Let us begin now with my very first Hitchcock film. Doing a bit of research, I found the behind-the-scenes stuff was almost as interesting as the film itself. But let's start with the film first. Rope tells the story of two young men, Brandon (John Dall) and Philip (Farley Granger), who have just finished murdering David (Dick Hogan) by strangling him with a bit of rope... just because they wanted to see if they could get away with it. Brandon is exhilarated by the whole event, while Philip has become a bottle of nerves which could fall apart at any minute. To add to the game, Brandon has decided to throw a dinner party that includes their maid Mrs. Wilson (Edith Evanson), David's father (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), David's aunt (Constance Collier), David's girlfriend Janet (Joan Chandler), and their friend Kenneth (Douglas Dick), whom Janet left for David. To top it off, they're keeping David's body in a chest in the middle of the living room, and Brandon decides to use it as a table, having their food served off of it. But things start going downhill for them when another guest, their old professor and mentor, Rupert Cadell (James Stewart), starts picking up clues and begins to realize what's really going on.
The first thing I noticed about this film was how much John Dall looks like Ben Affleck. But I guess the first thing most people will pick up on is the fact that the entire movie is made from a set of 10 long takes lasting anywhere from 4 and a half to 10 minutes long each. I didn't actually pick up on it until halfway into the movie when I realized the film kept zooming in to somebody's back to black out and hide the cut. Apparently, this made things very hard during filming. This was Hitchcock's first color film, and the cameras were huge. On top of that, the actors had to keep stepping over the big wires on the floor and try not to trip. There was even one moment where the camera dolly ran over the cameraman's foot, breaking it, but in order not to ruin the take, they gagged him and pulled him off set--and that take is used in the movie! It's a very clever technique, giving the illusion of real time (even though another technique is used to make events seem 20 minutes longer than it actually is). One of my favorite takes was just the camera sitting still with most of the cast off screen, and you can hear them talking. But all you see is Mrs. Wilson clearing the food and things off the chest and into the kitchen. It's not until she's about halfway done that you realize what's going on and that she's probably going to attempt to open the chest very soon, and that's when suspense skyrockets. It's a great moment.
The writing in the film is superb. The dialogue is engrossing, and it's full of double entendres. Literally over half of what is said once the party starts could be taken at face value or in a much darker way. The whole thing was very clever and very tight. That being said, there was one thing I might have liked to see done differently. Near the end of the film, I thought it would have been even better had they not shown the actual murder at the beginning. That way, you were left guessing the entire film whether there was a body in that chest or not, helping the suspense even more. Well, apparently, this was actually the original intent. Hitchcock even assured the writer he was going to do this. But apparently at the last minute or something, Hitchcock changed his mind and filmed the opening murder sequence and put it in the film, surprising the person he had promised otherwise--and some feel this was a detriment to the film as a whole.
But the writing itself can't do much without good actors. And here, we have some fantastic acting from all involved. Of course, I was fascinated with James Stewart, especially since the only other movie I've seen him in at this point is Harvey--a completely different type of film and role. However, one of the controversies with the film was the decision to cast James Stewart (and Stewart himself said this was the only film between he and Hitchcock he didn't like). I can definitely understand why people felt he was greatly miscast, though I still feel Stewart played the detective role quite well. However, the personal connection with the two former students was missing... and that was an important aspect, mostly for the next big controversy about the film.
Really early on, I noticed something about the film and the actors, but I told myself that wouldn't be the case--not in 1940's cinema. It would be way too controversial for the time period. Sure enough, though, after doing some after-the-fact research, I found out that the two lead characters--and even James Stewart's character--were meant to be homosexual. It's never stated in the film, but the body language between the two leads and how they react and speak to each other strongly suggests it ("It" apparently being the only thing Hitchcock and the producers, etc., would call the homosexuality theme when talking about the film). This was the one strike against Stewart that I and others saw. There wasn't that personal connection between Stewart and the two leads that was supposed to be there, despite having the core investigator part of the role own solid.
There are a handful of people who consider this one of Hitchcock's best, but not necessarily at the top. That notion makes me incredibly excited for what's to come considering I loved this movie. Nearly everything about it was fantastic--the writing, the acting, the pacing (which only had one slight drop in the 5 or so minutes before Stewart was introduced), the technical aspect. It doesn't really feel too dated, either. If you're a fan of thrillers or Hitchcock and haven't already seen this one, I'd definitely suggest checking it out.