Rope and the Interrogation

21 Mar

In the last decade there’s been several plays rewritten for film, and one of the most challenging aspects is how you translate the physical limitations of a stage.  Most directors botch it by trying to add scenes which need action that only end up detracting from the overall feel- The Producers is a good example of this. Alfred Hitchcock, always the master, stumbled on the idea that the best way to film a play was to make it as similar to watching a play as possible.

Rope is one of the few Hitchcock films with a glaring flaw, his plan was to shoot the entire film in a single take but the technology of the day made that impossible. By necessity, scenes go for about as a long as a complete reel, and there’s a pan to a flat surface (a doorway, the back of a coat) which could then pick up from the next reel and zoom back out to the action. To contemporary audiences this feels a bit clunky, but the staggering detail put into the background of the apartment (which moved from sunset to evening in real time as the film progressed) has rarely, if ever, been repeated.

James Stewart  does some of his best work here as Rupert Cadell, the college professor who tries to figure out Brandon and Phillip’s game. Volumes could be written on the gay subtext between the three men (which came about as a result of the Production Code, something the stage version didn’t have to deal with), but the scene above is a fantastic example of how to build tension with very little. Cadell plays both good cop and bad cop by himself, and Phillip is clearly uncomfortable- watch how his hands are less certain the more he plays, how his voice starts to crack. He tries to play to drown out Cadell, and the music gets more frantic the longer he has to talk. Then he starts the metronome, and Phillip reacts like he’s heard the beating of the hideous heart.

I’ve decided that rather than try and give an overview of a film for Cult of the Week, what I’d do instead is look at a specific part of a film and why that makes it worthwhile. This might be a better way of doing things, or not. Time will tell.

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