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The genius that was Alfred Hitchcock makes the 1948 psychological thriller Rope a lot better than it should have been.

This economic thriller, based on a play by Patrick Hamilton, is a fictionalized re-imagining of the Leopold-Loeb murder case. In this story, we are introduced to Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger), who have actually just murdered a friend of theirs named David Kentley and have him stuffed in a large chest in the middle of their living room. Brandon feels the murder is "justifiable homicide" because he feels David is their "intellectual inferior", but Phillip is racked with guilt about what they have done and wants to take it all back as soon as it happens. Brandon is not only guilt-free, but doubly excited about the dinner party they are about to throw, where the guest list includes David's parents, his girlfriend, and a former college professor of Brandon and Phillips named Rupert Cadell (James Stewart). Brandon is so stoked about doing this, he even moves the table settings for dinner from the dining room to on top of the chest.

Through the screenplay credited to Ernest Lehman, Hume Cronyn is credited with "adapting" the piece from Hamilton's play (whatever that means), is a little on the talky side, it does provide us with a couple of flawed and fascinating protagonists in the form of Brandon and Phillip. Brandon, in particular, holds a morbid fascination for the audience with his passion regarding murder as sport and the validity of such passion. Even though the idea of murder as sport is rather twisted, it's not nearly as twisted as Brandon's heinous justification for this crime...it would have been one thing if he and David had gotten in a struggle with a gun and it went off accidentally or if David was killed in self-defense, but to commit murder because the victim is your intellectual inferior is disgusting and cannot be rationalized in any way.

But this is where Hitchcock's skill at cinematic storytelling kicks in...he manages to tell an unappealing story that only has limited appeal as a story, again, because of the heinous nature of this crime. Hitchcock and Lehman accomplish this by having David remain a viable character throughout the story. Once the dinner party commences, David is the center of conversation and everyone wants to know why he's late. The actor who plays David even receives top billing in the closing credits. Hitchcock also effectively uses his camera to tell the story...one of my favorite scenes in the film is when Rupert is recounting what he thinks happened to David and instead of the camera being on Rupert, the camera is flowing all over the room, documenting what happened, and you just KNOW this is exactly what happened.

I can't let this review go without commenting about the relationship between Brandon and Phillip that is established. Even though there is nothing overt in the screenplay regarding the nature of their relationship, it's pretty obvious that Brandon and Phillip are lovers, something you didn't see a lot of onscreen in the late 40's. It's quietly confirmed in the way their housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson, talks to them. Hitchcock doesn't shy away from it, but doesn't shove it in the faces of the audience either. Though the relationship between Brandon and Phillip does come up in the documentary The Celluloid Closet, which examines the history of homosexuality in the movies.

I believe this was the first teaming of Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart and you can see why he quickly became one of Hitch's favorite leading men and Jon Dall is quietly brilliant as Brandon. Sometimes Granger is a little hard to take as Phillip, but the performance fits the character...you expect the guy to evaporate into a pool of water at any second. Kudos to the set director for the stylish apartment that is the setting for the film and to Hitchcock's inspired decision to use almost no musical score...this movie didn't need one. Once again Hitch proves why he was the man and why he never won an Oscar continues to be the greatest mystery to most film historians.