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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 3/7/01

1948 (2001) - Warner Bros. (Universal)

review by Greg Suarez and Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock on DVD

Rope Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/A

Specs and Features

81 mins, PG, full-frame (1.33:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 59:40, in chapter 15), Amaray keep case packaging, Rope Unleashed documentary (with English, Spanish and French captions), poster art and production stills, production notes, cast and crew biographies and filmographies, theatrical trailer, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English, Spanish and French (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: English

"Cat and mouse! Cat and mouse! Which is the cat and which is the mouse?"

The style of filmmaking of five or six decades ago is very different compared to modern work. In many older films, the acting was much more melodramatic, and the cinematography and overall styles were very stolid. And then there was Hitchcock. Hitch broke many conventions of the day, by pushing the stylistic envelope with innovative cinematography. He introduced audiences to a level of suspense few filmmakers had dared before. Not surprisingly, Hitchcock's methods have had a great impact on many films that followed, and he continues to be an icon of world cinema and a master of terror even today.

Loosely based on the famous Leopold and Loeb murders, Rope is the story of a pair of college friends who murder a schoolmate, David, purely as a social experiment. They hide his body in a large chest in the middle of their apartment. The friends' vicious act was inspired by their college professor, Rupert Cadell (James Stewart), who halfway believes that murder should be a socially acceptable practice in certain situations. Later that evening, a dinner party will take place in the pair's apartment, and one of the pair, Brandon (John Dall), decides that it would be amusing to serve the dinner buffet on the chest containing David's body. After the guests arrive (including David's father and Cadell himself), the evening grows intense as David's friends and family worry over his unexplained disappearance. When the subject of murder continually reveals itself in conversations, and Phillip (Farley Granger - the other murderer), slowly grows agitated and suspicious, Cadell starts to fear that his theory about murder might have been taken too far.

James Stewart's performance as the suspecting professor is the highlight of the film, and makes the experience more than worthwhile. Stewart plays the part very naturally, without melodrama, which keeps the film grounded in reality. Since the audience is faced with two unusual and polarized characters (one who is devilishly carefree about murder and the other who is obviously cracking under the pressure of the situation), the need for a "real" character becomes important to the film's substance. Layer in an undeniable homosexual tone, and you have a film that could easily have been misconstrued by mass audiences, especially during the late 1940s. Bad performances would have turned this film from effective suspense to soap opera silliness. But effective suspense it is.

As many of you know, Rope is edited together as one continuous "take", without any cuts or coverage shots. However, limitations in the technology of the day restrained shooting to 8 minutes of footage at a time. Cuts obviously had to be made, but they are hidden throughout the film. Once you're drawn into the story, you'll find that they're done in very inconspicuous ways. This style of shooting makes the film feel much like a stage play, and the way the camera is moved draws the audience into the story. For instance, there are times when David is mentioned in conversation, and the camera is slowly pans to the chest in which his body lies. The chest remains in the frame for an uncomfortable length of time. It's touches like this that make Hitchcock's films so effective and memorable.

On DVD, the video presentation of Rope is pretty good, but not quite impressive. After looking at the state of the source print used for the transfer, I have to say that this is a film where the original negative should've been restored before transferring it for DVD. What we get here is an image that's very flashy and faded in spots, with heavy grain on dark colors. The first reel is substantially more damaged - the center of the frame in a whole chunk of footage looks like it was wrapped around a bicycle wheel and ridden around on for a few hours. But even if the source is damaged, the transfer is still quite good. Something positive should be said, and for a film this old, you'll be surprised at how colorful some scenes look. Considering that this was Hitchcock's first color film, that's an important consideration. We just wish that Universal took better care in making sure this film looked it's best before going digital with it.

On the other hand, the mono sound is very good (especially when you consider that it COULD have sounded like the trailer that's included on this disc - more on that below). The dialogue is very clear and there are no pops hisses or clicks on the track.

Because this is one of Universal's Hitchcock Collection discs, we're treated to a wonderful documentary from famed Hitchcock historian Laurent Bouzereau. Laurent takes us through the origins of the story, from treatment to actual screenplay, and addresses how difficult the film was to shoot with the technology afforded the filmmakers at the time. Easily the best part of the documentary is the commentary by playwright, screenwriter and producer Arthur Laurents, who is quite the bitch (in a beautiful way) and has both good and bad things to say about the filming, the film and Hitchcock's style. His points are completely dead on... and if he'd had his way, Rope would have been a very different film indeed. Also included on the DVD is a reel of production photos, some production notes, cast and crew info and a trailer (that has definitely seen better days). The trailer looks just horrid. I find it hard to believe that Universal didn't have either a better print of it or even the original negative to work from. Then again, what's on the trailer is great. It's very entertaining, especially considering that the opening contains a sort of unseen prequel to the film.

Hitchcock pushed both himself and the cinema conventions of the time pretty hard to get this film made. But his dream to film a stageplay as a stageplay was realized and it came off beautifully. Although the intended homoerotic tone of the film had to be toned down (to the point that some intended character development was been lost), Rope still shines as one of Hitchcock's most layered and yet simplistic films. It's worthy of both his genius and his name.

Greg Suarez

Todd Doogan

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock on DVD

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