I’ve watched Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Rope again, for the first time in twenty-five years, and found myself admiring it rather more at a second viewing than I did originally. The film dates from 1948 and was based on a play written almost two decades earlier by Patrick Hamilton. The play in turn was inspired by the true crime case of Leopold and Loeb.
At the start of the film, two young aesthetes strangle a friend to death – they want to commit the perfect murder as a sort of experiment. John Dall and Farley Granger play Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan; Brandon is the leader, Phillip the weak link. Brandon amuses himself by arranging a party to be attended by their luckless victim’s father and girlfriend., while the body is kept inside a chest from which refreshments are served. He also invites his former teacher Rupert Cadell, played by James Stewart, with whom he’d talked in the past about Nietzsche and the idea of the perfect crime.
Needless to say, there’s really nothing very perfect about Brandon’s plan, and I suppose that on first viewing I felt a bit frustrated because the story-line and its development seemed relatively obvious. Watching it again, in more tolerant mood, I did admire the way Hitchcock built the tension. His long camera takes, and the idea of a movie story told in real time are much admired by film buffs, but although it’s not a masterpiece when compared to his best work, it’s still very watchable.
The Leopold and Loeb case is a truly extraordinary one, which has sourced other works of crime fiction. And it’s interesting that Hitchcock used a play by Hamilton – I’m rather sorry that he never adapted Hamilton’s books about Gorse for the silver screen, though those stories were eventually transformed, in the late 1980s, into a good TV series, The Charmer.