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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Rope (Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection) (1948)

"Nobody ever feels really safe in the dark." 
- Brandon (John Dall)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: October 28, 2005

Stars: James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Sir Cedric Hardwicke 
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

MPAA Rating: PG
Run Time: 01h:20m:44s
Release Date: October 04, 2005
UPC: 025192834622
Genre: suspense thriller


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A BBB+ B-

DVD Review

This may not be top-drawer Hitchcock, but it is one of the great filmmaking stunts of all time. It's hard not to be captivated by the technical elements of Rope, especially given that it was made in a pre-Steadicam age—the movie plays out in real time, and the central filmmaking conceit is that it's (almost) all done as one continuous shot, the camera dollying and zooming in and out, creating close-ups and master shots as necessary, lingering over details where desirable or appropriate. (The canisters in use at the time of the movie's production could hold only approximately ten minutes of film, so keep an eye out for the hidden cuts—occasionally the camera will zoom in tight on the back of someone's coat, for instance, and then zoom right back out, allowing the action to continue on a new reel.) And inside this virtuoso mechanical accomplishment is a creepy little story, Hitch's fictionalized take on the celebrated murder case of Leopold and Loeb.

The jig's up from the very beginning, as the first thing we witness is a young man being choked to death by the prop of the film's title. The victim is David Kentley, the murderers a pair of nattily attired fellows named Brandon and Philip. (In this Hays Code era, talk of homosexuality was of course forbidden on screen, but it's hard to reach any other conclusion about the relationship between Philip and Brandon, the former the hysterical wife, the latter the unhinged husband.) Brandon convinces Philip to do away with their friend for sport, to see if it's as thrilling as he anticipates—and they tempt fate by hosting a dinner party immediately after their dirty deed, with a guest list including the victim's parents, his fiancée, and her former boyfriend. Oh, how they love stirring up trouble.

Also at the party is Rupert Caddell, onetime prep school housemaster and authority figure for all these young men while they were in school, now a publisher of distinguished fiction. The action is deliberately claustrophobic, confined to Philip and Brandon's apartment; their victim is stowed in a chest over which a tablecloth has been draped, and on which dinner is served. Our knowledge of the crime and the presence of the corpse is the metaphorical bomb under the coffee table—its presence makes the most mundane, ordinary domestic task—clearing the table, say—seem fraught with peril and tension. In many ways, then, Hitchcock has made himself the star, and the look-ma-no-hands aspect of the moviemaking is certainly the most memorable thing here.

That's true in part as well because there are some wooden performances. Farley Granger is especially stiff as Philip, who begins crumbling almost before the opening credits are over; the character is also supposed to be a piano virtuoso, but Granger's faking it on the keyboards isn't even remotely convincing. John Dall as Brandon is a bit better, but he keeps striking the same impish note—he gets what's coming to him, and the vehicle for his just punishment is one of Hitchcock's favorite leading men, James Stewart, as Rupert. It's not the flashiest part, by any measure, and the script gets a little overheated and falsely moralistic in the third act, with Rupert turning on his elitist philosophy that supposedly inspired the crime; still, it's a rock solid Stewart performance, sort of a warmup for the iconic roles he would play in Hitchcock movies in the coming years. There's one quick cut in the film, disrupting the otherwise carefully established style—it happens when Rupert gets the first suspicion that something awful has happened to David, and Hitchcock has lulled us into a sort of complacency, making this moment a jolt. On some level, it's sort of all downhill from there, but the movie coasts with aplomb to its inevitable and necessary end. 

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Discolorations are evident with some frequency, though the source print and the transfer retain a good strong saturation.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Pretty clean, especially given its age and the attention paid to the visual aspect of things. There's an occasional bit of hiss, but nothing too distracting.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Rope Unleashed (32m:27s) features interview footage with Hume Cronyn, who wrote a treatment for the movie; Arthur Laurents, who turned Cronyn's work into the shooting script; and Farley Granger, all offering happy memories of working with Hitch. Laurents is especially fun in discussing the ways in which the director set about to subvert the production code. A gallery (07m:31s) of production photos includes images from the set and posters from around the world; the production notes emphasize the technical aspects of the shoot. The original trailer is worth a look, too, as it functions as a de facto prologue, with David discussing with his girlfriend his fateful appointment later that evening at Brandon and Philip's.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

A technically seamless and nasty bit of work, compressed into a taut 80 minutes. Not the resonant achievement on par with some of the director's other films, but it's efficient and tense, and with just a pinch of misanthropy.

 


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