Classic Intel: Rope - Online Review

'John Dall as the psychopathic Brandon is tremendous, displaying the subtlety the script does not in his portrayal of a complicated character.'

Based on a play by Patrick Hamilton, it's clear from the off that one of the main criticisms of Rope can be just how stagey it is. Director Alfred Hitchcock seems to have made no attempt to move his 1948 film a recognisable distance from the theatre. The whole piece happens in one location, with extraordinarily long takes, the characters often in close proximity to each other, whispering backstory to the audience by way of Arthur Laurents' exposition-heavy screenplay. Even the camera angle, save for two or three notable exceptions, seems to remain anchored to centre stage, giving us the typical 'audience' point of view throughout.

Laurents' script too is guilty of having far too many references to word like 'killing' and 'murder' and 'rope' in it. Sneaked in subtly on one or two occasions, these lines would seems nice and neat but the script has the subtlety of a candelabra over the head and eventually the references start to grate, the delivery of them coming off as Camp Comedy.

Elsewhere, and particularly from a performance point of view, Rope is an exceptional Thriller. John Dall as the psychopathic Brandon is tremendous, displaying the subtlety the script does not in his portrayal of a complicated character. Brandon is faux-confident, a believer that he is superior being with beliefs compared Hitler by another character. But he is also insecure, a manipulator and charmer and Dall bears these characteristics out well; stammering when talking to Rupert (James Stewart) initially, subtle looks and movements not quite in-keeping with the persona he portrays. It's a great example of a layered performance, where the audience are left to read the person by his subliminal ticks.

There's no real explanation for it but another subliminal moment right near the opening of Rope bears mentioning. Phillip (Farley Granger) begs Brandon, arm on his, to 'stay like this', as the pair breathe heavily and Brandon lights a cigarette, moving eventually to open the closed blinds. All the signs point to a sex scene but Phillip and Brandon have actually just killed David (Dick Hogan), the catalyst for the drama at the start of the film. It's possible that this is Hitchcock's first pointed, rather homophobic, stab at Brandon and Phillip, a minute suggestion that clearly the two characters are deviant and therefore evil. Whatever the intention behind the purposeful staging, the moment goes un-noticed by any other character and the relationship passes the course of the film un-commented on.

With Hitchcock at the helm Rope would doubtless be compelling regardless of the stars but at the start of the second third, he pulls his ace out of the hole. Rupert having been built up throughout as something of a unique presence, the former teacher is eventually revealed to be done other than James Stewart. Stewart, as ever, hogs any notion of presence and refuses to let it go, as his character needs to. It is masterful casting, a real feather in the cap of an already special, involving, film.

Rope was available on Sky Anytime Plus and Sky Go.

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