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ROPE

From the Nov. 6, 1983, Deseret News

ROPE — James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Constance Collier, Joan Chandler; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; rated PG (violence).

"Rope," the third in the five-film Alfred Hitchcock revival series currently playing at the Plitt Utah Theater downtown, is not really in the same league with "Vertigo" and "Rear Window," but it's still a film worth watching, if only for what the director was trying to accomplish.

Perhaps Hitchcock's most experimental film (it was also his first in color and his first with James Stewart), this 1948 thriller, based on a play, is itself very stagy, essentially a one-set, one-act story with a limited number of characters.

Loosely based on the infamous Leopold-Loeb murder case, the movie opens with two college students (John Dall, Farley Granger) using a small piece of rope to strangle a fellow student – a friend – just for the thrill of it. Like Hitchcock, they too are experimenting . . . with murder. Can they get away with it? And how far can they go in revealing what they've done without actually getting caught? That's the essence of the cat-and-mouse game here.

The two put the body in a chest in the living room, then immediately host a small dinner party with guests who knew the victim well – including his father (Cedric Hardwicke). They then drop hints about what they've done and watch the reactions of their guests, wondering if any will begin to catch on. For Dall it is a gruesome game but Granger immediately suffers guilt and begins to crack as the party goes on.

The last arrival is a former professor of all three (James Stewart), an oddball elitist who has a theory that supremacy should rule and that murder might be a nice, convenient way of doing away with dullards. "Murder is an art," he says. Actually, Stewart just likes to talk big, never dreaming any of his students might take him seriously. And, of course, it is he who begins to suspect the truth during the course of the evening, realizing that he has played a vital part in this cruel game.

The best comments come in the center of the film, with Stewart's cocky, teasing manner a bit of a shock to those in the group who do not know him, and with his tongue-in-cheek professing to believe in casual killing. These scenes are loaded with black humor and Hitchcock brings the jokes out very well. And some of the dialogue is actually very good. The delivery of that dialogue, however, is often not. The acting is extremely stiff from most of the actors, especially Dall. And the ending suffers from being overly preachy.

The main experiment here was the filming technique Hitchcock used. To give the illusion that the movie was shot with one continuous camera roll, the director shot the film in 10-minute takes – 10 minutes being as much as could be shot before a new can of film had to be loaded into the camera. To segue smoothly between each change of a film canister, Hitchcock had the camera swing to a close-up of the back of a male actor's coat, so the film could be stopped and started again without any seeming loss of action. It doesn't really work and instead gives the impression that Hitchcock had some kind of obsession with men's backs.

The technique used here also accounts for the stiff acting. The entire cast was reportedly somewhat nervous during the making of this film. Despite their being extremely well-rehearsed in every move, each knew that if one line was blown, or if one person stepped into the wrong spot on the set, the entire 10-minute can of film would have to be discarded and the scene begun again.

The experiment is an utter failure, yet interesting in its attempted effect. And "Rope" still has its moments, along with more than a few worthy ideas. Let's face it – even a Hitchcock failure is better than most movies we get these days.