Rope ★★★★

Alfred Hitchcock once said something about how an explosion will give audiences a fright but showing a ticking bomb under the chair of some unsuspecting potential victim would have them on edge right up until the explosion. I'm paraphrasing but I remember the essence of his message. He liked to scare people, but he equally enjoyed making them tense.

Rope starts with a murder, committed by Phillip (Farley Granger) and Brandon (John Dall). The body is hidden in a chest and, for the rest of the movie, there it stays while the two murderers host a small dinner party, all the while hoping that nobody suspects that they're sharing a room with a hidden corpse. The one person who may suspect is Rupert Cadell (James Stewart), an old schoolteacher they believe would actually enjoy their whole plan. Of course, they cannot tell him what they have done. The only thing they can do is enjoy watching Cadell mull over how strange the evening is.

As famous for the way it was shot as for the content, Rope is a film unfairly viewed by some (including Hitchcock himself, and I should mention that it was he who directed it) as nothing more than a gimmicky experiment. There's no denying that the lengthy takes, the logistics of how every shot was set out, and the manipulation of the main environment (including a wonderful display showing the city skyline turning from day to night), is technically impressive, but that's only part of the reason to enjoy the film. The script, by Arthur Laurents (from a play by Patrick Hamilton), is a lot of fun, allowing viewers to watch two nasty individuals grow increasingly edgy as their own arrogance starts to bite them on the backside.

Granger is the more agitated of the pair, tense from the very beginning and only getting worse when alcohol is added to the mix. Dall gets to have more fun, unflappable throughout, even as it looks more and more unlikely that their "perfect crime" will be discovered. Stewart, despite the fact that he didn't think himself suited to this role, is his usual good self, a smart and sophisticated man who is equally happy chatting to the other guests as he is joking with the maid (Edith Evanson). Joan Chandler and Douglas Dick are both enjoyable enough as the other, younger, guests, and both Cedrick Hardwicke and Constance Collier are very good as the two older attendees, with Collier a particular delight.

Although it would be easy to confuse Rope with the attitudes of the two main characters - smug, self-absorbed, interested in creating something audacious and impressive just for the same of being able to say it was done - I think it holds up as a fine piece of thrilling cinema. Few other films spend the entire runtime showing you that ticking bomb under the chair. This one does, and to great effect. The ticking bomb just happens to be in the shape of a stashed corpse.