October 30, 2012 is when Universal is releasing the 'Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Collection' containing fifteen of the director's seminal works. In an effort to bring you the most in-depth coverage on this set we are going through each included movie to give you the most thorough review we can. Feel free to visit the 'Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Collection' hub page. There you will find links to the other movies in this set and everything you'd want to know about the set's technical specifics and its packaging.
Hitchcock famously dismissed 'Rope' as a stunt. Basically a filmmaking exercise to see if he could pull off a movie that felt and acted like a play. This was the perfect story to try it out with since the movie was based on of a play by Patrick Hamilton called "Rope's End." Hitchcock used extended tracking shots, 10 in total, to create the effect that the entire movie is filmed in real-time. When we hear of these kinds of gimmicks used in movies today we automatically think what Hitchcock stated, it's all a stunt. What he didn't understand was how great the movie actually turned out. A tale about human immorality and the question of whether or not it can ever be justified, with a villain as coolly psychotic as anyone we've ever met on 'Dexter.' 'Rope' is a stunt, but it's also an unnerving psychological thriller with intriguing characters and dialogue that searches the depths of the human psyche.
Brandon (John Dall) is a sociopath and a psychopath. Phillip (Farley Granger) is caught in Brandon's wake, unable to escape. It's implied that the two are partners, yet it's never stated outright in the movie, simply because of the time period in which the movie was released. Brandon almost has complete control over Phillip. He works him like a puppet, fulfilling his need to manipulate people for his own enjoyment.
Brandon and Phillip have just killed one of their close friends. That's how the movie opens. We hear a man's scream, the camera swings in through an apartment window and there we see David (Dick Hogan) being strangled to death, with a rope, by two of his former schoolmates. Only we don't know any of this information yet. All we see is a man dying and two men committing the act. After it's done, both are visibly shaken, but for different reasons. Phillip is genuinely scared at what has just happened. Brandon, on the other hand, is so filled with excitement that he can hardly contain himself. He's had a major adrenaline rush and he likes it.
Already the unease has started to set in. We have no idea why this man has been killed, yet we already have this man named Brandon who looks far too happy about the whole thing. The entire situation is creepy and unsettling as Brandon slowly and confidently justifies what they've just done. In order to make the occasion even more special, Brandon has arranged a party and has invited over, among other people, David's girlfriend Janet (Joan Chandler), David's father Mr. Kentley (Cedric Hardwicke), and a former school professor Rupert Cadell (Stewart).
Now just think about this for a minute. Brandon and Phillip have just killed one of their closest friends and stuffed him into the living room trunk. Outside the trunk are the deceased's father and girlfriend. Do you needed any more evidence to convince you how deeply insane Brandon is? Not only is he not satisfied with bringing those closest to David to the party, but Brandon invites Rupert Cadell. Brandon's head has been filled with Nietzschean philosophy from Rupert; theories of inferior people and superior people. Ideas of how homicide could be justified if done by the correct person. Brandon has taken the teachings to the extreme.
Hitchcock does a marvelous job weaving this tale together with his camerawork. The camera captures lengthy conversations about murder. It lingers on suspicious faces. It gives us hints of what the people on screen are thinking. It succeeds in making the movie feel as stage play-esque as possible. The real-time aspect creates a sense of unparalleled dread. You can't help but think about the body lying there in the trunk because you're always there, in that room. Watching the characters dance around the trunk, not knowing what's inside, is a frightening experience.
Even though Hitchcock seemed to write-off 'Rope' as a gimmicky movie, there's still a lot of meat on its bones. Watching a cold and calculating villain like Brandon is both discomforting and exhilarating. He's just so damn sick that it's hard to turn away. How he brushes off murder without a second thought is alarming.
I really enjoy what 'Rope' has to offer. The experimentation in camerawork is phenomenal as it adds a completely different feel to the movie. It sucks you into the moment and doesn't let you go. While 'Rope' remains a memorable Hitchcock film, I still think it's one of his most underrated classics.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Check the main hub page for the complete detail of the packaging of this set. Everything about it can be found there. For fun we've posted a picture of the section in the set created for 'Rope' so you can see what it looks like.
This was Hitchcock's first color film. At times I was drawn in by the visuals and other times I was put off. The 1080p presentation from Universal has its moments, but also a few problems to go with them. Colors exhibit a hazy dustiness. Most of the movie seems soft, with a fine layer of grain coating it.
Close-ups have quite a bit of detail. The close-up of David's face as he's being strangled features facial detail like grimace lines. Detail doesn't go as deep as showing pores though. Skin tones appear a little softer than that. Skin tones also exhibited a pinkish hue at times and then other times they looked a little anemic.
Mid-range shots, of which there are many, are when detail really wavers. If someone is in the background of the scene they become blurry and their features become hard to make out. This isn't just because the camera is focused on the people and objects in the foreground. Whenever someone gets distance from the camera the fuzziness creeps in.
There's also some unsettling haloing going on, particularly in the third act. A red halo can be seen when Stewart sits down in the armchair as he's trying to figure out what's going on. The halo extends over the top of the chair and sometimes around Stewart's face. It can also be seen forming around Phillip's hand. Film damage can be seen on occasion. Scratches, flecks, and blips are a somewhat common occurrence.
The movie certainly looks better than it has on DVD. So, even though it has its faults, this is likely the best it will look.
This is where we find a few technical problems. I reported on the main hub page that 'Rope' has an audio dropout in the first five minutes of the movie. Upon closer inspection there are three audio dropouts. Truthfully, I don't think they're full dropouts. Instead they are three distinct times where the audio drops to an inaudible volume. If you turn on the subtitles it will confirm that dialogue is supposed to be spoken at these times, yet it isn't.
The first dropout of dialogue happens at 03:24 where the words "We've got," spoken by Brandon, are inaudible. The second instance happens shortly after at 03:56 where the words "Phillip we don't," also spoken by Brandon, are lost to extremely low volume. This one also has an added effect that the dialogue seems like it's trying to catch up to the lips directly after the dropout, creating a very unusual few seconds. The third time this happens is at 07:44 where another piece of dialogue from Brandon where he starts a sentence with and unintelligible "Phillip" before continuing on with the rest of what he was saying. During this time the sound seems rather low all around. It isn't until after the third supposed dropout of dialogue where the audio finally picks up to a nice, strong volume. Almost like the first eight minutes of the movie were recorded completely different than the rest of the movie.
After that the audio picks up nicely. Dialogue is strong and clear the rest of the movie. There are no hisses or crackling underneath. Sound effects like the notes coming from a piano or the bang produced from a gun, are reproduced with nice accuracy and clarity. There are times where more than one conversation is going on and not only can you hear the main conversation that you're supposed to be paying attention to, but you can also here the ancillary chattering. Just like what would happen at a regular party.
Even though the problems clear up later on in the movie, moving the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono track to a much more acceptable status, it's hard to overlook the glaring errors in the first few minutes.
'Rope' is such a twisted thriller when you think about it. Sure it doesn't have the overt violence and gore that we expect in modern cinema, but even more troubling is the character of Brandon. The ease in which he glides through his psychopathy, treating it like a game, is truly very unsettling. Brandon provides more than enough suspense and creepiness to keep you a little on edge the entire movie. It's too bad that the audio flubs up a few times. The video has its own problems too. It's still recommended though, given how great the movie is.