The movie draws, clear as day, on Dostoyevsky’s philosophy in Crime and Punishment, and Nietzsche’s idea of the overman. That is, the play it was based on does. The plot consist in the killing of an “inferior” colleague of theirs by two moneyed students- Brandon (John Dall) and Philip (Farley Granger), who fancy themselves as superior beings having a right to murder the former. They do so inspired by the concepts Rupert Cadell (James Stewart), their former housemaster, set forth in their prep school years, namely that murder is “a crime for most men, but a privilege for the few”. To celebrate their crime and put its perfection to the test so as to further massage their egos, they hide their colleague’s body in a wooden trunk and invite over his parents as well as his girlfriend. They also invite Rupert himself, who’s meant to be the true challenge, in order to spice things up. The trunk is to serve as a center-table laden with delicacies for the guests to snatch and thus compelling the family to eat at the table concealing the corpse of their son. But besides inviting Rupert, Brandon shoots himself in the foot out of an excess of confidence by hinting that David (the dead) won’t turn up after all. As for Rupert, he proves as expected to be one hell of a bloodhound who knows his former students inside out and sees right through them. He thereby finds rather curious Brandon’s springing champagne on them as it were a special occasion. A commanding personality and who doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable questions, he soon grows more suspicious and as he starts prying, it’s only a matter of time till things have to come to a head. Brandon starts stuttering (like he used to when he got excited), and Phillip soon cracks cold under the pressure and turns to drinking.
The whole thing takes place uninterruptedly and in only one room, for the most part. As the film steers clear of action, the focal point is the acting and in this regard, the actors put on a great performance. Basically, Rope is a filmed play and thus ought to be, for those fond of going to the theater, all that and a bag of chips. For the moviegoers though, it feels like a trifle anticlimactic and lacking a shred of diversity. You pretty much know how it’s going to end. What you’re supposed to not know is how. But that’s likewise fairly predictable and this works against the expected tension and suspense. Also the trunk is laid in the middle of the room and so transformed into the focal point, making you believe something is to happen any moment. It should’ve, if you ask me, but it didn’t and I gather there’s where Hitchcock failed. All the same, it’s still a great movie, largely redeemed by the adroit acting and its offbeat idea. This is only a testament, if anything, to Hitchcock’s caliber, towering over the many even when not at his best.