Rope (1948) Movie Review – James Stewart: May 20th 1908 – July 2nd 1997

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Today would have been the birthday of the legendary James “Jimmy” Stewart, the Pennsylvanian actor who is perhaps best known for his work in classic movies such as “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Vertigo” and “Rear Window” among many others. He did many films alongside the legendary director, Alfred Hitchcock, and those films, in my view, were some of Stewart’s best. To talk in detail about the entire career of James Stewart would be a very substantial task to undertake and would be a very lengthy thing to read too, so instead I am going to review one of my favourite films from the long list of James Stewart flicks, as well as one of my favourite Hitchcock titles.

The strange thing about this review, really, is that of all the Hitchcock films that Stewart worked on, this was the one that he went public in saying he didn’t like, feeling he was miscast in the role of Professor Rupert Cadell.  I feel differently though and as a big fan of this film as well as Stewarts performance, I feel it only appropriate that I go against the grain and review a film that seldom gets spoken of when people discuss Stewart’s work with Hitchcock.

Rope is a fairly simple film, both in execution, concept and story. Based very loosely on the Patrick Hamilton play of the same name, the film is very different to the play in many ways, with characters and certain happenings being altered or entirely changed for the film, but the plot is kept to faithfully. The story follows Brandon and Philip, two young men who live in an apartment in New York. Their sense of grandeur comes to the forefront when they murder their friend, David, whom they feel superior to in intellect. They strangle David with a rope and hide him in a wooden chest in their apartment. The film them takes a turn as the two murderers hold a party in their home with guests that include the father and fiancée of their victim, David, as well as their old professor, played by James Stewart, who begins to suspect that something sinister is going on.

Filmed in a way that appears to be in real time, but is actually a little more, and with only ten shots in the films 80 minute running time, Rope is a very original and compelling film both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. The way the film plays out is wonderfully done, with the guests of the party and the murderous hosts offering conversation amid a sinister background that creates a tense and suspenseful atmosphere, something that is very much a trademark of Hitchcock. The close-up shots and angles are great and the long shots, some of which focus for long periods of time on silent moments, create a film that remains, some 66 years after its original release, both inventive and inspirational.

Stewart gives a great performance as the professor, and his curious manner is what gives the film its suspense. John Dall, who plays Brandon, is excellent too, and alongside Stewart, steals the show. Outstanding writing and with top notch pacing, Rope remains one of my favourite Hitchcock films, as well as a film I think about when remembering the career of the great James Stewart. Perhaps not his best performance, or best film, Rope is still one of those movies I love and feel is underrated by many.

I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this film again on what would have been Jimmy Stewart’s birthday, and I recommend you see it too, if you haven’t yet. It is a true classic.

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