Rope (1948)

I’m watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1943)  this morning, and it’s odd how the lense of time has turned a lighthearted society thriller into an unlikely, Gay sitcom.

Rope is, of course based upon the Leopold and Loeb case in Chicago, during the ’20s of the last century. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were two precocious University of Chicago undergrads (both 19 y.o.), who had taken Nietzsche too close to heart, and decided that the best way to exercise their new, Randian philosophy was to murder a 14 y.o. neighbor-boy, Bobby Franks, if only to determine if they could get away with it.

Though the Loeb case took place in Chicago in 1924, Hitchcock relocated his story to New York City, presumably in the late ’40s. The shocking thing here is how Gay the Leopold and Loeb characters appear by 21st c. standards. The villains in Rope are less monstrous than the real Leopold and Loeb because the two teenagers killed a younger boy; all of the characters in the Hitchcock film were adults.

Moments after Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) and Brandon Shaw (John Dall)  strangle David Kentley (Dick Hogan) with a short length of narrow rope, Morgan throws his head back, and rolls his eyes orgasmically. (I’ve never looked many homoerotic cues before in Hitchcock, but I’m now, sure as hell, going to look harder.) Now that they’ve actually murdered someone, they somehow feel required to flaunt it, so after throwing Kently’s body into a trunk, and serving a buffet for his family, friends and teachers atop it.

The story indicates that  Morgan and Shaw are Harvard undergrads, who share a Manhattan Penthouse, overlooking Central Park, both men are very well tailored and employ a seasoned maid, Mrs. Wilson (Edith Everhart), willing to run errands. (If your gaydar isn’t yet pinging, please take a moment to determine ifthe device is, in fact, plugged in.)

As the guests begin to arrive, the story segues into High Society intrigue, as we’re introduced to the victim’s fiancé and the pretty,, young blonde fellow who was competing for her. Jimmy Stewart arrives as Rupert Cadell, their Headmaster at Somerville, presumably their  New England Prep School.

The really admirable item here, noticed only well toward the 3/4 point is that Rope is a closed-room, single set affair; the entire story takes place in the penthouse apartment. Despite the spatial confinements, Hitchcock does create a remarkable sequence that advances the story and ratchets up the suspense, as Stuart, Granger and Dall argue and Everhart clears the buffet, coming very close to discovering Hogan’s body in the trunk.

The Leopold and Loeb murder is a grittier case that I’d expect someone like James Ellroy to handle properly, given the homosexuality, sociopathy, pediocide and antisemitism. Hitchcock and writer, Ben Hecht scotch the age of their victim and turn the story into a cautionary tale against absolutist referendums like Nietzscheism  Nazism and claims of Übermensch entitlement.

Rope eventually stops being a twisted, Gay sitcom and becomes an anti-Nazi tract, but it makes several interesting stops along the way.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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