The film is so chilly you could ice champagne in it or place it around a silver serving dish of fresh caviar. It really is the ''stunt'' that Hitchcock calls it in ''Hitchcock,'' Francois Truffaut's series of interviews with him, but it looks far more interesting now than either Hitchcock or Truffaut thought 20 years ago. And, once you get in touch with its dated speech rhythms, even its archness is acceptable. Hitchcock was interested in seeing whether he could find a cinematic equivalent to the play, which takes place in the actual length of time of the story.
To do this, he decided to shoot it in what would appear to be one long, continuous ''take,'' without cutaways or any other breaks in the action, though in fact there would have to be a disguised break every 10 minutes, which was as much film as the camera could contain. These breaks he usually accomplishes by having the camera appear to pan across someone's back, during which dark close-ups the film reel is changed.
Not all of these disguises are equally effective, as Hitchcock himself later realized. However, his obsession with telling a story without resorting to the usual methods of montage, and without cutting from one shot to another, results in a film of unusual, fascinating technical facility, whose chilliness almost perfectly suits the subject. Its unemotional calm is like that of the frontier woman Lincoln used to describe, to make the point that there are times when a lack of bias is counterproductive.
Coming out of her log cabin one morning to find her husband in mortal combat with a bear, the woman shouted, ''Go it, man. Go it, bear. It's not that ''Rope'' doesn't eventually take sides. There's a rather awful speech at the end in which the two young murderers' former prep- school teacher, Rupert Cadell James Stewart , who brought up his prize pupils on Nietzsche's superman theories, suddenly recants and admits that all his theorizing has been hogwash.
Until then, however, ''Rope'' has taken in the events of the story in the manner of a cat that, ignored by the guests, ambles freely around the apartment - the film's single set - appearing to be bored, completely uninterested in the action, but not missing a trick. In ''Rope,'' Hitchcock is less concerned with the characters and their moral dilemmas than with how they look, sound and move, and with the overall spectacle of how a perfect crime goes wrong.
As the movie opens, Brandon, who easily dominates his homosexual lover, Philip, is in the process of strangling the unfortunate David with a piece of ordinary clothesline. David's only crime seems to be that he's ''ordinary,'' meaning, among other things, that he's engaged to be married. With remarkable dispatch, the two young men place David's remains into the chest and attend to last-minute preparations for the cocktail party they're giving for a small, select group of guests, including David's father, aunt and fiancee, and Rupert, the former teacher whose somewhat muddled ideas they've put into practice.
When I saw the film last week at the Cinema Studio, the audience collapsed with laughter at Philip's tentative suggestion that the party might be a mistake, but this was, I think, the laughter of disorientation rather than derision. There are a lot of laughs in ''Rope'' but most of these are ghoulish ones, though Mr. Granger's Philip is so distraught right from the beginning that almost everything he says or does strikes the audience as comic.
The Granger role is impossible. His bandage is gone. You get the hell on out of here. The dog is shooed off. Childs turns back grumbling. Comin' in here He picks it up, inquiringly. It is mangled and shredded. He hears the sound of approaching propeller blades from outside. And then the sound of his tool box crashing to the floor.
He turns to see what caused the ruckus. The dog, who has entered the shed, has jumped on the work table and upended the tool box on its eagerness to look out of the above window. Palmer curses under his breath and calls out. Will you kennel this goddamn dog? Copper, fights against the newly arrived heavy winds and lands safely. Copper, Norris, Bennings, Blair and his assistant, Fuchs, are present.
The small Norwegian video unit has been set up and its contents are being viewed on a TV screen. Grainy, home movie-ish, no sound. The proceedings are grim. Shots of the Norwegian's at work.
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Others of them playing soccer on ice. Generally the footage is a prosaic record of their day-to-day life. Norris shuffles the bundle of notes Dr. Copper brought back with him. Seems they were spending a lot of time at a place four miles northeast of their camp. MacReady, working on the video machine, answers. The present footage is a shot of them all naked and probably drunk, holding a sign across their waists as they stand outdoors in super-freezing weather.
MacReady turns on the light and shuts off the video machine. He then slides the portable tape deck across the table to Dr. They exchange a look. A Norwegian voice drones on calmly, making verbal notes. Norris shrugs. Copper fast forwards. The calm voice continues. And then a loud blast, followed by pounding. The sounds of confusion. Men's feet running up and down wooden floorboards.
