Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Rope

I’ve watched Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Rope again, for the first time in twenty-five years, and found myself admiring it rather more at a second viewing than I did originally. The film dates from 1948 and was based on a play written almost two decades earlier by Patrick Hamilton. The play in turn was inspired by the true crime case of Leopold and Loeb.

At the start of the film, two young aesthetes strangle a friend to death – they want to commit the perfect murder as a sort of experiment. John Dall and Farley Granger play Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan; Brandon is the leader, Phillip the weak link. Brandon amuses himself by arranging a party to be attended by their luckless victim’s father and girlfriend., while the body is kept inside a chest from which refreshments are served. He also invites his former teacher Rupert Cadell, played by James Stewart, with whom he’d talked in the past about Nietzsche and the idea of the perfect crime.

Needless to say, there’s really nothing very perfect about Brandon’s plan, and I suppose that on first viewing I felt a bit frustrated because the story-line and its development seemed relatively obvious. Watching it again, in more tolerant mood, I did admire the way Hitchcock built the tension. His long camera takes, and the idea of a movie story told in real time are much admired by film buffs, but although it’s not a masterpiece when compared to his best work, it’s still very watchable.

The Leopold and Loeb case is a truly extraordinary one, which has sourced other works of crime fiction. And it’s interesting that Hitchcock used a play by Hamilton – I’m rather sorry that he never adapted Hamilton’s books about Gorse for the silver screen, though those stories were eventually transformed, in the late 1980s, into a good TV series, The Charmer.

6 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Thanks for your thoughts on Rope, which I haven't seen for years either. Interesting isn't it how one can see a movie if you will with different eyes the second time round. And yes, the Leopold and Loeb case was extraordinary...

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Thanks for your thoughts on Rope, which I haven't seen for years either. Interesting isn't it how one can see a movie if you will with different eyes the second time round. And yes, the Leopold and Loeb case was extraordinary...

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I can't believe it, but I've never seen this Hitchcock. In fact...I want to say I've never heard of it!

Deb said...

I strongly recommend Meyer Levin's COMPULSION which is a thinly-fictionalized account of the Leopold-Loeb murder investigation and trial. How thinly? Much of the dialog is taking directly from court testimony and transcripts. Levin wrote it in the 1950s to assist Nathan Leopold with his bid for parole (which was granted in 1958).

Sextonblake said...

I re-watched the movie a few years ago with my wife, and we both found it pretty gripping. The 'single take' gimmick is limiting in some ways, but it doesn't spoil the movie in the way that I heard from some movie critics. James Stewart is as good as always, though you can't help thinking that the role is really crying out for James Mason.

The original play is interesting in that the character played by Stewart is a WWI war poet rather than the killer's university lecturer. He is initially cynical about morality after witnessing the slaughter of the trenches, but when he uncovers the crime he realises that evil must be fought. It's really about his moral awakening.

Juxtabook said...

I watched Rope for the first time very recently and enjoyed much more than I thought I would. I enjoyed James Stewart's eprformacne as the teacher shocked by the effects of his teaching.

I find accounts of real murder reworked as fiction a bit unnerving. I have the new Persphone reprint Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins on the go at the moment, in similar vein.