Often hailed as the master of the thriller, director Alfred Hitchcock crafts us a simple premise and blends it with a thoroughly investigative hero. Rope shows us two men who intends to find the perfect murder, and to test that they have a dinner party at the very scene where the body is hidden. Cockiness and machismo soon overtake in what is one of Hitchcock’s more subtle and thoroughly enjoyable pieces of film starring James Stewart, Farley Granger and John Dall.
Possibly the greatest benefit of Rope is its simplicity. An ingenious camera display at the time provides fruitful results here for Hitchcock, who presents us with a snide murderer looking to fool his party guests. Often made to look like lengthy takes, the camera will heave itself into the back of any individual for a brief second and then twist back out to face another direction. It’s a smart way of making the film look like it’s all in one fluid motion, but the cuts become more and more obvious as the film goes on. If anything, the wow factor of this wears thin by the end of the movie, with Hitchcock becoming frequently predictable.
Luckily though we have some engaging performances to carry us through the running time. James Stewart gives yet another strong performance in an earlier Hitchcock pairing. We’re given a well-rounded role to analyse how well Stewart plays with the do-no-evil leading man. Provided with some decent dialogue and the ability to craft a strong performance from the reaction of others, he reaches new heights when on screen with Farley Granger in their brief interrogation scenes.
No other cast member really stands out though. Aside from Stewart and some decent enough chemistry between Granger and Dall as the two plucky murderers, the rest of the cast are just meat in the room. The quantity of people Phillip (Granger) and Brandon (Dall) fool is far greater than the quality of them. We’re shown their characteristics within the very first moment, and from there we don’t have any other developments. Phillip regrets his actions; Brandon is thrilled with them. The expectedly cliché dynamic plays off well on one another, riffing for the majority of the film, but it becomes tiresome and boring rather soon. Throwing Stewart into the mix is a great help.
What makes Rope a standout piece here though is the experimentation of real time. Strongly influencing the ill forgotten Running Time starring Bruce Campbell, Rope manages to give us an early example of how camera tricks and long, unbroken takes can make a film look incredible. Experimentation of this variety doesn’t often offer up great dealings, but with Rope it certainly feels engaging enough to work.
The tropes and awkward niceties of a dinner party are played off well in Hitchcock’s late 40s thriller, but I can’t help but wonder what it would’ve been like with a stronger twist. In his later career, Hitchcock was no stranger to subverting our expectations. It’s a far-flung idea, but the hero of our tale cracking the case in the last brief moments just isn’t entertaining anymore. The build-up to the big revelation is far superior to that of the reveal itself. Nothing stands out as incredible, it’s merely good. A short and sweet affair that makes for light viewing in the predictable thriller category.