Rope is easily my second favorite Hitchcock film. Like Psycho it possesses an unease throughout its runtime. Unlike Psycho, which the unease is due to all the information you don’t have, Rope has no mystery. The murder opens the film. We witness the sociopathic activity of a dinner party in which Brandon and Phillip invite family and friends of the deceased to continually showcase their so-called moral superiority.
It’s fitting that Hitchcock chose this particular play to adapt and this particular film adaptation to try something innovative. Rope gives the appearance that it’s one continuous take. It’s not, but the way it’s disguised doesn’t take away from the suspense. A recurring visual motif is that of the string. Showing that one’s time is running out. We see it with Louis Bernard in the original version of The Man Who Knew Too Much. We see it again with Fry’s sleeve at the end of Saboteur. Hitchcock expands this motif to the visual style of the film. The film is the rope. It tightens metaphorically around the necks of Brandon and Phillip like the physical rope they used on David Kentley. However, movies, like ropes, have ends. And it’s only a matter of time before their lives are over.
Much has been discussed for decades on the film’s homosexual subtext. I’ve seen the film so many times, I’ve come to see it almost as text. At the very least there’s so much sexuality that present just in the opening scene. There’s the murder. Following you have Brandon lighting a cigarette. Phillip asks can they just stay here for just a moment after the act. Phillip asks Brandon at one point how did it make him feel? Brandon responds by saying he couldn’t feel anything at first, but as the victim’s body went limp, he got a sudden rush. I wonder was the film implying Brandon’s impotence? There’s a moment that I think confirms this when he’s stroking the neck of a bottle of champagne and is having trouble getting it open and Phillip takes it an opens it easily. For a film from 1948, Hitchcock really puts these themes on display. I really think people realized it then and just chose not to say anything. It’s really one of his more frank instances of sex in his work other than Psycho and Marnie.
Rope is also a film about class and how easy it is to corrupt a mind when you present ideas that shouldn’t be in public consciousness. David is murdered because Brandon and Phillip took to heart the words of their teacher played by James Stewart. The idea that murder is an art that should be allowed by the few exceptional people in the world. Towards the end we do learn that Stewart’s Rupert Cadell while speaking on it, would not act upon it, but the damage is done. He’s played a role in the death of a young man. During the dinner the characters get into a heated argument about this theory. The sensible reasoning comes from David’s father played by Sir Cedric Hardwicke. Brandon showcases his contempt for those he deems lower than him. When the point is made that his views are similar to that of Hitler, he tries to brush it off as they were just brainless murderers, but he’s so sophisticated he’s above the pointlessness of fascism. I though it a smart choice to have Hardwicke, an actor I always felt possessed a high class air, take the reasonable and humane position. Rope displays how easy it is for these types of theories to permeate the mind of those who have certain feelings and how quick and easy they can be acted upon.
Rope is a film I can never get enough of. Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest would all mostly be put ahead of this and there’s good reason to. However Rope remains a favorite for packing so much substance into an apartment in the city. There so much on display and it manages all of this in 80 minutes.