Yesterday I had the great pleasure of attending a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s fantastic 1948 film Rope at the historic Senate Theater in Detroit.
Most well-known for its organ concerts performed on a 1928 Wurlitzer organ originally housed at the Fox Theater, the Senate also hosts film festivals, premieres and classic screenings throughout the year. (Heads up: In May, they’ll be showing Buster Keaton’s The General with live organ accompaniment. If you live in the metro Detroit area this is going to be an event you don’t want to miss! Check out the theater’s website for more details.)
Owned and operated by the Detroit Theater Organ Society, the theater has been beautifully restored and continues to undergo renovations. The lobby in particular is stunning, with chandeliers, display cases of relics from the past and a concession stand where you can get a bag of popcorn and two beverages for only five bucks.
I would enjoy any screening attended at the Senate because the theater is so nice and the DTOS is obviously so passionate about keeping its history alive. A Hitchcock screening, though, was bound to be particularly enjoyable because I’m such a huge fan of the director.
Live music was performed on the organ before the show began and during the intermission. Two short subjects were also shown before the film: Looney Tunes “Don’t Give Up the Sheep” and Merrie Melodies short featuring Tweety Bird. Both of these shorts were a lot of fun to watch. Warner Bros. shorts are always great to watch with a live audience because everyone in the audience is usually very fond of them, and they bring a lot of laughs. I heard more than one person whisper “YESSSSSS” when the Merrie Melodies logo popped up on screen.
The film itself was just as fun to watch. It had been a few years since I’d seen it, and I was excited to watch it on the big screen for the first time.
Rope tells the twisted tale of two men who commit a murder. Brandon and Phillip are two intelligent young lads who decide that they want to commit the “perfect crime” together. Their victim is David, an old friend from school.
After strangling David and stuffing his body into a wooden chest, Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger) host a dinner party in the very room where David’s body is hidden. Attending the party are David’s girlfriend, Janet (Joan Chandler); Mrs. Wilson (Edith Evanson), the maid; David’s father (Cedric Hardwicke); David’s rival, Kenneth (Douglas Dick); and a professor (Jimmy Stewart) who Brandon and Phillip knew in college.
The film is based on a 1929 play which was loosely inspired by the true story of the “perfect crime” committed by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb.
I think I loved the film even more upon re-watching than I did when I viewed it for the first time. The “continuous shot” style in combination with the use of only diegetic sound really makes the audience feel like a part of the morbid party.
There are quite a few striking scenes packed into the film’s 82 minute running time. Personal favorites include the shot of Brandon dropping the rope into the drawer as the kitchen door swings, and Mrs. Wilson slowly clearing the “table” at the end of the party, leaving the viewer in anticipation of her opening the chest.
The wit of Rope’s dialogue is even more apparent when there are dozens of people snickering along. Jimmy Stewart and John Dall bring the greatest amount of snark through their characters. Both of these men give great performances, and I’m always particularly impressed with Dall’s ability to spew his character’s completely deranged words with a straight face. His performance is incredibly convincing.
The film’s slight edge of corn, brought on mostly by Farley Granger’s performance, also shows itself more at a public screening than it does at a home viewing. Nearly every person in the theater was cracking up during the scene when Granger “drunkenly” begins yelling at Jimmy Stewart about his drink.
It was announced at the Rope screening that the theater will soon be receiving a brand new and much larger movie screen which should be in place within the next month (hopefully in time for that screening of The General!). The Senate is already “hidden gem” of the city, and it’ll only get better as the DTOS continutes to dedicate themselves to preservation of the organ and the theater.