Universal Home Video
Cast: James Stewart, Dick Hogan, Joan Chandler, John Dall
Extras: ’Rope Unleashed’ Documentary, Still Gallery, Cast & Crew Filmographies, Production Notes, Theatrical Trailer
’Rope’ opens with quite a shock as the viewer bears witness to the strangulation murder of David Kentley (Dick Hogan) by his school chums Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger). Viewing themselves as superior übermen, they celebrate their crime by hosting a dinner party in which the victim’s parents and fiancee are invited to partake of a lavish buffet placed atop the very trunk that holds Kentley’s dead body. Rounding out the special guests is their former prep school mentor Rupert Cadell (James Stewart) whose Nietzschean philosophical teachings the pair have taken to heart and twisted into an excuse for cold-blooded murder.
Patterned after Patrick Hamilton’s stage play, ’Rope’s End,’ the film attempted to replicate the feel of the original production by using one small set, unfolding the events chronologically and in real-time, and appearing as if it was filmed in one, continuous take (a technical impossibility given the ten minutes of photography allowed by a reel of film at the time). The results of this unique style are somewhat hit and miss, lending ammunition to those who claim that ’Rope’ was nothing more than just another technological stunt by Hitchcock. But this seamless style actually serves to draw the viewer into the story and never once gives them the chance to stop and catch their breath. Sure, some of the hidden cuts are quite obvious and the use of this technique seems labored at times but you have to give Hitchcock credit for trying a new method that he felt would effectively translate a dramatic play to the silver screen. In later years he himself admitted that it didn’t really work all that well but even a Hitchcock failure is far better than many director’s greatest successes.
’Rope’ is presented on DVD in its original <$PS,full frame> aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Bearing in mind the vintage of this film, the original elements appear to have been in decent shape. There are certainly a fair number of nicks and blemishes but, on the whole, the condition of the print is quite good. Film grain is evident but never too distracting and the use of edge enhancement is mercifully restrained as well. Colors are somewhat faded and have a tendency to flicker while black levels never get much beyond dark gray. That being said, I found ’Rope’ to be visually more than acceptable with no glaring imperfections.
The audio is presented in English, French, and Spanish mono mixes that are split between the two front speakers. Given the age of the film the lack of dynamic range shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. There is also some faint audio distortion and hiss but this dialogue-driven soundtrack is quite audible and easily understood.
Rounding out the extras are a number of production photos, a few pages of production notes, cast and crew bios and filmographies, and a fairly beat-up theatrical trailer.
Universal’s new DVD offers up a fine enough presentation of ’Rope’ and the Laurent Bouzereau documentary more than makes up for any minor quibbles with the audio and video. The film itself is highly recommended as is the DVD.