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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2 thoughts on “BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – Rope (1948)

  1. I loved the story and the movie for the most part, except for one thing: Jimmy Stewart. Which is odd because I adore him as an actor in most things, but he did not feel the least bit comfortable doing this movie and it shows. Of course, the whole homosexual undertones thing was really irritating him and some producers who were constantly in the way making sure that “it” wasn’t let out in the dialogue or action more than what was there. I watched some short doc about the making of the film and it confirmed it. JS wasn’t interviewed (long dead by then, I think).

    The dialogue about the “strangled chicken” thing was really off-putting, too. Didn’t feel like it flowed particularly well. Of course, it could help show Phillip cracking up easier, but just felt weird hearing it.

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