Ben's Top Pick for July
ROPE (1948) - July 19
After seven years of a having David O. Selznick looking over his shoulder, meddling in his production or loaning him out for an exorbitant fee, Alfred Hitchcock was finally free of Selznick in 1948. He celebrated by making a movie where, in the first five minutes, the lead characters use a small piece of rope to choke a man to death before dumping the body in a chest. The name of the man they murder? David. The joke was not lost on Hollywood.
But Rope's significance isn't reliant on Hitchcock's cinematic slaying of his nemesis. Rope stands out as one of Hitchcock's most inventive pictures, starring a particularly diabolical villain, John Dall, who--with Farley Granger--decides to kill "David," believing he can get away with it because he and Granger are exceptional men.
Rope is an excellent companion picture to Strangers on a Train, released three years later, another story of an attempt to commit a "perfect crime" and again featuring a particularly memorable Hitchcock villain, Robert Walker. But unlike Strangers on a Train, Hitch didn't much care for Rope, calling it a "stunt." Jimmy Stewart--Rope's star, playing an old prep school teacher of the two killers--didn't think highly of Rope either, the only movie they made together that Stewart didn't like.
Here's something I don't often get to say: Hitchcock and Stewart are dead wrong. Rope is rapidly paced, thrilling and inventive, easily a top ten Hitchcock movie. The gimmick Hitchcock used that prompted the disparaging "stunt" comment about Rope was creating the illusion of one long continuous shot for the 80 minute run time. In reality, Hitchcock used ten shots in Rope, each ranging between five and ten minutes. If it's a stunt, it's an effective one, enhanced by Hitchcock's "bomb under the table" - in this case, the dead body buried in a trunk being used as a dining room table at a dinner party.
Rope is one of 44 Hitchcock movies we're showing in July every Wednesday and Friday night. I'll have help introducing most of the movies from Alexandre Phillipe, a documentary filmmaker. Alexandre's latest film, 78/52, is a passionately detailed examination of the single most important sequence Hitchcock ever shot: the shower scene in To Catch a Thief. Kidding...the shower scene in Psycho.
Alexandre is a lifelong student and fan of Hitchcock and his enthusiasm for Hitchcock's movies will make July a memorable month on TCM.
And despite his reverence for Hitchcock, Alexandre agrees that Hitchcock is dead wrong about his own movie: Rope is an example of the director at the top of his game.
by Ben Mankiewicz