Daily Archives: May 3, 2020

BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – Rope (1948)

Well, I think I’ve found a new obsession with NBC’s Peacock, mostly because it has a large selection Universal movies, including a Hitchcock collection I’ve never gotten around to seeing before.

My best description of Rope is that it is a 1948 version of American Psycho. Either that or American Psycho is a 2000 version of Rope, though Rope came first.

John Dall and Farley Granger star as Brandon and Phillip, two Harvard grads who begin the film by strangling their friend David as part of a macabre social experiment, based on the Nietzschean lectures of their old professor and mentor Rupert Cadell (Jimmy Stewart.)

In said lectures, Caldwell opined that based on Nietzsche’s philosophy of the uber mensche or superman, it is possible for certain people to become so mentally, morally and culturally superior that they should be allowed to murder those whom they view as inferior.

As part of the experiment, the creepy young lads through a dinner party shortly after the murder, all part of a plan to savor their crime by hiding the body in plain sight.  The trunk holding the body is made up as a buffet table, and guests are allowed to stop by it and serve themselves, unaware of the corpse that lies within.

Brandon, who has one of the smarmiest, most punchable faces I’ve ever seen and Dall was truly born to play this part, is a sociopath, stuck up and pleased by what he has done, convinced that he is superior and killing David was like killing an insect.

Phillip is instantly regretful and breaks down immediately, the weak link who can’t hold is water, his remorseful behavior leading other guests to think something might be awry.

Overall, the chest is the focal point of the film. Hitchcock uses “long cuts” so that the film looks like it is one long party, continuously in motion. As we focus on one conversation, we hear people in the other rooms and as guests meander back and forth, we are left in suspense that at some point, someone might open the trunk and make the gruesome discovery.  Hitchcocks edits those cuts to make it look as though the film was done in one take.

To add insult to injury, Brandon invites his victim parents, who grow increasingly more concerned that their son hasn’t arrived at the party, as well as the deceased’s girlfriend as well as that girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend. Brandon relishes dropping hints that these two might consider getting back together, for David is indisposed.

Another wrinkle is that as the party wears on, Caldwell brings up his old lectures as part of the conversation and in doing so, reveals that his talk of killing the inferior was only theoretical, and even a bad attempt at humor. As Caldwell goes on a morose comedy routine about shooting people so he can get a better seat at a show, Brandon and Phillip realize they are dopes.

The film is based on a play which was based on the Leopold-Loeb murder in which two wealthy college students murdered a 14 year old boy as part of a disturbing social experiment to test their ubermenschian superiority.

As the film points out, Nietzsche’s theory is flawed, as no one should be able to decide that another’s life is not worth living, and that the greatest practitioner of this evil philosophy was Hitler, and look how awful that worked out.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy. It predicts the Purge movies too, as Caldwell jokes that murder should be allowed once a year so people can vent their frustrations.

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BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – Rear Window (1954)

What’s going on in your rear window, 3.5 readers?

BQB here with another classic movie review.

My cable company gave me a free pass to NBC’s new streaming service, Peacock. I’ll write another post at some point about whether Peacock is worth your while, but as I was browsing its offerings, I found, in addition to all the NBC shows you’d expect, a great selection of movies, including some old timey classics.

Right away, I zoomed in on Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense thriller, Rear Window, a movie that most people my age have not seen, though you need to if you want to maintain your movie buff cred.

It stars Jimmy Stewart as L.B. Jeffries, a globe trotting magazine photographer who is used to a fast paced lifestyle, running from one international hot spot to the next to click his pics.

Alas, for the past 7 weeks, he has been subjected to a terrible punishment – he has had to stay inside because some scientist in China accidentally tripped and knocked over a vile full of coronavirus.

Just kidding. He broke his leg while on one of his assignments, and a cast has left him confined to a wheelchair. He passes the time people watching out the rear window of his apartment, snooping on his neighbors through the long lens of his camera.

Many of the neighbors are entertaining, from the songwriter who plays great music, to the hot ballerina who wakes up every morning to practice her routine in her undies, a sight which Jeffries doesn’t mind doing a little extra snooping on.

Sure, his newfound hobby is odd, but seems relatively harmless until Jeffries notices that one neighbor, Lars Thornwald (Raymond Burr) is doing suspicious things…or is he?

Jeffries makes a number of observations – that Thornwald’s ill, bedridden wife is suddenly no longer in the apartment anymore.  Why isn’t she there? The poor woman was confined to bed and now she’s no longer there? Dude, WTF?

And why is Thornwald rapping up a saw and a knife in newspaper? What is in that trunk that he is tied up with rope and moved out of the apartment? Why does he get pissed whenever a little dog sniffs around his garden?

Perhaps there are reasonable explanations for all of these happenings. Many people own saws and knives and never killed anyone. Maybe the trunk is full of junk. And who doesn’t want a dog to stay away from the garden they planted?

The viewer is left in suspense, as Hitchcock yanks are chains, moving us back and forth from believing that Jeffries is just a busybody who needs to get away from the window and leave poor Mr. Thornwald alone, to believing that Thornwald is a vile killer who must be locked up immediately. Back and forth, back and forth, it seems like both possibilities are plausible, and there may even be other explanations to boot.

