Rope ★★★★½

After all, murder is - or should be - an art. Not one of the 'seven lively', perhaps, but an art nevertheless. And, as such, the privilege of committing it should be reserved for those few who are really superior individuals.
-Rupert Cadell

Known as one of the "5 Lost Hitchcocks" along with The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rear Window, Vertigo and The Trouble with Harry. It's hard to imagine in an age where you can find almost any film you can think of in multiple forms of media, but these five films were taken out of circulation by Alfred Hitchcock himself for 10-25 years (depending on which film you're speaking of). While some hadn't seen the light of day since the early 60s, none of them were shown in theaters or television from the early 70s until they were rereleased in 1983. The only way to see them in that time period was by finding an art house that was showing an illegal print.

Rope was Hitchcock's first color film and it was based on a play of the same name (later renamed Rope's End when it hit Broadway). I always marvel at the things Hitch would do with the camera in his earlier films. He was a visionary and ahead of his time, always accomplishing things that technology hadn't caught up to yet. Rope is the best example of this as he wanted to do something that was technically impossible. Hitchcock was a rare director that not only understood all the artistic elements of filmmaking, but he also knew the technical aspects like the back of his hand. That might be the reason he always pushed the boundaries of what a camera could do and taking what was considered impossible as opportunity instead of a roadblock.

He wanted to make a film that was a continuous flow from beginning to end as if it was all one long shot. From a technological standpoint what he wanted to do was already impossible for the simple fact that a canister of film only lasts a little over 10 minutes. So instead of one 80 minute uninterrupted shot, we get 10 shots ranging from 5 to 10 minutes in length with the cuts being disguised. An example of this would be someone passing in front of the camera obscuring the entire picture. He would do his cut there and the scene would continue from the exact same position as if nothing had happened. While it becomes obvious where the cuts happen, it ends up being artistic regardless. The flow isn't broken and it still accomplishes what he had set out to do.

That wasn't the only hurdle however. While the film takes place entirely in an apartment, the camera does not remain static. It moves from room to room, over furniture, through doorways for various different shots. While such things aren't anything revolutionary today, what people don't realize is that the first Technicolor movie cameras were ridiculously huge monstrosities. The camera itself was cumbersome enough as it is to move around, it's impossible for it to be moved over furniture and it wouldn't fit through conventional doorways. So when watching this film, you don't realize it, but stage hands had to quickly move furniture out and back in of shots while the camera moved. The doorways? They had to move the walls without it being noticed on camera.

Now this sort of "one shot" film has been done since with today's technology enabling a real one-shot film to be made. The problem is that none of them are memorable. While some might call what Hitchcock accomplished here a "gimmick", the difference is that Rope is memorable because there's an actual great film made with this "gimmick". The continuous flow and illusion that it all takes place in real time is a tool for the suspense of the picture. There is nothing that enters the frame of a Hitchcock film that wasn't meant to be there, and the entire film is an excellent example of this.

It's also very much a performance driven film and Hitchcock always got the best out of his actors. John Dall is ridiculously sinister as Brandon. The character thrives on being intellectually and morally superior to everyone. The moments where he is so pleased with himself that he can barely contain it are amazing to watch. Farley Granger probably gives one of the best performances of his career as Brandon's not-so-subtle life partner Phillip. The subtext of their homosexual relationship is so obvious that I'm not sure it should even be called a subtext. How this was made in 1948 I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps the fact that the characters are played as real people instead of caricatures fooled the censors.

James Stewart gives an incredibly entertaining performance as well. He plays against type here as the character of Rupert Cadell, a morally ambiguous man in his own right. He's a man that seems to enjoy attention, and likes to make statements either to get a rise out of people or to prove his intellectual superiority as well. He's also incredibly charming at the same time to disarm any animosity towards himself and is obviously very self-aware of all these facts. After being reminded that he was Brandon and Phillip's former professor their moral standings suddenly take shape. It's a performance that manages to create a complex character while remaining simple on the surface.

Being a Hitchcock film you already expect the rest of the cast to be populated by interesting characters complete with just as interesting dialogue and you would not be disappointed by that assumption. There is no part in a Hitchcock picture, no matter how small, that is not important. My favorites from the supporting cast are Cedric Hardwicke as the quaint Mr. Kentley and the gossipy housekeeper Mrs. Wilson played by Edith Evanson.

While Hitchcock dismissed the film after unfavorable reviews as a "failed experiment", I think he was simply too much ahead of his time. The performances are too captivating to be dismissed and the confines of how the film was made have a direct effect on that. The slow-burning suspense is too excellently paced to be dismissed and it fully utilizes the "gimmick" at hand to accomplish it. Finally the morality tale and it's consequences are too perfectly told in this setting for any of it to be dismissed as a failure, it is quite the opposite. An incredible technical achievement in filmmaking while giving us an incredibly engrossing thriller.

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