Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Cutting Edges: "Rope" - A Film Review

Fig 1: Film Poster

A highly tense film drenched in suspense, and openly portrays morbidly sadistic actions, Alfred Hitchcock's “Rope” (1948) is either thoroughly enjoyed by many or brushed off as unsatisfactory by others. 
It is based on the 1929 play (of the same name) by Patrick Hamilton, which, just like the film, is played out continuously.

Fig 2: The murder

“Rope” tells the story of two homosexual gentlemen (see Fig 2) execute the strangulation and murder of a fellow classmate; both inspired by the philosophy of Nietzchain superiority that they learned in college.  In a sly move, Hitchcock tampers at the audiences hearts to feel for the father of the murder victim, as Fernando Croce explains: As the guests are entertained by Brandon and Rupert’s morbid jesting, Hitchcock gently pans right to reveal the dead boy’s father (Cedric Hardwicke) looking out the window as he waits for the son we know is never coming” (Croce, 2006)

Fig 3: Cautious killers: Phillip and Brandon

The movie induces anxiety and a feeling of being on edge as Phillip and Brandon do as they conduct the party. These emotions, however, are shown in a clever way as the steady and slow camera movement mean calm and connectedness, much like Brandon's emotions for the majority of the film,where as a fast paced camera and movement would show more nervousness and desperation and would be leaning towards a horror movie. A notable point is that action is only shown right at the beginning and end of the film, and this sort of closes the full circle of events in “Rope”. The actions being the murder at the beginning and then the closure of the apartments bloody secret being exposed as the window is opened, gunshots are fired and Brandon and Phillip accept their downfall as sirens blare.

Coming back to the experimental continuous shot Hitchcock used, during the time of release it was not fully appreciated as it would be today. Here, Bosley Crowther explains the disappointment of the continuous camera movement in a review done in 1948: “one must bluntly observe that the method is neither effective nor does it appear that it could be.” (Crowther, 1948).

Figs 4 and 5: day and night

The shots actually give the illusion that is was filmed in one take; at certain points, the camera is cut as it zooms into the back of a character to show a pitch black, and then fades back in as if the camera had just passed an obstacle, and thus “sustaining the illusion that no editing has taken place.”(S.D) Seen now, it is truly a masterful technique. Aiding the feel of the film being shot all at once, the panoramic view of the city is shown to graduate from day to night during the course of the film (Figs 4 and 5). 

As stated before, two college men murder a fellow classmate. As they stuff his body into an antique chest, the two host a small party and invite the murder victims (David Kently) friends and family, and they unknowingly dine in the same room as Davids dead body, adding to this sense of morbidness. During the course of the film, Brandon and Phillip slowly approach the topic of murder and make light and suggestive remarks of what they have done:  As the guests wander obliviously around the sealed chest, the killers make snippy, veiled comments about their deed--never going so far as to reveal the existence of the body nor their involvement in the murder.”(S.D) Rupert Cadell, the school housemaster who first discussed murder with the two men is the first to have suspicions of Brandon and Phillips behavior. The audience can see a rapid loss of composure within Phillip as his hair becomes frazzled, he becomes more and more drunk and the guests (see Fig 6) keep asking if he’s okay. Brandon on the other hand keeps collected much more, and keeps reassuring Phillip. Crowther also analyses these characters behaviors: “In the role of the more cold-blooded killer, John Dall does a hard, aggressive job of making this unpleasant fellow supremely contemptible, and Farley Granger is tangibly wretched as the less ecstatic one. “ (Crowther, 1948). As the guests leave, Brandon closes the door and smiles a sigh of relief, however, Rupert comes back to alleviate his suspicions.He finally opens the chest and is in shock at the sight of David, and he can’t believe the two carried out what they had discussed. In a climatic ending, justice is served as Rupert bursts open the window, fires three gunshots and waits for the police to take the criminals.

Fig 6: The guests

A notable scene is near the end of the feature, where the camera departs from the characters and seemingly moves around on its own, looking at object to object as Rupert describes how we would’ve gotten rid of David. Another is the high tension scene of the maid cleaning the top of the chest and opening it slightly, and the audience believes its all over for Brandon and Phillip; this scene enthralls suspense even more. Lastly, the presence of the neon lights of a nearby sign adds to the visualization of the inner chaos going on inside the murders minds: for example, the red hue shows anger and death, then when it changes to green (see Fig 7 below), it shows the sickly feeling of unbearable anxiety.

Fig 7: Climatic ending: a green hue
Lastly, Phillip and Brandon were gay, but this was not explicitly shown as for the time of release, it would not be accepted at all, however there are some scenes of Brandon and Phillip getting very close, thus showing sexual tension on top of the other anxieties.

A masterclass in suspense and longing for the characters to catch the bad guys in their tracks, “Rope” is certainly a film not to be missed. 

Croce, F. (2006) Slantmagazine.com (Accessed on 12/01/2016) http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/rope
Crowther, B. (1948) nytimes.com (Accessed on 12/01/2016) http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=980DE3D81630E03BBC4F51DFBE668383659EDE
S.D, mrqe.com (Accessed on 12/01/2016) http://www.mrqe.com/movie_reviews/rope-m100009719

Illustration List 
Fig 1: "Film poser" (Accessed on 12/01/2016) https://filmbalaya.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/tm1_642.jpg
Fig 3: "Cautious killers: Phillip and Brandon" (Accessed on 12/01/2016) http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v348/siochembio/movies%201940s/rope1.jpg
Fig 4 and 5: "Day and night" (Accessed on 12/01/2016) http://hitchcockzone.com/1000/Rope%20%281948%29/0043.jpg 
Fig 6: "The guests" (Accessed on 12/01/2016) http://www.cinemagraphe.com/_movies/rope-1948/rope-photo-1948.jpg