February 9, 2014

Queer Review: Rope (1948)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writers: Hume Cronyn, Arthur Laurents, and Ben Hecht. Based on the play by Patrick Hamilton.
Cast: Dick Hogan, John Dall, Farley Granger, Edith Evanson, Douglas Dick, Joan Chandler, Cedric Hardwicke, Constance Collier, James Stewart

Loosely based on real life story of "Leopold and Loeb", two gay lovers who killed a 14 year old Bobby Franks, Rope tells the story of two upper class college students who strangle one of their fellow classmates. In short, another example of Alfred Hitchcock's fetisation of queer killers.

Two college students, the reluctant Philip (John Dall) and the daring Brandon (Farley Granger) strangle one of their former classmates David (Dick Hogan). Then they invite members of his family, mutual friends, as well as their former school headmaster Rupert (James Stewart), to a party in order to increase the thrill of the kill. However, Philips' obvious nervousness piques Ruperts' suspicions. When Brandons' repeating of Ruperts' interpretation of Nietzche, that superior individuals have a moral right to kill their inferiors, further draws attention to Davids' absence.

The Queering
The presentation of Rope was somewhat experimental. The entire story is set in "real" time, with Hitchcock attempting to use as few edits as possible and hide a couple of cuts by zooming in close to a couple of objects. However, this backfires, as the efforts to disguise said cuts are clumsy and draw attention to themselves and unfortunately an uncharismatic Jimmy Stewart addslittle to the attempts at verisimilitude.

There is a pattern that I have noticed, where real life individuals who were gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, or transexual, did something "evil", then movies are infinitely more likely to accurately depict characters based on those historical figures sexual orientation or gender identity. On the other hand if the real life person did something heroic or good, then the pattern is reversed. Gay or lesbian individuals become bi and bi characters become straight, while effeminate queens will inevitably get butched up.

The only thing that prevented Hitchcock from following this pattern was, ironically, the Hays Code. Since depictions homosexuality was banned outright, the director was forced to limit the characters sexuality to mere subtext. However, offscreen the filmmakers and particular Hitchcock made it clear that they wanted to make a film about queer sexuality. The final product was even banned by some theaters due to the fact that it had gone so far as to include coded gay characters, even if said characters were depicted as evil murderers. Honestly, I never thought I would see the day when I would find myself mildly thankful for Hollywoods' infamous production code.

On the philosophical side of things, the character of Brandon attempts to justify the murder by quoting Rupert, who in turn had been riffing on Nietzche. Unfortunately, the message ends up being garbled. Perhaps it's because Nietzch is a difficult writer to "get" that any superficial analysis is doomed to failure. Ruperts' eventual condemnation of the ideas he had (apparently) originally endorsed doesn't help matters very much. A more recent film to be based on the Leopold and Loeb case, Swoon managed to avoid this problem by focusing more on the psychological forces driving the characters rather than any philosophical justifications they tried to come up with.

No true ubermensch would allow themselves to be roped into seeing this movie, unless they had a strong interest in Hitchcock or the history of queer cinema.

The Rating
2 stars out of 4


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