Thursday, September 19, 2013
Eight years of faithful service to Hollywood apparently drove Alfred Hitchcock to the experimentation of Rope, his first self-produced feature. Drawn from the Leopold and Loeb case, the film’s plot is very much Hitchcock in black comic mode: two bright young men murder a college chum, stash the corpse in a trunk and then invite the dead man’s friends and family over for fine dining and innuendo (every second line of dialogue is laden with morbid double entendres). But the stylistic conceit—the entire film consists of 10 shots stitched together to look like one long take—marks it as a key inflection point in the director’s career. Rope would serve as a corrective to the disappointing commercial and critical failure of The Paradine Case, much like how the low-budget experimentation of Psycho years later was partly spurred by the unfortunate reception of Vertigo. Even if it doesn’t qualify as major Hitchcock, the film remains a tribute to his willful perversity and restless creativity.
John Dall and Farley Granger work reasonably well as the ambiguously gay duo—the ultra-smarmy Dall is particularly fine in his role as an arrogant young killer—but Jimmy Stewart would do better work for Hitchcock than his performance here as Rupert, a rather unlikely fount of Nietzschean wisdom. When Stewart speaks of offing people to get better tickets for the theatre, his winking manner turns the entire speech into a tongue-in-cheek provocation from someone’s eccentric uncle. Confronted by the persuasive power of this philosophy, he renounces his ideas with almost inexplicable vehemence. Who knew he actually believed this stuff all along? I assumed he was just making conversation. The bemused tone Stewart brings to the film is at odds with the darker undercurrents of the story, where murder becomes a sublimated sexual act for the repressed killers. After strangling their victim, the pair slump into a post-coital haze, with Dall smoking languidly as Granger whimpers, “Can we just stay like this for a while?” I guess he wants to cuddle?