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Classic Movie Review: 'Rope' Starring Jimmy Stewart

I love Alfred Hitchcock's talkiest thriller, Rope.

By Sean PatrickPublished 8 days ago 5 min read
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Rope (1948)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Written by Arthur Laurents

Starring Jimmy Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Sir Cedric Hardwicke

Release Date September 25th, 1948

Published June 10th, 2024

Director Alfred Hitchcock enjoys a good thought experiment. Take an average man, place him in a situation and watch him use his wits to get him out of it. The plots become a series of mini puzzles that the main character has to solve before the story can progress and the main character can make their escape. Usually, these puzzles are spread over the course of an adventure whether across a city, a country or the globe. But, for his 1948 film Rope, Hitchcock decided to create a puzzle for himself as a director.

Adapting a script by Arthur Laurents, Hitchcock creates a series of traps for himself. How will he navigate a thriller set entirely in one location with none of the trappings of his globe trotting adventures. He also has no spies, detectives, or dangerous women to push the story forward. Instead, he has only a lavish apartment building and a gathering of intellectuals. Oh, and a murder. It wouldn't be Hitchcock if there weren't a murder to get the ball rolling.

John Dall and Farley Granger star in Rope as Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan respectively. Recent college grads, the two supremely intelligent young men decided to try their hand at murder. Their target? David Kentley (Dick Hogan), a fellow former student that they look down upon. David is the perfect choice for this murder as his absence at a party that Brandon and Phillip are hosting that night, will not go unnoticed. This adds an air of intrigue and suspense that Brandon assuredly cannot resist.

David's fahter, Henry (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) will be attending the party tonight with David's Aunt Anita (Constance Collier). Along with them will be David's girlfriend, Janet Walker (Joan Chandler), undoubtedly awaiting David's arrival. To add a further kink to the plot, Brandon has invited Kenneth Lawrence (Douglas Dick) who happens to be Janet's most recent ex-lover and someone she's not so happy to see at this party, especially with David arriving so late.

But the unknowing guest of honor at this dinner party is Brandon and Phillip's former professor, Rupert Cadell (James Stewart). From Rupert, Brandon and Phillip learned about Nietzche's Superman and tonight, Brandon hopes to bask in Rupert's presence as Rupert offers the proper justification for the murder of David. Rupert indeed expounds on murder as the whim of the wealthy and powerful, a tool to be wielded as a way of weeding out the lesser man.

Quite unfortunately for Rupert, his notion of the intellectually superior having every right to kill off those inferior to them as a means of weeding the planet from an evolutionary perspective, has inspired Brandon to convince Phillip that they had to murder David, it's what their philosophy of the world calls for. Brandon, wanting desperately to impress Rupert with how much he's taken to Rupert's teaching, drops hints of the murder of David that only Rupert might be able to pick up on.

In classic Hitchcock fashion, the ticking time bomb that is David's body sits prominently in the room with the rest of the party guests. Having murdered David in their shared apartment, Brandon and Phillip have placed his corpse in a large chest that they intend to dispose of later on a trip into the country. During the party, Brandon has arranged, rather conspicuously, to cover the chest with a table cloth and serve hor deurves from it, much to the chagrin of his maid, Mrs. Wilson (Edith Evanson).

Her fussing over the chest before and during the party provides both clues to where David's body is being hidden and for the best sequence in the film. As the partygoers debate the notion of murder as a means of moving society forward, Mrs. Wilson begins clearing the food from the chest. The camera fully on her and Brandon and Phillip distracted by the conversation, Mrs. Wilson clears away the clutter and prepares to return some books to their usual place inside the chest.

Her slow yet steady pace takes the place of the red numbers on a bomb counting down to a potential explosion. Through the sheer force of his storytelling and Arthur Laurents' sparkling dialogue, Hitchcock manages to create a moment of suspense that ranks alongside his best globe trotting thrillers. The only scene that may match or surpass this in the film itself is the final scene where Rupert returns to confront his former students. Having begun to suspect them via their behavior and Brandon's quizzical baiting of clues, we get a terrific ending in which James Stewart shines as a man forced to confront not just murderers, but young men who've taken his words and philosophy far too much to heart.

As he wrestles with having his own nihilism thrown back at him in the most tragic fashion, he's also dealing with two desperate young men eager to get away with murder. Will they kill him? Will he have to kill one of them to survive? Can he convince them to turn themselves in? The high level of emotions and intelligence at play in this final scene always keeps me on the edge of my seat. Stewart masterfully leads Dall and Granger through these final moments before Hitchcock finds a less than typical way to bring an end to this highly unique thriller.

Rope is the classic for the week of June 10th on the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast. It was chosen for Pride Month as the subtext of Dall and Granger's relationship is quite clearly that they are lovers sharing a New York apartment. At the time that the film was made, Hitchcock could not make the subtext into text by having them openly acknowledge the relationship but the chemistry of Dall and Granger and their living arrangements are a strong indication of what Hitchcock and screenwriter Arthur Laurents are saying without saying it out loud.

Find my archive of more than 20 years and more than 2000 movie reviews at SeanattheMovies.blogspot.com. Find my modern review archive on my Vocal Profile, linked here. Follow me on Twitter at PodcastSean. Follow the archive blog on Twitter at SeanattheMovies. Listen to me talk about movies on the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast. If you have enjoyed what you have read consider subscribing to my writing on Vocal. If you'd like to support my writing you can do so by making a monthly pledge or by leaving a one time tip. Thanks!

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About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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