Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #217
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: James Stewart and John Dall
After the Spanish-American War, the American ambassador to Britain famously wrote to Theodore Roosevelt that it had been "a splendid little war." It seemed to undermine the death toll and was seen as insensitive by some, but it wasn't wholly inaccurate. After watching Rope – and Brief Encounter and The Killing, for that matter – I can't help but feel a similar sentiment. This was a splendid little movie, but a masterpiece it was not. With a mere eighty minutes of running time and a script that contained it entirely inside an apartment, there frankly wasn't quite enough potential to make the all-time classic that Rope is now apparently regarded as.
The plot is intriguing enough; two intellectual friends kill a man, hide his body in their apartment, then host a party there, all just to see if they can get away with it. The party guests are people close to the victim – his father, his aunt, his fiancee – and the killers give them drinks and food and successfully keep their dark secret. But after the party, mutual acquaintance Rupert Cadell, played by James Stewart at his James Stewartiest, gets suspicious about the victim's whereabouts, and the flustered killers, convinced that he knows, spill the beans and show him the body. The film ends with Cadell firing a gun out the window of the apartment and the two murderers slinking low in their chairs as police sirens close in on their building. It's a pretty great plot, and it's executed masterfully by Hitchcock, who uses a little bit of trick photography (as well as really goddamn long shots) to make the film appear as though it's entirely composed of one, ever-panning shot.
But is it a masterpiece? Eh, it's close, but the way the film is put together makes it feel like an unusually long short film. It plays with a singular idea, ties it up at the end, and calls it a day. It's great for what it is, but what it is just doesn't feel like an all-time classic. I quite enjoyed Rope, I'm just not prepare to call it one of the greatest movies ever.
The Good: Probably the camerawork. Leave it to Hitchcock to turn cinematography on its head in 1948.
The Bad: Some of the performances are bad. I think there were just a lot of lousy stage actors back in the '40s who went to Hollywood and got jobs because there weren't enough movie star types to round out every cast. James Stewart is great in this, though.
The Skinny: I don't think it belongs in the Top 250.