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  Rope The Art Of Murder
Year: 1948
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Joan Chandler, Cedric Hardwicke, Constance Collier, Douglas Dick, Edith Evanson, Dick Hogan
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: David Kentley has died. Just this second, actually, after being drugged to make him docile and strangled with a rope to kill him off for good. His murderers are two of his college chums, Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger), and they did not execute him because they hated him, or because of any bad behaviour on his part, but because they considered him inferior and themselves superior. It is the right of the superior to be allowed to kill those beneath their intellectual capacities, that is what these two young men believe, and to make this more of a game, they're about to stage an audacious stunt...

Which is what director Alfred Hitchcock viewed Rope as, for he originally wanted to render it all in one complete, feature length take. The technology of 1948 was not quite up to that level of acheivement, so he came up with a better idea, by making the takes he did shoot as long as possible and editing them together by hidden cuts, with the more dramatic beats carried out with more obvious cuts. Naturally this drove his actors somewhat loopy as they tried to remember their lines, hit their marks and not trip over the sets, equipment and stagehands, with the effect that the whole cast look as if they're concentrating very hard.

Which makes the whole film seem very artificial, of course, which you will either appreciate, as after all how many Hitchcock films are dedicatedly true to life? or reject as being too staid for what is supposed to be a slow build up of nailbiting tension. Slow it certainly is, therefore you may be surprised after watching it to see how short it has been because it feels a lot longer, partly due to the woozy, roving camerwork and partly due to the muted acting from too many performers. Only Dall seizes his chances, which will have you wishing he had a more extensive filmography than he did, as his louche and decadent upstart could not be more different from his other cult classic turn in Gun Crazy from a couple of years later.

Brandon is the more domineering of the killers, and it has taken the act of murder to wake Phillip up to the terrible choices he has made, as he disintegrates emotionally before our eyes. The body has been hidden in a chest that takes pride of place in the living room, and to make things edgier, a get-together has been arranged with a handful of those who knew David and are now expecting him to join them, which he sort of already has only he won't be cracking many jokes over the champagne. Among those guests are his father (Cedric Hardwicke) who is marked out as the conscience that the boys do not have, and their old headmaster, Rupert (James Stewart), from whom they took their Nietzschean values and is smugly confident in his untested ideals and prejudices.

There's nothing like murder to wake you up from that kind of thing, and Rupert cottons on to what is happening over the course of the evening. We can tell that it's growing close to dusk because our attention keeps wandering to the ingenious cityscape set outside the windows, which darkens as night falls, mostly because you're hoping to spot the sign which makes up one of Hitchcock's famed cameo appearances. There's an oddly dreamlike quality to Rope thanks to its essential unreality, in spite of it being reputedly based on the infamous, real life Leopold and Loeb case - although it should be pointed out that the author of the original play, Patrick Hamilton, disputed that and said he had begun writing it before that grim instance actually occured. That unconvincing nature is only assisted by the lofty notions that it is attempting to put across in the final stages, as if this story was as much an academic exercise as the killing, though with sterner morality. Call it an interesting experiment.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Alfred Hitchcock  (1899 - 1980)

Hugely influential British director, renowned as "The Master of Suspense" for his way with thrillers. His first recognisably Hitchcockian film was The Lodger, but it was only until Blackmail (the first British sound film) that he found his calling. His other 1930s films included a few classics: Number Seventeen, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Secret Agent, Sabotage, The Lady Vanishes, Young and Innocent and Jamaica Inn.

Producer David O. Selznick gave Hitchcock his break in Hollywood directing Rebecca, and he never looked back. In the forties were Suspicion, thinly veiled propaganda Foreign Correspondent, the single set Lifeboat, Saboteur, Notorious, Spellbound (with the Salvador Dali dream sequence), Shadow of a Doubt (his personal favourite) and technician's nightmare Rope.

In the fifties were darkly amusing Strangers on a Train, I Confess, Dial M for Murder (in 3-D), rare comedy The Trouble with Harry, Rear Window, a remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, To Catch a Thief, the uncharacteristic in style The Wrong Man, the sickly Vertigo, and his quintessential chase movie, North By Northwest. He also had a successful television series around this time, which he introduced, making his distinctive face and voice as recognisable as his name.

The sixties started strongly with groundbreaking horror Psycho, and The Birds was just as successful, but then Hitchcock went into decline with uninspired thrillers like Marnie, Torn Curtain and Topaz. The seventies saw a return to form with Frenzy, but his last film Family Plot was disappointing. Still, a great career, and his mixture of romance, black comedy, thrills and elaborate set pieces will always entertain. Watch out for his cameo appearances in most of his films.

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