Even worse, there might be strange doings in the other apartments that Jeffries is ignoring while he has zeroed in on Thornwald!

Rounding out the cast are the uber hot Grace Kelly as Jeffries’ girlfriend Lisa, Thelma Ritter as Jeffries’ visiting nurse, Stella, and Wendell Corey as Jeffries’ old war buddy turned current NYPD detective Thomas Doyle.

At first, Lisa and Stella believe that Jeffries has become a crackpot, losing his mind over a bad case of cabin fever. They urge him to stop being a snoop until they start borrowing his binoculars and agree that something is going on in the Thornwald apartment that doesn’t quite add up. Meanwhile, Doyle, who agrees to look into the matter, thinks the trio have lost their minds.

Overall, I think that aspiring writers will benefit from this movie, as Hitchcock is a master of showing not telling and for its day, this large set made up to look like a bunch of apartments with carefully choreographed scenes in which one person is doing one thing in the apartment above while another is doing something in the apartment below was likely ahead of its time.

There’s sideplot in which Jeffries and Lisa are trying to iron out some bumps in their relationship. Stewart is 46 in this picture but by today’s standards, looks older because his hair is gray in this film whereas if it were remade today, there would definitely be some hair stylist rubbing some hair dye into those locks. Back in those days, people just gave less craps about gray hair or signs of age because hey, that’s just what happens. Today we try to control it and manage it.  Overall, it just surprised me that there was a time when Hollywood allowed a leading man to have gray hair.

Also much to my surprise, Grace Kelly was 25 in this movie, half Jeffries’ age. My assumption is that back in those days, men were attracted to beauty while women were attracted to the security a man can provide, i.e. through his money, and while beauty belongs to the young, wealth usually comes to the old for they have been in the struggle longer.

I don’t think that formula has changed much over the years, except that women have jobs and their own money now, so young women don’t have to marry themselves off to old farts just to keep a roof over their heads anymore.  Women have the money where they can worry about their man’s looks, though if there’s a rare old fart with well preserved looks AND money…

Anyway. This formula is thrown out the window in this movie because Jeffries is poor, having achieved notoriety for his photography, but not much money for it. Lisa is rich, having come from a wealthy family and having started her own profitable business as a fashion designer. She dotes on Jeffries, visiting him daily, bringing him expensive presents, having expensive meals delivered by the best restaurants to his door.

On the surface, this sounds awesome, but Jeffries hates it. It makes him feel like less of a man that he has worked so hard for so long and yet his younger babe is the breadwinner, and he’ll never be able to return the favor by buying expensive stuff for her.

Even worse, Lisa wants to civilize him, wanting to marry him and take him off the road, finding him work in NYC as a fashion photographer, but Jeffries loves traveling and feels his life spent taking photos in war zones is a higher calling, albeit not a profitable one.

SIDENOTE: If any absurdly hot and ridiculously rich 25 year old women want to pressure me into marriage and buy me a lot of expensive presents and bring me fancy dinners, feel free and…oh, alright. Don’t everybody volunteer at once.

Ritter, Jeffries’ nurse Stella, really steals the show with a speech about marriage. She opines that in her day, people didn’t put their relationships through a microscope. Men and women met and if they liked each other, they got married, and that was it. Today (well in 1954), Stella says that men and women meet and analyze each other to death, picking apart every little detail until they call it quits, missing out on good times together, sitting around being lonely waiting for the perfection that never comes.

Honestly, 66 years later, Stella’s advice rings true, maybe more so than ever. I can tell you I talked my dumb self out of some potentially great relationships when I was young. Ah, if only I had broken my leg and had Stella as my nurse back then.

IRONY SIDENOTE: Stewart and Ritter are roughly the same age and it probably would have been more appropriate for him to have been dating someone Stella’s age (not Stella, for she’s married.)

TRIGGER WARNING SIDENOTE: I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately, and it is always jarring when you see something from the 80s, 90s and even early 2000s where you quickly realize this would not fly today.

I would say for a movie made in 1954, it comes really close to being a movie that, PC wise, still holds up. There are a few transgressions.  Jeffries tells Lisa to “shut up” a few times, which surprised me though you might write that off to his curmudgeonly character. Jeffries is pretty open that his world weariness has turned him into a crusty old prick, and even Lisa occasionally opines she doesn’t know why she’s wasting her time on a miserable old sack of crap.

There is one brief scene where Jeffries calls Doyle only to find he and Mrs. Doyle have gone out for the night, leaving the kids with an African American babysitter. The stereotypical accent sounds a lot like a white woman doing a racist impression of a black woman so…I slapped my forehead at this. Ugh…it doesn’t pass the PC test, but it comes closer than even a lot of 80s and 90s flicks.

STATUS: Shelfworthy. Waaah, I’m Jeffries. I’m a crusty old bastard and my super hot 25 year old girlfriend who went on to become the Princess of Monaco wants to buy me a lot of crap and get me a job that pays me a lot where I don’t have to fly into war zones and she wants to bang me a lot….waaaaah.


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