Thursday, August 15, 2013

ROPE (1948)

Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant month (Film 8 of 14)

While we are on the subject of Alfred Hitchock movies, I'd like to take this time to welcome a guest blogger for this enty, Mr. Spencer Blohm.

Alfred Hitchcock was, indisputably, one of the greatest thinkers and formal innovators the film world has ever known. He had a knack for taking sensational, low-brow content and treating it with the highest level of skill and attention to detail. He would masterfully employ narrative devices and camera techniques to tell stories that were heady and engaging, however lurid the subject matter.

His film Psycho (1960) is heralded as one of the best horror films ever made. It is also one of the most emulated films of all time, and it established the basic formula for the “slasher” film as we know it today. Among the tropes featured in the film are: the disguised, knife-brandishing murderer; the use of Bernard Herrmann's screeching violin sounds to heighten the tension of the murder scenes; and the erotic themes and voyeuristic elements that we’ve come to expect from these horror films.

The film was produced and financed entirely by Hitchcock himself. The film was shot for $806,947.55, and Hitchcock relied on the crew and facilities from Revue Studios where he shot his weekly television program, Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Psycho is infamous for its twist ending and a scene where actress Janet Leigh is murdered in a shower. Norman Bates (portrayed by actor Anthony Perkins) is the strangely endearing and seemingly docile recluse who operates the Bates Motel. We are told that he lives with a volatile and repressive mother. What we don’t realize until the end of the film is that Bates actually lives, from time to time, as his volatile and repressive mother, and is compelled to murder women whom he finds attractive.

The film was based on Robert Bloch’s novel of the same name. The story of Norman Bates was based loosely on the true story of farmer Ed Gein, the murderer who made national news in the late 50’s when police found the remains of bodies and other ghastly artifacts from Gein’s grave robbing expeditions littered throughout his Wisconsin home.

Psycho is still present in the collective consciousness. There is a show titled Bates Motel which recently premiered on the A & E network, and there are countless films which have burrowed aesthetically and thematically from the influence of the film. Here are a few notable examples.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) Directed by Tobe Hooper

Labeled the “most horrifying picture” of all time by critic Rex Reed, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a hugely successful low-budget horror film about a family of cannibalistic butchers operating out of a remote house in Texas. Hooper helped to cement the slasher formula: a group of teenagers on a summer cruise end up in a desolate area and get killed off one by one except for “the final girl” — played, in this film, by actress Marilyn Burns. A girl gets hung on a meathook. A wheelchair-bound boy is hacked to bits in the woods. Despite its grisly subject matter, the film relies less upon explicit on-screen violence than it does on trick editing and evoking horrific images. Like Psycho, Chainsaw also drew inspiration from the story of Ed Gein. Watch for a clear nod to Psycho in the scene where Marilyn Burns, frantically pursued by the film’s chainsaw-wielding anti-hero Leatherface, finds a taxidermied grandmother in the attic of the house.

Halloween (1978) Directed by John Carpenter

John Carpenter employs all of the tricks of the carnival haunted house attractions in this classic slasher film. The film centers around the story of Michael Myers who, at the age of six, murdered his older sister on Halloween. Fifteen years later, Michael escapes from the mental institution to wreak havoc on his hometown, the fictional Haddonfield, Illinois.

The film contains several nods to Psycho, and the most interesting one could be the fact that he cast Janet Leigh’s daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, in her first on screen role to play the film’s heroine. Donald Pleasance plays therapist Sam Loomis, whose name is taken directly from a character in Psycho — it’s the name of Janet Leigh’s character’s boyfriend. The film spawned a host of sequels and remakes, and is still treasured by audiences to this day. Story and character development take a backseat to visceral thrills and cheap jolts, but the film, like Texas Chainsaw, stands as a superb example of what independent horror filmmakers can accomplish with few principal actors and very little money if they are cunning. Even though most of the film features Jamie Lee Curtis walking through her neighborhood and looking worried while ominous music plays, the film is still horrifying.
Dressed to Kill (1980) Directed by Brian DePalma

It’s Psycho, but more blatantly sexual, in vibrant color, in New York City, and with Michael Caine as the crossdressing, homicidal villain. DePalma has Angie Dickinson play the Janet Leigh role, and the first murder occurs, not in a shower, but in an elevator. DePalma is frequently called a poor man’s Hitchcock. The common criticism is that Hitchcock handled violence and sexuality with infinitely more restraint than the filmmakers who emulated him -- and that DePalma, and all of the filmmakers who came later, fixated on the most tawdry and sensational elements of Hitchcock films and divorced. But let’s not forget that, in the context of his time, Hitchcock was controversial among the censor boards. DePalma re-appropriates tropes and clich├ęs masterfully, and makes a film that was closer to what Hitchcock might have had license to make in 1980, twenty years after the initial release of Psycho.

Author Bio: Spencer Blohm is a film and entertainment blogger for where he covers everything from classic musicals to seventies exploitation films. Alfred Hitchcock is his all time favorite director. In fact, it was Hitchcock who inspired Spencer to start reading texts on film analysis. Spencer lives at home with his two cats (Penrod and Hortense) and he loves dill pickles.


Just a couple of words from Chris, a librarian on Alfred Hitchcock's Rope.

Rope is Alfred Hitchcock's famous one-shot (or at least as close as a movie could be to a one-shot movie at the time) story of two Leopold and Loeb type thrill killers attempting to commit the perfect crime, only to come under the suspicion of their mentor Rupert, played by Jimmy Stewart.

The two killers are supposed to be homosexual lovers, but of course in 1948 this couldn't be alluded to directly because it doesn't seem there were homosexuals at that time. At least not in a Hollywood studio movie.

Screenwriter Arthur Laurents makes an interesting point in that there was supposed to be an underlying sexual edge to Rupert's relationship with the boys that may have been brought out better if someone potentially more sexual ambiguous like James Mason had been cast in this part. But with Jimmy Stewart in the role, there is no way you could imagine the guy that played Scout Master Jefferson Smith ever being involved with the two young men in "that" way.

Stewart's role in Rope was not tailor made for him the way Capra's or some of Hitchcock's other movies were, but Jimmy Stewart in anything is worth watching in my book.

And thanks again to Spencer Blohm's contribution to today's blog.

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