A gurgling. A hissing. And then a screeching. More blasts mixed with the din of wild, carnage-wrought cries. And then more screeching.
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A screeching unlike anything these men have ever heard. The men look from one another in silence as they listen. Copper turns it off. Men in isolation Something they ate. What about food poisoning, Doc? Copper taps the tape deck pensively.
He glances at MacReady, and then back to the others. Copper and MacReady begin dumping the heavy contents of a large plastic trash bag onto the slab. Displayed on the slab is what appears to be the corpse of a man. Badly charred. What is left of the trousers and shoes of the bottom torso are ripped and split, as if his legs and feet had burst from the inside.
His upper body is an almost undecipherable gnarled mass of protoplasmic mush. The head is strangely disfigured and looks larger than normal. It is situated not on its shoulders but near the abdomen. Tendon-like appendages are wrapped around the carcass and sticking up and out in odd postures. One is wrapped around the body's left leg. The shirt has been ripped and lies shredded in the tar-like mess. The men grimace. Blair, sickened but fascinated, pokes at the tendon-like things and the tarry goo. Nauls and Clark are going at it hot and heavy.
Sanchez sits off in a corner thumbing through an old issue of Photoplay. Bennings, Norris and Garry are engaged in a card game. Bennings is about to play a card when he feels something under the table. He looks. It is the dog. LAB larger than most of the other rooms and well-equipped. Copper is performing an autopsy on the Norwegian intruder, killed early that morning.
Blair sits over his microscope, while Fuchs prepares slides. The other body is draped with a sheet, waiting its turn. Copper pulls off his gloves. Physiologically, anyway. A new dressing has been placed on its hip. He unlatches the door to the kennel and leads him in.
Poorly lit. Cramped with dogs. Some of them sleeping. Others pacing around and curious, greet their new companion, sniffing, panting and rubbing up against him. Clark pats the dog and several others, then leaves, latching the door behind him. The show is a tape of an American TV game show. He has seen this one too many times, extracts the cassette and injects another game show.
Palmer is stretched out in the other cot, reading a comic book and smoking a joint. Childs beckons for it and takes a hit. PUB A small area, just off the rec room. Set up like a bar. MacReady is alone looking over the rest of the videotapes from the Norwegian outpost. Mundane to esoteric chores of Antarctic camp life. He looks bored. LAB Blair, hovering over the microscope, lays in a slide, focuses and motions for Dr.
Copper to take a look. Copper is confused as he examines. He shrugs. Fuchs takes the opportunity to look. Blair moves over to the disfigured corpse and indicates one of the fibrous, tendon- like appendages. Fuchs is befuddled as he examines. Biologically speaking. Let's wrap for the day. Copper undoes his lab coat and lays it over a chair as he exits.
Blair stares down ominously at the mutilated body. The wall clock reads four-thirty. The sound of snoring. As he puffs away, he still keeps an eye on the Norwegian video tapes. His balloon begins to take shape. It blossoms into a life-size replica of a full- breasted woman. Something on the tape catches his eye. He rewinds, then starts it forward again. The screen shows the Norwegians on the surface of what appears to be an enormous, flat glacier.
They are spread out on the ice around a large odd oval shape; their arms outstretched. It fades to black and then a Norwegian comes on mugging childishly in front of the camera, apparently quite pleased with something. The tape fades to black again and the picture reappears. This time they have marked off the large oval area with flag sticks. Closer shots show three of the men digging a deep hole into the ice. There is a small patch of something dark and metallic at the bottom.
MacReady leans forward, intrigued. The men are now sinking something deep into the ice at various points around the markings. MacReady squints and mumbles to himself. Thermite charges?
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The tape jump cuts again showing a long shot of the markings. No Norwegian in sight. An explosion kicks up the ice. A beat as the ice sprays to the ground. Then the camera appears to shake as the ground beneath it quivers. Another immense explosion follows. An earthquake-like force throws the camera to the ground. The tape continues, distorted, unviewable. A distinct crack in the lens. MacReady lets go of his companion and quickly rewinds. The deflating mannequin is sent sputtering around the room.
The new dog watches them calmly, silently.
He takes several steps towards a group of about five dogs and sits upright. Completely still. He stares at them. The dogs are aware of something. They begin to seem a bit confused, uncomfortable. The new dog continues to stare. Sitting rigidly, unnaturally still. His eyes dead, lusterless black spheres. Bewildered, a few dogs start to pace. As if sensing something: a portent. A danger. But so odd. They begin a soft, purring growl. The new dog remains a statue. The growling builds. More dogs begin to pace. Faster, encircling. Emitting hisses, snarls.
