4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Center, James Stewart plays prep school housemaster, Rupert Cadell and his former students Phillip (Farley Granger) and Brandon (John Dall).
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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, & digital copy; 1948; PG for violence; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (iTunes) (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “Rope Unleashed” documentary
CELEBRATED for his use of pacing, dramatic and innovative camera work, and a unique POV, Alfred Hitchcock is known as the master of suspense. His 1948 feature “Rope,” however, is an exception to almost all of those qualities. The film was adapted from a 1929 English stage play by Patrick Hamilton, which itself was inspired by the notorious 1924 Nathan Leopold/Richard Loeb murder case. As a part of Hitchcock’s oeuvre, “Rope” disappoints in several ways, which are explored in the documentary, by the screenwriter Arthur Laurents.
The film begins in a New York City apartment with a close-up of a young man (Farley Granger) strangling another fellow (Dick Hogan) with a piece of rope, while a third (John Dall) holds up the dying victim. We soon discover that he was murdered for petty reasons, but mostly because the two conspirators simply wanted to see if they could do it and get away with it.
They stash the dead man’s body in a living room chest, and proceed to throw a party around it soon afterwards, perversely having invited the deceased’s fiancée as well as his parents. Also invited is the killers’ former teacher (James Stewart), whose nihilistic instruction contributed to their desire to commit a “perfect” murder. The entire film takes place inside the apartment and over the course of one day. The supporting cast includes Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Constance Collier and Joan Chandler, who all do their best to add some color to the rather monotone, and extremely un-Hitchcockian drama.
(1&2) Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope” was filmed on the Warner Bros. Studio lot in Burbank, Calif., and premiered on September 25, 1948. (3) The 4K resolution is so good, you can see the director and his wife Alma walk along the sidewalk for his trademark cameo. (4&5) Brandon and Phillip think they have committed the perfect crime by killing a mutual friend, David Kentley (Dick Hogan). They stuffed his body into a huge trunk in the living room.
Universal continues to give their series of Hitchcock films – 14 films in all – the best possible 4K Ultra HD restoration. “Rope” was Hitchcock’s first color film and captured in the three-strip Technicolor process (1.37:1 aspect ratio). The new 4K master was more likely sourced from a singular duplicate negative, and digitally cleaned, and the results are superb – a night-to-day difference compared to the old 2K master Blu-ray.
The new and improved 4K clarity is obvious from start to finish, starting with the opening title sequence. Normally, it’s a soft composite shot of the background imagery with rolling titles, but here everything is super sharp – scanned straight from the three-strip camera negatives. The camera is mounted from a high vantage point on the edge of the building where the crime takes place. It overlooks the street below and the clarity is so good you can clearly see Hitchcock and his wife Alma walking along the sidewalk in his trademark cameo.
With a running time of just one hour and 20 minutes, the 4K imagery was encoded onto the smaller 66 GB disc. Even with 30 minutes of standard-def extras, it still left room for an average 91 Megabit per second of video bit rate – which is topnotch to extract every single ounce of the fine film grain.
The HDR10 color grading is also well-balanced for natural facial toning and the earthly color palette. It shows a wide spectrum of contrast levels from controlled highlights to deep dark shadows, that peaks with a brightness of 1000 nits, averaging 100 nits.
The original 2.0 mono soundtrack has been restored with a DTS-HD track and the dialogue drive story is completely front and center, with an uneventful and uncredited score from composer David Buttolph.
(1) Brandon and Phillip host their dinner party. (2) The housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson (Edith Evanson) arrives with dessert. (3) Brandon, Phillip, and Kenneth (Douglas Dick), another former classmate enjoy some conversation before the other guests arrive. (4) David’s fiancée, Janet (Joan Chandler) wonders where he is since he was to be at the party. (5) David’s father (Hardwicke) and aunt (Constance Collier) arrive at the party.
