Alfred Hitchcock meets Dostoevsky.
Rope is a quiet crime drama that debates the role of Nietzsche’s philosophy (or raw anarchy) applied to murder. Two young men, Brandon and Phillip murder their young friend David due to his being intellectually inferior to them. In reality, they commit the crime just because they wanted to. Brandon, the mastermind of the group, wants to rub the crime in the face of David’s family and friends. After moving David’s body to a trunk, they serve dinner on it at a party where they invited everyone close to David.
The premise is fun, and it is interesting to see guilt, fear, and paranoia set into Phillip, whom seemed less comfortable with the entire plan. Brandon, despite his pronouncements of intellect, falls into the same trap that many criminals do—he simply can’t stay quiet about the crime. When the old schoolmaster Rupert arrives (played by good old James Stewart) he immediately suspects something is amiss. What follows is a clever cat and mouse game where it is hard to tell who is staying ahead of the other. Further, the film boasts some excellent layered dialogue that nearly demands a second viewing.
Rope is not my favorite Hitchcock film, but it is certainly in the top five. All but the opening of the film is one apartment, and most of it is in one room. With a lean runtime of 82 minutes, Hitchcock creates more interesting characters than most films can with double the runtime today.
Brandon is certainly the show-stealer. His need for approval and recognition show him as a dangerous and unstable man. However, his efforts to charm often mask his intentions to the guests (not always to the viewer, though). The exchanges between Rupert and Brandon are some of the best in the film. The script is what drives the action more than Hitchcock’s usual formalistic camera work (though there are some clever scenes in this one).
Recently, I talked with some friends about what film would be the best entry point into Hitchcock for a novice. Rope would be an excellent starting point. I am sure others might think some of earlier films should come first, but I think Rope shows a level of mastery from the master of suspense that is hard to ignore. 10/10