The lack of response driving them into a frenzy. More frenetic pacing. The din escalating. Three dogs start to close in on the stranger. They attack. The shadow suddenly lurches upward, seeming larger. The kennel roars. PUB MacReady is still going over bits of the same footage, fascinated. He hears the far-off clamor of the dogs. MacReady has entered.
No response. MacReady nudges him. Clark rolls away, annoyed. MacReady pinches his snoring nose, cutting off the air. Clark sits up, groggy. Take care of it. The wind soughing loudly overhead. CLARK reaches the kennel door. The savage outpouring of noise from within baffles and angers him. He unlatches the door. Just as he opens the door, two dogs, as if jettisoned from a cannon, knock him off his feet.
Growls, barks, snarls. And a screeching from within. The sound of the far- off screeching. He freezes. He turns and sprints. He pulls the lever. MacReady, Garry, Norris run through the narrow tunnel led by Clark. MacReady carries a shotgun. Garry, half-dressed, has his. Clark, a fire ax. Men, half-naked, bounce from their cubicle.
Pulling on their pants, digging into shoes. Bennings is off. The two dogs, thrown into Clark, back ferociously and scratch at the door trying to get back in. One is badly bloodied. The fight inside rages on. MacReady and Clark brace themselves by the narrow door. Norris and Garry hold back the two hysterical dogs. Clark undoes the latch and he and MacReady enter the kennel. The light has been broken and it is pitch black. MacReady snaps on his flashlight. Norris and Garry can't contain their animals and the dogs burst into the room. They smash into MacReady and send him sprawling. Total confusion: the dogs; the men; the screeching; the blackness.
MacReady gropes for his flashlight and rights himself. He finds Clark. Then shines it around the cramped room trying to get his bearings. The light finds a mass of dogs in a wild melee in the corner. Barking mixed with hissing, a gurgling, a screeching. Dogs being hurled about and then charging back into the fray with a vengeance. The flashlight illuminates parts of some "thing. But not quite. Impossible to tell. It struggles powerfully. Garry pokes his head into the blackness. MacReady aims his shotgun at the entire pack. Clark wades into the pack, grabs at dogs' hides and throws them back.
He then wields his ax into the fray, chopping and hacking away at the gurgling, hissing silhouette. From out of nowhere, a large, bristly, arachnid-like leg springs up and wraps around Clark's ax. It sends Clark smashing violently into the wall. Several squeezing in with Garry, trying to get a look. A dog is flung at him, knocking him and his flashlight once more to the ground. Garry squeezes in and begins blasting away in the direction of the hissing and screeching. A dog is hit. MacReady crawls for his flashlight. Where are you?
Garry continues firing at the silhouette. Childs, you got the torch? You get your ass in here!!
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MacReady signals with his flashlight and then points it at the gathering of snarling dogs. Torch it!! Childs lets loose with a burst of blue flame. A mewing, a screeching. Part of the kennel starts to burn. Childs moves closer, continuing his assault on the hissing, gurgling presence. Men charge into the room and begin spraying dogs and burning walls. Dogs and men choke and cough amidst the smoke and CO2. The screeching lessens. The hissing and gurgling fade. Childs turns off his torch. Blair, in silent awe, stands over the badly burned corpses of two interlocking dogs, that lie before him on a table.
They are connected as if they were one animal. Though, the one wearing the remnants of Clark's bandage is much larger and appears less dog-like. Its entire torso is cracked and peeled, as if its innards were trying to burst out. Odd appendages, recoiled and withered by the flame, are wrapped grotesquely about both bodies. Clark, his eyes set in glassy stare, sits in shock. Nauls comforts him.
Childs stands nearby smoking a joint and staring at the floor. Blair, transfixed, continues hovering over the united cadavers. A very worried look on his face. The dead bodies of two other dogs from the kennel are not far off. It's dead. It's over. Clark turns to him with a childlike smile. Childs killed it. I saw. MacReady is bent over his shoulder. Norris finds the one he's looking for. This is where they were spending most of their time.
Bennings pokes his head in the room. Thirty-five knots. Blair motions to the bandage. It was just a dog. Okay with you? You think there's a connection? Young Palmer and Norris are with him.
