This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Handman’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Shooting a film in one continuous shot is an interesting concept, one so momentous that every time it's done it seems to draw attention, as it did for 2014's Birdman. In 1948, it must have seemed impossible. In fact, it was; a single film reel could only capture a little over ten minutes, so most cuts are hidden. A concept like this could make or break a film, but for Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, it seems like an experiment that elevates an otherwise simple affair.
There's a murder. Guests soon arrive to dine with the murderers, will they find out the truth? The continuous nature of the film means it all plays out in real-time (or at least it feels like it does, it's more like 100 minutes condensed into 80), which helps to enhance tension. There's a scene where all the guests are discussing the concept or morality of murder, and the camera lingers with a deep focus through the hallway as the maid clears the chest that hides the murdered. Hitchcock drags this out so long that I was really getting irritated (in a good way), the maid walks all the way down the hall to remove something off the chest, walks all the way back to put it away, and returns to repeat the procedure. This continues on and on until it looks like she's about to open the chest. Except, just as it looks like the crime is about to be discovered, she moves back to the end of the hall. Ugh, I can feel my stomach churning! She returns, about to open the chest. When whoosh, in comes Jimmy Stewart to distract her, the truth obscured for now. Hitchcock loves to tease his audience this way, and I fall for it pretty much every time.
There's another moment that has one of the two murderers sitting at the piano, and Stewart, their mentor, comes along to ask a few questions. As he probes the man for answers, the tempo of the piano increases, mirroring the increased heart rate of the murderer. When Stewart slips, and the murderer realizes he's safer than he thought, the piano's tempo slows, sometimes stops, until Stewart has another question for him. On top of this, Jimmy Stewart fiddles with a metronome, producing an even tempo that pianists look to follow. He even messes with it a little, stopping it at key moments, throwing the murderer off-tempo. This suggests Stewart is not only in control of the tempo, but dominating the conversation in general (and if that isn't enough, he's seated higher than the murderer, giving him an intimidating stature). I suppose this is a basic film school sort of thing, and probably not that subtle, but it helps to establish the characters' relationship with one another without making it too obvious.
However, the characters are somewhat dull. Jimmy Stewart is a highlight, though he'd later say he was miscast, which I don't see as he was the best part. There's a subplot with a girl and her ex-boyfriend, her current boyfriend being the recently deceased. I'm not really one for romantic drama, especially between young people, but this subplot doesn't really seem to go anywhere, serving mostly as a red herring to the murderers' true motive. They don't even use it to frame the ex-boyfriend, which is what you would probably expect, and somewhat odd, really.
And what might that motive be? To prove their old mentor's theories, theories the mentor immediately abandons as soon as he's presented with physical evidence of them. Hmm, his reaction is predictable but somewhat disappointing, and the motive is somewhat nonsensical. Everyone else is just there to be there, with really nothing else going on for them. This is a story between a professor and his two pupils who take things too far; everything else is a distraction, diluting the core story that unfortunately doesn't have too much going on behind the "stunt" cinematography and moments of tension. But, the moments that work, work very well, and looking at it as a "proof-of-concept" film, it is a success.