Monday, April 28, 2008

Movie Review: Rope

(previously published on Whenever the fine art of film editing is discussed within the confines of film classes or critics' circles, it is not uncommon to hear the name of British director Alfred Hitchcock. Many of the most beautifully edited shots in film, such as the scene in North by Northwest where Cary Grant is pursued by an airplane, or the infamous shower scene in the horror classic Psycho, are attributed to Hitchcock.

It is for this very reason that his 1948 suspense film Rope is something of an anomaly among Hitchcock's works. Rather than achieve suspense and simulate visceral action through the use of advanced editing techniques, Hitchcock chose instead to craft a solid mystery that abstains from hardly any editing and instead relies on strong performances to supply the tension.

The plot of the film is rather morbid, especially for its time. At the start of the film Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan, two intelligent (but naive) young men who exist in the upper echelon of most social circles, choke one of their colleagues to death with a length of rope. Afterward, they place the deceased inside a large chest, so that the guests they have invited for dinner that night do not discover the body. In an act of either macabre humor or blinding arrogance, they decide to place a dining room cover on the chest and serve their guests on top of the makeshift resting place of the corpse.

One of their guests, their former teacher and intellectual peer Rupert Cadell, gradually suspects that something is awry, and the two young men begin to fear that their secret might not be as safe as they presumed. As the film progresses, the two young men become more and more concerned that their vicious act will be discovered, and Rupert finds himself closer and closer to the truth that is hidden in the chest.

Hitchcock's skill in creating a nervous tone in his film that exists within the viewer as well as the film is done very effectively throughout the course of Rope. The performances in the film, especially those of the two young men (John Dall and Farley Granger), create an atmosphere of paranoia and throughout the film it feels as if the truth is just one moment away from being exposed to all.

Often Hitchcock created this type of emotion in his films with masterful editing techniques, but this film is perhaps his sole exception. The entire length of the film is composed of a mere ten edits (in comparison, the shower scene alone in Psycho has nine times as many cuts), and Hitchcock joined the scenes together in a way that made them appear to be one long take. This is achieved using a number of clever techniques, such as zooming into someone's back until the lens goes dark, and then zooming back out; such a scene appears to be one long take, but in actuality it is a split shrouded by the darkness. This required Hitchcock to create a pacing that would carry the film, for the technique that usually supplied this effect was extraordinarily minimal. Therefore the entire story is told in real time, and the audience is allowed to watch the events unfold as they happen. Furthermore, this effect succeeds in creating somewhat of a first-person perspective of the film. Whenever Brandon and Phillip feel a tinge of fear over the suspicions of Rupert, the audience is allowed to experience those emotions as they occur. The fact that the audience knows of the crime that has been committed and yet is seemingly a part of the action allows each viewer to have a slightly voyeuristic point of view.

One of the greatest joys of watching any Hitchcock film is seeing how Hitchcock attempts to try something unique and unconventional with each film. Unlike many directors who choose to rely on the same techniques that have repeatedly brought them success, Hitchcock constantly sought to change his style, sometimes to a dramatic degree. It is apparent that with this film (which also marked Hitchcock's first foray into color film) Hitchcock continued his penchant for taking unimaginable risks in the hopes of making another bold and groundbreaking cinematic statement.

5 out of 5 stars

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