“Murder is or should be an art.”
Alfred Hitchcock through his film did make murder look like an art. His murders were like plays. They started off as perfect ideas, acted out as dramas, and unfolded like tragedies upon the murderer. Hitchcock’s 1948 film Rope is based off a play and feels like a play caught on camera.
The film begins with two friends Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) strangling their friend David Kentley to death with a piece of rope. They place David’s body in a chest in the living room. Brandon feels excited about what they have done, killing someone just for the danger of committing the perfect crime. Phillip struggles with how he feels. It is very obvious that Brandon dominates Phillip into getting him to doing and thinking anything he wants him to.
To make the crime even more of a perfection and even more dangerous and thrilling Brandon throws a party. He has invited David’s parents and girlfriend and even their old school house master Rupert Crandell (James Stewart). Brandon even has the food served on the chest where David’s body has been placed. When David’s father and aunt arrive at the party Phillip becomes so nervous he breaks a glass in his hand.
Phillip’s nerves run to the extreme throughout the party. Brandon has to tell him to relax and put him in his place from time to time. Rupert takes notice of these exchanges. To get more out of the boys he talks about his philosophy of murder and how it should be an art and done by inferior people.
Eventually everyone begins to worry about David not showing up. His mother calls the father and says she is frightfully worried David may have gotten hurt and wants him to call the police. Everyone leaves including Rupert. The maid hands him a hat but it is not his. The initials on the inside are DK. Brandon relaxes a little bit once the party has all left including the maid. Phillip just becomes more agitated and drinks more to try to calm his nerves. Rupert comes back citing a forgotten cigarette case. Now Brandon has cause for alarm. His perfect plan is coming apart.
Whenever Rope is discussed one of the first bits of trivia you will no doubt read is how there are homosexual undertones between Brandon and Phillip. Maybe there is but I did not see their relationship that way. I see Brandon as always having been a manipulative person. When they were younger Brandon saw that Phillip was not as strong in character as he was and just how easily he could get Phillip to do whatever he wanted. Brandon has a dominant, superior personality. He tries to manipulate everyone and everything around him. He thinks he is clever which is why he killed David. When David is killed it is not Brandon who does the actual killing it is Phillip. There was probably no way Brandon was going to be the one to do the actual killing that is what Phillip the weaker one is for. I find Brandon Shaw to be one of the creepiest film characters. He knew exactly what he was doing the entire time, he was dominating and manipulative, and he was insane.
I have had Rope on DVD for years. I remember watching the film on TCM a few years ago and absolutely loving it. Even when I rewatched it on DVD I thought it was great. Watching it now I think it is a good film but not one of Hitchcock’s best. To me there is no great tension like the director’s other films unless you count the tension between Brandon and Phillip or Phillip’s building nervous tension throughout the film. I liked how it was filmed in real time. There are no quick edits just close ups of the back of a jacket or an object where the film had to be changed out. The filming style was not bad I liked how it felt like a play but it just does not feel like a typical Alfred Hitchcock film. Sometimes I like it when a director or actor or actress does a film or role outside of their typical ones but with Hitchcock his typical formula and style never got old. Rope is not one of the first Alfred Hitchcock films I would recommend seeing. Only watch it if you are familiar with his other films.