Provocative, pensive and splendidly acted, Hitchcock’s ‘Rope’ is a heck of a film
It is clear but the winds are troublesome. The ride is a shaky one. Norris refers to their map. He points. They aim for a large mountainous wall. As they go up and over Fuchs stands by as Blair studies through his microscope. They appear to be much different from each other. They are joined at the ends but are completing the process of breaking off from each other.
He checks his watch, as if timing the procedure. They come to a stop at the edge of a sharp drop. Pull back to reveal -- the massive black hole about fifteen feet beneath the ice. Charred, gnarled and mangled metal are all that is left of what was once an enormous sphere. MacReady's and Norris' eyes meet each other in silence. Palmer is in awe. MacReady finds a burst thermite canister. He and Norris climb down. They move along amongst the wreck. Almost everything but the skeletal superstructure has disintegrated into a fine ashy powder.
Norris digs for ice samples at the perimeter of the wreckage, while MacReady browses through the center. Palmer continues to marvel, as he walks around the oval, atop the ice. MacReady returns and kneels down next to Norris as the latter examines a piece of metal. Norris shakes his head no. This ice it was buried in It's over a hundred thousand years old. Palmer calls out, waving them over. A large rectangular chunk has been cut out of the ice.
It is fifteen feet long, six feet wide and eight feet deep. MacReady kneels down to observe. A gust of wind picks up the snow at their feet. MacReady sits quietly by his chess set contemplating a large glass of Scotch. Clark, less interested than the others, is flipping through the Norwegian nudie magazine. Blair, looking worried, sits off in a corner, pondering the photo of the block of ice and fingering a piece of crumbled- up metal brought back from the site.
Childs, viewing the tapes, can't quite believe it all. Thousands of years ago this rocket ship crashes, right? And the MacReady is not listening. He turns to examine the cabinets above the large stove. He spots something in the nearby kitchen trash can. Disgusted, he pulls out a torn and shredded pair of long johns. So it crashes, and this guy, whoever he is, gets thrown out, or walks out, and ends up freezing. You believe this voodoo bullshit, Blair?
Blair says nothing, lost in thought. Palmer, stoned, a joint dangling from his mouth, is searching for information through stacks of old issues of The National Enquirer and The Star. They're falling out of the skies like flies. Government knows all about it Chariots of the Gods, man They practically own South America. I mean they taught the Incas everything they knew Palmer shakes a magazine at him adamantly. Have you read von Daniken? Get your facts straight! Clark marvels at a particular photo. Nauls skates into the room. He shakes the crumpled-up pair of long johns in his fist.
He flings it across the room. It lands on MacReady's chess set. Germ free! Nauls spins on his skates and storms off. MacReady fetches the strangely shredded underwear and rolls it up, while Childs paces. These Norwegian dudes come by MacReady tosses the ball of cloth across the room into a trash bin. He gets thawed out, wakes up and scares the shit out of them.
And they get into one hell of a brawl Because he's different than we are. Because he's a space guy. What do you want from me, anyway. Go ask Blair. A beat as Blair stares straight ahead, transfixed. He speaks softly, to no one particular. It was here in this camp The men take in his grave countenance. So what? It's over with. Blair turns to them. A pause. The men search his face. Pull back. All the men have gathered. Some of the men settle into chairs, others stand. It was capable of changing its form This for instance isn't dog at all -- it's imitation We got to it before it had time to finish or I think the whole process would have taken an hour And then I suppose both would have changed back to dog form.
But whatever it was revived, it Well, The Thing was probably disoriented But being the incredibly adaptable creature it was Before the Norwegians killed it BLAIR It was a life form that was able to imitate and reproduce, whatever it ate or absorbed, cell for cell.
I know I don't fully understand it myself. It could have gone on and on It could have become one dog It could have become as many dogs as it wanted to -- and without losing any of its original mass Blair slams his fist on the slab. Several of the men nearest the carcasses jump back knocking over a chair. They are being soaked with gasoline. You can't burn these remains Fuchs is beside himself. Childs has the large torch. MacReady empties another can on the bodies. Copper stands nearby. Childs lights the tip. Fuchs makes a determined move for the torch.
Childs struggles with him for a beat and then flings him to the ground. Copper grabs him preventing him from getting back up. Childs splays the remains with a jet of flame. Fuchs shakes his head in frustration and disgust. We're going to go down as the biggest bunch of assholes in history At least we're going to live to be an old bunch of assholes. Clark dishes out the food. Blair is taking blood samples from the remaining three dogs. Just anything at all? Any little thing? Just that he recovered real quick That night when I found him in the rec room, he had already scraped off his bandage.
