As in some of Hitchcock’s thrillers, Rope is not about who’s the killer (because of course there’s a murder), but rather about a specific character finding out the truth, and surviving the discovery. It is also a straightforward debate of the Superman and Art of Murder theories by Nietzsche and De Quincey, respectively. These notions are essentially embodied by one of the main characters, Brandon (John Dall).
One afternoon, he and his partner Philip (Farley Granger) decide to set in motion a plan to kill David (Dick Hogan). When we get to the crime scene, the murder is already in it’s final stage, as David is being choked by the two men, with a rope. This is set in their apartment, as is the rest of the film, which is also notably set in real time. They clean up mess, and proceed with the necessary arrangements for a party being held a few moments later, in that same apartment.
While doing so they discuss the theories mentioned above: Philip has his doubts, but Brandon fully believes that some human beings are superior to others, and that these selected few were above the confinements that bound the rest of humanity (such as the law), which ultimately justifies murder. Naturally, Brandon considers himself to be one of the Superman, while David, well… he was a Harvard undergraduate. Combine this with a life goal to reach aesthetic perfection, and the urge to commit a perfect, beautiful crime will inevitably follow.
All of this was inspired by the true story of Loeb and Leopold: two wealthy and highly intelligent Law School students who murdered fourteen year old Robert Franks, just for the kick of it. In the words of Brandon, they too killed for nothing more than the sake of danger and the sake of killing. The theories by Nietzsche and De Quincey were shared by the real killers too, as was the idea of a perfect murder, that lead to months of meticulous planning and consequent execution.
– spoilers ahead –
Loeb and Brandon shared the same narcissistic vanity: Loeb actively cooperated with the police investigations, as if making sure that the murder’s brilliance wouldn’t go unnoticed; and Brandon went as far as having the buffet set upon the chest in which the body was hidden, tying a couple of books for one of the guests with the very same rope used for the murder, and acting as though he was dying to tell Rupert (James Stewart) – a former university colleague and mentor – what they’ve done.
Ultimately, the four murderers would get caught by a tiny mistake: the real killers carelessly left a pair of glasses in the crime scene, while the fictional ones handed out the victim’s hat to Rupert. Confession followed soon for both.
– it’s safe again –
Aesthetically, Rope is somewhat similar the the director’s Rear Window. The action is set in a confined space – the apartment – and not even that is fully explored, as we spend most of the time in the living room, staring at it from one side, as if we were watching a play.
Before the party, the camera moves just enough so that we do not lose sight of Brandon and Philip. When the guests arrive, its movements seem to mimic the ones we’d make if we were at that same party: jumping from one conversation to another, as if mingling, and even working as wandering eyes when Rupert conjectures about a possible murder.
Even though this is not as thrilling as some of Hitchcock’s major films, Rope is a movie that benefits from research and, I imagine, repetitive views: knowing the story and theories behind the plot, and paying close attention to the camera work and colouring, will certainly make this a very interesting watch for any Hitchcock fan. Then again, if you are a fan, you won’t need any excuse to see it, will you?