

Lastely I'd just like to add that those who have seen the film before might enjoy the original theatrical trailer included on the DVD. This trailer contains a sort of 'prolog' scene of Janet and Davids last visit together before his death. Here you actually get to hear David talk and gain more of a sense of his character, you also kind of understand why Brandon and Phillip though he was so inferior. Also Ironic is that this film marks the last role for the actor who played David, Dick Hogan.


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