It’s been a long time since I last wrote about any movies, but I decided last night that it was confession time. I’ve mentioned this to a few people but I recently came to the realisation that I’d never (knowingly, at least) watched an Alfred Hitchcock film. There are others on this BFI list that I’ve literally just discovered (and I’ll get around to addressing that), but this realisation came from two things. The first was his inclusion on my “Top 100 Must-See Movies” poster that I need to carry on working my way through, but the thought also occurred whilst I was browsing Amazon looking for something to buy with a gift voucher I’d received for my birthday back in June. I don’t tend to buy from Amazon if I can help it, but it’s more convenient for family members to buy me a gift card if they want to get me anything. Even so, I was struggling for what to buy, I get all my books, comics and manga from local shops if I can help it, with games I prefer digital over physical, apart from for specific titles, just because space is at a premium in my household. Likewise, I have a Spotify Family subscription, plus the space issue, so I don’t buy CD’s any more (and wouldn’t trust my kids around a record player, sorry kids). It’s rare I buy films because I have both subscriptions to Netflix, Prime Video (as part of my phone contract) and Disney+.
However, whilst browsing, I saw a boxset of Alfred Hitchcock movies, this one in fact, and decided it was about time I got around to watching some, especially as the poster I mentioned previously has Vertigo on it.
As of last night, I’ve watched three of the fourteen films included. I’m working through in order of release, though there are films released between the ones in the boxset that I’ll have to watch in other ways eventually (there are notable omissions too, such as North by Northwest), so, what do I think of those three films?
If there was an obvious improvement between Saboteur and Shadow of a Doubt, then that improvement is ramped up by the time we get to Rope (1948). This is the third and final film from the 40s that features in this boxset and was released five years after the previous entry.
This one has a brief (compared to the previous two) plot synopsis, and that’s because it needs little more: Two former University Students murder a former classmate, then hold a dinner party for people that were close to all three in an attempt to prove their intellectual superiority.
Rope was so, so clever, I loved every moment of it. This film takes the whole murder mystery concept and turns it on its head. There is no mystery here, we know that Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger) killed their friend, David, and placed his body in a chest. The fun from this film is seeing how the pair handle things after the event. Choosing to hide the body in a chest, they invite friends over to a dinner party and leave the expectation that David is supposed to be in attendance to stew as the rest of the cast become increasingly worried as to his whereabouts, not knowing that he is in the chest they’re all commenting on being a weird place to use as a serving table (especially considering the fuss the maid makes over them not using the perfectly fine serving table that is already in the apartment). Dall and Granger put in excellent contrasting performances as Brandon delights in playing this game whilst Phillip becomes increasingly intoxicated and confrontational.
However, it’s not only this reversal of genre tropes that makes Rope interesting. As I watched I noticed that some of the camera work looked shakey, and wondered if this was Hitchcock trying to do something specific or if it was just due to the technology at his disposal on this film. Well, in reality, it’s a bit of both. Discussing the film with others I was given a couple of links that specifically discuss the camera work. Unlike a lot of films of the era, the footage is more dynamic, we follow characters around the apartment and the cast rarely perform to a static camera. Hitchcock intended to make a film where the editing process was all but invisible and honestly, if you aren’t looking for the edits, then you’d barely notice them. I won’t say how he achieves this as they’re very noticeable once you know the techniques he uses, but the overall effect places the viewer in the room as a third party who knows the truth and just has to sit and watch the tension increase, it’s a fantastic piece of work.