Before I put him with the others, I redressed his wound and noticed it had healed up real good A beat as Blair stares at Clark. Left the room for a bit. When I came back, he was gone. Where did he go? Looked for him for a bit Clark seems uneasy under Blair's intense gaze. Blair stands, his eyes still glued to Clark. Alone, I mean? He was hurt bad. Bullet nicked an artery I don't know An hour Blair's eyes glaze as if in revelation. Nothing at all. He backs out of the kennel. Blair, worried and pale, tries to keep up with him. It could have gotten to somebody I don't mean infection Garry stops at the entrance to the communications room.
Sanchez shrugs. I want you at it round the clock. We got to get help in here No, you can't let anyone in here That dog was all over this camp Bennings interrupts, entering the hallway, referring to his meteorological chart. But after that some pretty nasty northeasterly shit's coming in.
Goddamn fools The men outside come stomping through the hallway. You can't let people leave That Thing didn't want to become a dog You've already got everybody half-hysterical around here. GARRY I've got six dead Norwegians on my hands, a burned up flying saucer, and we've just destroyed the scientific find of the century. Now fuck off! Close on Blair, ashen-faced, falling silent. As if in a daze, he watches the men as they continue to converse. Suspicious, frightened. The swirl of ice. On the other side of the set, his busty, inflatable companion has been propped up in a chair.
His sombrero hangs down her back, keeping her in place. Hawaiian music plays from his tape deck. He puts down his screwdriver, holds up his glass and offers a toast with a big grin. He clinks the drink he has made for her that rests on her side of the board. He sips. He turns on the machine and makes his first move. I'm just a beginner. The set answers for Esperanza. He flips open the circuitry panel in disgust. He tosses his screwdriver on the board and grabs his drink, downing it. He reaches inside his ice bucket. He swacks at a nearby bank of ice with a small ice pick. They got ice They got ice coming out of their ears.
The sound of a clanking. He turns his attention. Metal against metal. MacReady listens. It appears to be coming from far off below, near the camp. The clanking louder now. He senses the direction. The sound has stopped. He looks around in the near blackness. MacReady approaches. The door to one of the cockpits is slightly ajar. He opens it cautiously. He turns on a flashlight. The controls have been mangled. Beaten with something heavy. MacReady, startled, turns. Like the sound of a gun.
Coming from the main compound. MacReady enters. He grabs Palmer as he and Bennings rush by. He's gone berserk. Got a gun. Beat on Sanchez something fierce. Garry peeks his head in. A gunshot blast forces him back. Blair holds the gun on the door. He wields a fire ax with the other hand and smashes down on the radio. Nobody's getting in or out of this camp Childs, go check the other one and the tractor.
Childs is off. You think I'm crazy? Most of you don't know what's going on -- but I'm damn well sure some of you do! A couple of us could maybe surprise him. You think this Thing wants to become an animal? Dogs can't make it miles to the sea. No skua gulls to imitate this time of year No penguins this far inland Don't you understand?! It wanted to become us! He brings the ax down hard on the radio.
I don't know how bad yet. Garry readies his large. Norris double-times down the hall. MacReady turns the corner and into the rec room. He grabs one of the thick card tables. MacReady returns with the table to the hallway. Can't you see? If one cell of this Thing got out it could imitate every living thing on Earth. Nothing could stop it! But we've got to be rational. We've got to talk this over. I'm unarmed and I'm coming in.
I don't trust any of you! He opens it. The lights go out. MacReady charges into the black room. Blair fires. MacReady barrels into him, knocking him to the ground. He pummels him with a right hand and manages to control the gun. The others dive in and pile on. Copper help a dazed Blair to a toolshed some seventy-five yards from the main compound. Very livable. Two windows. Blair has been placed on the cot. Copper injects him with a sedative. Blair's droopy-eyed, heavily drugged features loom up at MacReady through the window.
Trust is a tough thing to come by these days. Just trust in the Lord. Ask him why he didn't kennel the dog. Blair's face disappears from the window. Getting very dark as winter takes a stronger hold. Bennings is dumping the trash in a large hole in the snow which acts as the trash dump. Bennings finishes and drags the empty bins past Palmer and Childs, who are fixing the wounded choppers. Norris and Sanchez, a bandage wrapped around his head, examines the damage. He is in pain and still looks a little groggy.