Rope – Alfred Hitchcock (1948)

One of Hitchcock’s most experimental films, Rope contains all the ingredients that came to define his mid period but at the same time seems weirdly at odds with them.  The first thing to note about this rather twisted affair is its composition.  Unlike pretty much any other Hitchcock film, the shots are extremely long in length giving it the feel of a stage play.  This of course natural with it being based on Patrick Hamilton’s play yet it could have easily have been made in similar vein to Rear Window or Vertigo.  However, Rope veers from the path of the typical Hitchcock and enters the sort of territory that Béla Tarr consistently inhabits; real time length in scenes that engulfs and traps the viewer in whatever world seems fit.

Rope follows the dinner party of two old classmates, Brandon and Philip.  Opening with them committing a murder by strangulation with rope, the narrative follows their party, which they hold straight after the killing as a dénouement to their actions.  Hiding the body of the victim in a chest where they place their buffet, the two men are determined to put themselves in danger of being caught, becoming addicted to the thrill of the murder.  This is further added to by inviting the victims parents, the woman who loved him and the woman’s ex boyfriend who Brandon, the more sadistic of two, is determined to match make.  John Dall and Farley Granger are magnificent as the two higher men who are hinted at being homosexual, giving the film a timeless and modern feel, allowing it to age extremely well.

What makes this film so compelling and disturbing is the deliciously macabre dialogue that verges on almost sexual ecstasy when discussing the murder. There’s no specific reason for the men’s actions such as money or revenge.  It’s a simple power play of two men, adamant on feeling superior to their fellow man born out beliefs instilled into them at when younger and this is what makes it so subtly horrific.

More than any other Hitchcock film, it looks into the academic side of philosophy and psychology.  The narrative looks into the actions of these men by using Nietzsche’s Ubermensch theory as justification and puts it to the test.  Defending the belief that was twisted by the Nazi’s to excuse genocide, Brandon brings up the subject in front of David’s parents, trying to justify his and Philip’s actions to them, even though they’re completely unaware of what’s gone on.  However these beliefs haven’t sprung from just anywhere.

The final guest to the party is their old school master played masterly by James Stewart. He’s at first blasé about his views on murder, which are that they can be committed by the select few, pushing it into the boundary of fine art.  He’s unaware of the subjectability of his students who have clearly taken these views to heart when younger and put them into the most despicable of practices.  Brandon has literally lived his old school masters ideals to the very limit and has shown them to be simply evil.  Not only does Rope attack the justification of eugenics and most ideas of the super race shared by all sorts of fascism, it also defends Nietzsche’s original view and shame’s the cold, harsh logic of the true evil that twists it for its own purposes.

This heavy, philosophical film is the most underrated and dense of Hitchcock’s work. Examining traits that are still uncomfortably present within our society today, it is a far more disturbing experience than transvestite murderers and hoards of vicious birds can ever provide.

Adam Scovell

3 thoughts on “Rope – Alfred Hitchcock (1948)

  1. “More than any other Hitchcock film, it looks into the academic side of philosophy and psychology.” But do you think it works? To me it falls apart like the end of Psycho when Hitchcock overexplains it at the end, or in spellbound when it is all just overexplained and the dream sequence can’t do it’s subtle work . . .

    1. I definitely think it works. Whereas Psycho does seem to over explain its premise, Rope hints at it all the way through and the Nietzschian aspects aren’t explained in a droll way but instead argued against by Jimmy Stewart’s character, which handily explains it for anyone who hasn’t read the philosopher’s work but not in a way that seems tagged on like Spellbound of Psycho,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s