One year, one film: 1948
Rope, dir. Alfred Hitchcock
starring James Stewart, John Dall, and Farley Granger
Recommended | Highly Recommended | MUST-SEE
Famously constructed in a series of ten-minute takes to provide the look of one continuous, flowing shot, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope spins the twisted tale of two men who commit murder, hide the body in a wooden chest, and then host a dinner party in the very room where the body is hidden. One of the director’s most interesting experiments, this was also Hitchcock’s first color film.
A director of such a high caliber, an unusual structure, and a milestone of the director’s career — clearly there’s plenty of reason to watch Rope. But beyond those things, it’s just a fascinating story. I had the pleasure of seeing the film on the big screen at Detroit’s Senate Theater in 2013, which was when I really fell in love with it. It’s striking, very high on suspense, with snarky dialogue and stellar performances (particularly by Stewart and Dall).
Were the critics of 1948 wooed by Hitchcock’s experiment?
Screenland referred to Stewart’s performance as “magnificent” and the film as “artistic,” also noting in the review that few films in recent memory had been as suspenseful or thrilling. Hitchcock earns high praise, the film called “his greatest contribution to motion pictures’ artistic development.”
Our dear friend Dorothy Kilgallen (objectifier of Hollywood men, fan of Notorious), reviewing the film for Modern Screen, also offered a plethora of positive comments. “The motion picture fan who doesn’t hurry to see Rope is cheating himself of not only an exciting evening of drama but a firsthand view of a slice of cinema history,” Kilgallen wrote. Like Screenland, Modern Screen found the film artistic and gripping — “unpleasantly fascinating,” as Kilgallen describes it.
Variety was a bit more critical of the film, writing that “Hitchcock could have chosen a more entertaining subject with which to use the arresting camera and staging technique displayed in Rope.” Hey, at least they liked the continuous-shot style!
Bosley Crowther, the grumpiest of grumps to ever work the entertainment desk at The New York Times, is the one reviewer who seemed to find absolutely no redeeming qualities in the film. I’ll leave the man to tell ya in his own words:
“The novelty of the picture is not in the drama itself, it being a plainly deliberate and rather thin exercise in suspense, but merely in the method which Mr. Hitchcock has used to stretch the intended tension for the length of the little stunt. And, with due regard for his daring (and for that of Transatlantic Films), one must bluntly observe that the method is neither effective nor does it appear that it could be.”
I have to disagree with ol’ Crowther. I found the method effective, and therefore obviously capable of being effective. Where Crowther found tedium in the wait for someone to discover the body, I found tension and suspense. To-may-to, to-mah-to.
Don’t let Crowther’s words fool you: Rope is certainly one worth tuning in for if you’ve never seen it, and I’m sure those who have seen it will be on Team TMP (or at least Team Variety, aka Team “I don’t love it but I respect it,” haha) in the Crowther argument.