‘The power to kill can be just as satisfying as the power to create.’
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 picture Rope, still proves to be one of the most brilliantly acted and suspenseful films to date. This tale of two young men, who, as we join the story, strangle their ‘inferior’ classmate, are so enraptured by the idea of a ‘perfect murder’ that they invite their friends and family to a dinner party that very same evening, with the body still hidden inside a chest in the very same room.
John Dall, as Brandon, gives one of the most twisted performances in cinema as he continually pushes the boundaries of this morbid situation: inviting David’s fiancée to the party; moving the food onto the same chest the body lies; and, maybe to his miscalculation, bringing their old teacher Rupert (James Stewart). Phillip (Farley Granger) grows increasingly nervous over their antics and is shown time and time again being unamused by Brandon’s confidence.
The film, based on a play in 1929 Rope’s End, and inspired by the real life murder of Bobby Franks in 1924, all unfolds before us in this one living room in one evening. It shocks me that such a brilliant piece has never been reintroduced onto Broadway or the West End, however it wouldn’t surprise me that it is due to the brilliance of Hitchcock’s work.
Alfred Hitchcock famously stated that suspense stems from the audience being informed and that is no more true than in this production. Our knowledge of this macabre circumstance is what makes the film so incredibly gripping and Brandon’s brash black humour so daring.
James Stewart (who starred in 3 other movies with Hitchcock), presents a fantastic juxtaposition of logic to Brandon’s unusual philosophies on murder. As the evening rolls on and the absence of David draws a worried tone from the other guests, Rupert begins to focus on Brandon’s earlier comments on murder and ‘inferior beings who are unimportant anyway’. The escalation of the suspicions and questions leads us, as the viewers, through a fantastic maze of deceit and interrogation, with Phillip becoming increasingly unable to handle the pressure and attention.
For myself, Rope highlights how timeless a movie can be and how, no matter the developments in effects or scale, we can still discover true quality in earlier works, whilst it’s inspiration from a true story highlights Hitchcock’s view that just ‘a glimpse into the world proves that horror is nothing other than reality’.