Starring – James Stewart, Farley Granger, John Dall, Joan Chandler, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Constance Collier, Douglas Dick, Edith Evanson, Dick Hogan
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Sometimes our history is not inspirational.
Sometimes it isn’t about our struggles and how we overcame them triumphantly and now it’s time to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done for all of our hard work.
Sometimes our history is about our people who did horrible, atrocious things. And these people in our history are a good reminder that if we want to be seen as equal then that means we are equally as good and equally as bad as everyone else.
That means our history includes people like Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, a couple who in 1924 killed a boy just for the thrill of it.
I was watching a documentary recently about the infamous Leopold and Loeb trial called, The Perfect Crime. A perfect title because their crime was almost perfect, but as my dad always says, “Almost only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and atomic bombs.” When it comes to murder, the almost perfect crime means you get caught and when these two lovers got caught and went to trial it was called “The Trial of The Century” (this was well before the O.J. trial took over that moniker for the 20th Century) and caused a media sensation in 1924 to rival even the current Presidential race that is going on right now. (Is that damn thing over yet?)
Leopold and Loeb were 19 and 18 year old boys from extremely wealthy families in Chicago and in 1924 they decided to plan the perfect murder. They based the reasoning for the murder on the philosophy of Nietzsche’s superman (no, not that other super guy in the red cape) in which certain individuals possess extraordinary intelligence and so that superior intellect allows these superior people to basically be above the law that average people are bound to simply because they are average. So, Nietzsche was a bit of an intellectual snob, but if you had his intellectual prowess, you’d be a bit of an intellectual snob too.
These neglected, mentally tortured boys ended up finding each other in college and struck up a friendship and eventual sexual relationship and the next thing anyone knew they were putting Nietzsche’s philosophy into actual practice and it resulted in the brutal, calculated murder of a 14-year-old boy that they virtually picked at random to kill just to prove that they could murder someone and get away with it.
Yes, these people are a part of our history and if we want to embrace our history completely, we have to embrace these two boys as well, even though for decades their crime helped to perpetuate the stereotype that homosexuals were deviant, murdering, sexual predators that all deserved to die.
Twenty-four years after the trial, Alfred Hitchcock decided to adapt the play of Rope, which was a fictional version of the Leopold and Loeb murder. That’s right in 1948 a major, superstar director decided to make a movie about two homosexual men and the homosexual teacher that taught them how to be murderers. That must have been one hell of a pitch meeting!
But of course it being 1948 and all, homosexuals didn’t exist back then (seriously we didn’t, just look it up, no one was ever homosexual and no one had knowledge of such a horrible thing, aka denial), so Hitchcock had to come up with clever ways to make an entire movie about homosexuals without once ever, never, ever mentioning directly in any way, shape or form that they were homosexual. Hello subtext! A film like Rope actually makes me nostalgic for subtext. Kind of a fucked-up thing to be nostalgic about since subtext existed only because we weren’t allowed too, but hey it was what was available to me as a kid when it came to seeing any of us on my TV, so I took what I could get back then and when I found out that Rope existed, it seemed like a finding a goldmine.
Leopold and Loeb’s names were changed in the film because like I said, we didn’t exist in 1948, so no one needed to be reminded that we were all watching a movie about real life homosexual murderers. Most of the details of the real murder do not make it to the film, but the core of the reasons for the murder are still there, they still kill a boy based on Nietzsche and his superior intellect red caped men theories, but the boy is instead the same age as the killers and since it’s an Alfred Hitchcock movie and not real life, the Leopold and Loeb wannabes in Rope then throw a party at their apartment mere minutes after murdering their friend in the same apartment (keyword for apartment is their – as in this is subtext at its hilt when we are in several casual ways told that these two men share this apartment together because they are lovers). And a party to celebrate a murder wouldn’t be complete without having the murder victim present, but the joke is on the guests because they have no idea that they are eating food off of the murder victim’s coffin. That Alfred Hitchcock was one sick motherfucker and thank God for that perversion of his because he used it in so many creative ways onscreen. Off-screen, though, well that perversion is another matter entirely.
Jimmy Stewart eventually arrives in Rope to save the day as Jimmy Stewart was prone to do, but first we get to see a slightly morally twisted version of Stewart, which at that time was quite shocking, although later he would show up in other Hitchcock films as even more twisted morally, but that was again the genius of Alfred Hitchcock’s perverse humor, take the norm and spin it on its head. Jimmy Stewart does completely and rather conveniently forget to be homosexual in Rope as he is saving the day, but actors John Dall and Farley Granger don’t forget (Granger was openly bisexual, so see, we did actually exist back then, just not many of us acknowledged that existence) and they play the lovers game to the hilt. Well, as hilt-ee as they could get away with back then since they had a censor board, The Catholic Legion of Decency (oh, those hypocritical Catholics) and the studio breathing down their backs to make sure that no one would watch Rope and suddenly remember, “Hey, wait, aren’t they…oh what are those people called…I know I might have somewhere at some time heard about those people who are attracted to…WAIT!…OH GOOD LORD! THOSE BOYS ARE HOMOSEXUAL!” I mean, we couldn’t have that happening in 1948, now could we?
Rope isn’t considered to be one of Hitchcock’s great films, nor is it considered a bad one either. I have always loved this film and consider it one of his best. This was a man who in 19fucking48 shot a film in color (history note: color was very rarely used then because it was a giant pain in the ass) in basically what amounts to one long continuous shot about not one, not two, but three homosexual men. It was a fete in cinema experimentation (and I think it more than succeeded), and in terms of acknowledging, even though it is presented in deeply subtextual form, that homosexuals actually existed, well that was revolutionary. Okay, so in 1948 we existed as psychopathic, cold-blooded murderers, but still this was based on a true story and not just some twisted crap that some homophobe made up for shits and giggles to prove what sick motherfuckers we were.
We were there, right there on the big screen in 1948 in an Alfred Fucking Hitchcock film and everybody and their brother knew that this film was based on the actual Leopold and Loeb case (even though no one at the studio openly acknowledged this, even ole Hitch himself because you know then they would actually be acknowledging the existence of homosexuality and remember we didn’t exist back then). This film actually helped to explain how in the hell those boys in real life ended up murdering someone for fun and you end up feeling for these two boys and don’t see them as just monsters. We are given reasons for how they led up to murder. We are shown that they have feelings both good and bad about what they have done. We watch them as they start to crumble under the moral atrocity that they committed. In other words, we get to see us in 19fucking48 as fully-formed human beings. I know, murdering, fully-formed human beings, but still here we were both human and fully-formed. Not some stereotype. Not some slimy supporting character like Peter Lorre who would slither into scenes in such classic films like Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon and then slither out again (although, no one could do slither-ly like Peter Lorre, bless him, and I always enjoy the hell out of him when he does his slithering, even as I’m cringing).
So, as we all preach and bully on social media about wanting equality and demanding equality and feeling so superior morally and righteously at the slightest infraction from others no matter if the infraction is intentional or accidental, God forbid we give anyone a break when it comes to keeping up with what’s PC and what’s not, let’s remember what equality really means when it comes to us and our history. If we want others to embrace us fully, wholly, equally; then we have to do the same with ourselves as well. Leopold and Loeb are a part of our history and, like it or not, we can’t deny them entry.
Note – As of 10/21/2016 – A Perfect Crime is available in America on Amazon Instant Video, currently a Prime selection. And Rope I rented from Netflix from their DVD library. Yep, I’m one of the last people left with one of those Netflix DVD memberships, so when you say to yourself, “Who in the hell still rents DVDs from Netflix,” well, that would be me. 🙂