Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Rope (1948)



Livia and I were talking about the Leopold and Loeb case the other day, because there was a reference to it on a TV show we were watching, and when I mentioned this movie to her, she said she thought she’d never seen it. So I said we ought to remedy that. But when we started watching it, I realized that I had described a completely different movie to her! I had gotten ROPE mixed up with COMPULSION, a 1959 movie about the same case that focuses on the trial of the two infamous killers. COMPULSION is somewhat fictionalized, but ROPE is even more so, taking just the basic concept of the Leopold and Loeb case and using it for a nearly real-time tale of how two young intellectuals murder a friend of theirs simply because they want to prove they’re smart enough to get away with it.

As directed by Alfred Hitchcock, ROPE is deliberately stage-bound and gimmicky. The whole thing takes place in the apartment where the two young killers, played by John Dall and Farley Granger, live, and Hitchcock filmed the movie in a series of eight ten-minute takes, playing tricks with the camera so that there’s only one obvious cut in the entire film. Other than that it plays like one continuous shot. Well, not really, because it’s pretty obvious where most of the actual cuts are, but give Hitchcock credit for trying something different, enough though it doesn’t succeed all the time.

It’s a pretty suspenseful movie, with stuff going on in the background that you have to watch closely, and there’s some good dialogue, but ROPE really only comes alive for me when James Stewart enters the story as the former teacher of Dall and Granger, whose philosophical discussions with them gave them the idea of committing murder in the first place. Stewart is one of my absolute, all-time favorite actors, and I enjoyed his work in this one. ROPE isn’t in the top rank for either him or Hitchcock, but it’s an interesting oddity and I enjoyed watching it again for the first time in almost fifty years.

And for the record, Livia hadn’t seen it, so that turned out okay. Maybe we’ll watch COMPULSION someday. But not too soon. A little of Leopold and Loeb goes a long way.

1 comment:

Keith West said...

I'm not familiar with this one. I'll have to check it out.

And I agree, a little :Leopold and Loeb goes a long way.