The 4K disc includes a slide show of production photographs, and the half-hour documentary “Rope Unleashed,” featuring actor/writer Hume Cronyn, writer Arthur Laurents, co-star Farley Granger and Hitchcock’s daughter Pat Hitchcock O’Connell. Cronyn says Hitchcock offered him the job of writing the movie adaptation of Patrick Hamilton's play. Cronyn “hacked out the scenes” along with Hitchcock, while they “sat in his garden in Belair and drank wine.” After they finished work on the treatment, Laurents was brought in to add dialogue and complete the screenplay.
Laurents says Hitchcock specifically wanted a playwright for that job and Laurents felt it would work better if he “made it American.” The trouble was, he adds, “when you translated the English dialogue, it became very ‘homosexual,’ unintentionally.
Many changes were required to Americanize the material. “‘Rope’ was obviously about homosexuals,” Laurents adds. “But the word was never mentioned – not by Hitch, not by anybody at Warners … They were doing a picture about ‘it.’” Laurents says the film was much more successful in Europe where they were more used to it than they were here. “The culture at the time (in the U.S.) was trying to deny homosexuality even existed … it was well-known among Hollywood actors - ‘let’s not talk about it’ … They ignored the fact that (the plot) was based on the Leopold/Loeb case: Two rich boys in a Chicago school who decided to murder a third boy for the thrill of it.” When Laurents mentioned that to the people at Warners, he said, “everybody looked blank!” Films were still being censored by the Legion of Decency at that time, and there were strict rules about what could be said or shown in them, especially when it came to sexuality.
Laurents notes that in addition to the two main protagonists, played by Granger and Dall, their teacher (Stewart) was also supposed to be gay. Cary Grant and Montgomery Clift both had already turned down the role, because they didn’t want to be associated with it. In the play, the teacher was meant to have had an affair with one of the boys. But “Jimmy Stewart,” jokes Laurents, “didn’t have an affair with anybody! He was a Boy Scout!” Therefore, Laurents felt the film was “off-focus.” He blames Hitchcock’s decision to shoot the murder scene at the very beginning of the film on “a failure of nerve … I thought the suspense would be not knowing if there was a body in that chest. You knew they were murderers and you knew they’d get caught. I think that took a lot of the tension out of the picture.” Laurents adds, “I tried to do verbally what Hitch tried to do visually …to lighten it up a bit with some humor,” especially the scenes that featured the veteran English actress Constance Collier.
(1) Brandon and Mr. Cadell (Stewart) discuss the serving of expensive champagne. (2) Cadell gets suspicious about David’s fate.
This was Hitchcock’s first film in Technicolor, Laurents notes, and he praises the sophisticated painted backdrop of the New York skyline, which had to change from daylight, to dusk, and then to nighttime. Hitchcock’s daughter O’Connell says, “My father always wanted to film a stage play,” and feels that “Rope” is an important movie, particularly because it’s so different from any other movie made by Hitchcock.
Granger had been working in the theater in New York when he was called to Hollywood and given the script for “Rope.” “I had no idea what it was,” he says. What attracted him to the project “was that it was Hitchcock – and the way it was going to be shot (one reel, or 10 minutes at a time with seamless cuts), which was a very interesting experiment.”
He also recalls that “almost everyone in Hollywood came to visit the set,” including Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant. Granger had to learn how to play a classical piano piece, even though the sound of it was eventually dubbed with a recording: “My fingers had to look right.” He observed that Stewart “was unsure about the part. I think he was uncomfortable playing an evil character.”
Granger was impressed with Hitchcock’s extensive knowledge of the technical side of filmmaking. The actor says he didn’t really get to know Hitchcock during the production of “Rope,” but he did later with “Strangers on a Train.” Granger adds, “My experience with him was very meaningful to me. I learned a lot from him.” With “Rope,” he adds, “we knew we were doing something different.”
— Peggy Earle
(1) After the party Brandon looks into the trunk. (2) Brandon and Phillip hear police sirens. (3) Cadell reacts to seeing the body.