Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 3/7/01
1948 (2001) - Warner Bros.
review by Greg Suarez and
Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits
Films of Alfred Hitchcock on DVD
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
81 mins, PG, full-frame (1.33:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered
(layer switch at 59:40, in chapter 15), Amaray keep case packaging,
Rope Unleashed documentary
(with English, Spanish and French captions), poster art and
production stills, production notes, cast and crew biographies and
filmographies, theatrical trailer, animated film-themed menu screens
with sound, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English, Spanish
and French (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: English
"Cat and mouse!
Cat and mouse! Which is the cat and which is the mouse?"
The style of filmmaking of five or six decades ago is very
different compared to modern work. In many older films, the acting
was much more melodramatic, and the cinematography and overall
styles were very stolid. And then there was Hitchcock. Hitch broke
many conventions of the day, by pushing the stylistic envelope with
innovative cinematography. He introduced audiences to a level of
suspense few filmmakers had dared before. Not surprisingly,
Hitchcock's methods have had a great impact on many films that
followed, and he continues to be an icon of world cinema and a
master of terror even today.
Loosely based on the famous Leopold and Loeb murders,
Rope is the story of a pair of
college friends who murder a schoolmate, David, purely as a social
experiment. They hide his body in a large chest in the middle of
their apartment. The friends' vicious act was inspired by their
college professor, Rupert Cadell (James Stewart), who halfway
believes that murder should be a socially acceptable practice in
certain situations. Later that evening, a dinner party will take
place in the pair's apartment, and one of the pair, Brandon (John
Dall), decides that it would be amusing to serve the dinner buffet
on the chest containing David's body. After the guests arrive
(including David's father and Cadell himself), the evening grows
intense as David's friends and family worry over his unexplained
disappearance. When the subject of murder continually reveals itself
in conversations, and Phillip (Farley Granger - the other
murderer), slowly grows agitated and suspicious, Cadell starts to
fear that his theory about murder might have been taken too far.
James Stewart's performance as the suspecting professor is the
highlight of the film, and makes the experience more than
worthwhile. Stewart plays the part very naturally, without
melodrama, which keeps the film grounded in reality. Since the
audience is faced with two unusual and polarized characters (one who
is devilishly carefree about murder and the other who is obviously
cracking under the pressure of the situation), the need for a "real"
character becomes important to the film's substance. Layer in an
undeniable homosexual tone, and you have a film that could easily
have been misconstrued by mass audiences, especially during the late
1940s. Bad performances would have turned this film from effective
suspense to soap opera silliness. But effective suspense it is.
As many of you know, Rope is
edited together as one continuous "take", without any cuts
or coverage shots. However, limitations in the technology of the day
restrained shooting to 8 minutes of footage at a time. Cuts
obviously had to be made, but they are hidden throughout the film.
Once you're drawn into the story, you'll find that they're done in
very inconspicuous ways. This style of shooting makes the film feel
much like a stage play, and the way the camera is moved draws the
audience into the story. For instance, there are times when David is
mentioned in conversation, and the camera is slowly pans to the
chest in which his body lies. The chest remains in the frame for an
uncomfortable length of time. It's touches like this that make
Hitchcock's films so effective and memorable.
On DVD, the video presentation of Rope
is pretty good, but not quite impressive. After looking at the state
of the source print used for the transfer, I have to say that this
is a film where the original negative should've been restored before
transferring it for DVD. What we get here is an image that's very
flashy and faded in spots, with heavy grain on dark colors. The
first reel is substantially more damaged - the center of the frame
in a whole chunk of footage looks like it was wrapped around a
bicycle wheel and ridden around on for a few hours. But even if the
source is damaged, the transfer is still quite good. Something
positive should be said, and for a film this old, you'll be
surprised at how colorful some scenes look. Considering that this
was Hitchcock's first color film, that's an important consideration.
We just wish that Universal took better care in making sure this
film looked it's best before going digital with it.
On the other hand, the mono sound is very good (especially when you
consider that it COULD have sounded like the trailer that's included
on this disc - more on that below). The dialogue is very clear and
there are no pops hisses or clicks on the track.
Because this is one of Universal's Hitchcock Collection discs,
we're treated to a wonderful documentary from famed Hitchcock
historian Laurent Bouzereau. Laurent takes us through the origins of
the story, from treatment to actual screenplay, and addresses how
difficult the film was to shoot with the technology afforded the
filmmakers at the time. Easily the best part of the documentary is
the commentary by playwright, screenwriter and producer Arthur
Laurents, who is quite the bitch (in a beautiful way) and has both
good and bad things to say about the filming, the film and
Hitchcock's style. His points are completely dead on... and if he'd
had his way, Rope would have
been a very different film indeed. Also included on the DVD is a
reel of production photos, some production notes, cast and crew info
and a trailer (that has definitely seen better days). The trailer
looks just horrid. I find it hard to believe that Universal didn't
have either a better print of it or even the original negative to
work from. Then again, what's on the trailer is great. It's very
entertaining, especially considering that the opening contains a
sort of unseen prequel to the film.
Hitchcock pushed both himself and the cinema conventions of the
time pretty hard to get this film made. But his dream to film a
stageplay as a stageplay was realized and it came off beautifully.
Although the intended homoerotic tone of the film had to be toned
down (to the point that some intended character development was been
lost), Rope still shines as
one of Hitchcock's most layered and yet simplistic films. It's
worthy of both his genius and his name.
Films of Alfred Hitchcock on DVD