ROPE (1948). Director: Alfred Hitchcock.
Two young men strangle a third to death for kicks and place his body in a trunk, from which they callously serve refreshments to party guests, which include the murdered man's father, aunt, and girlfriend. In my first review of this film in Quirk's Reviews I wrote that “it isn't moving and it needs to be.” How ironic that watching it again recently I found it almost unbearably moving. Although it may seem that the victim gets short shrift – we never really get to know him, there are no flashbacks in which we see him, and the characters talk about him in general terms but don't really say very much about him (this in itself is chilling) – by the end of the film he is very much center stage. Although in the opening sequence John Dall seems self-conscious and all too busy “acting” the murder, in the rest of the picture he is absolutely perfect as the more dominant of the two sociopathic murderers. Farley Granger probably gives his best performance in this (although some might say it was in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train). Cedric Hardwicke and Constance Collier are splendid as the victim's father and aunt, and Joan Chandler is sharp and savvy as the gal who was recently dumped by another party guest and is now the almost-fiancee of dead David. I had always felt that Jimmy Stewart wasn't quite powerful enough in the final sequences, but his underplaying seems quite effective this time out. All the while I was reflecting on the horrible impact this will have on the dead man's parents and girlfriend, how so many innocent lives (and two not-so-innocent) have been changed irrevocably. And that devastating final shot: Jimmy Stewart, gun in hand, sits down to face the murderers and wait for the police to arrive. His arm is draped tenderly and protectively across the trunk in which the young man's body is hidden, as if he's keeping it safe from further violation – it is a very affecting image. Despite Hitchcock's unusual approach to filming (he shot the entire picture in ten minute takes with only one actual cut), the fluid camera work keeps this interesting on the visual level, and it is not for an instant boring. The homoerotic elements are so downplayed for the most part that the film never seems especially “homophobic.”
Verdict: Rope seems to get better with the passage of time. ***1/2.