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August 2001, Week 4


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Scott Andrew Hutchins <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 23 Aug 2001 11:52:48 -0500
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Here is a page on a stage adaptation of the Laurents screenplay I saw last year, fwiw, which didn't do that.  (It was excellent,

----- Original Message -----
From: <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Thursday, August 23, 2001 12:54 AM
Subject: Hitchcockian ambiguity: ROPE, THE LODGER, SABOTEUR, UNDER CAPRICORN, et al.

Tonight (Thursday 23 August) the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing
Arts presents the world premiere of a stage adaptation of  the ROPE
screenplay by Arthur Laurents (as opposed to the original play by
Patrick Hamilton).  Reportedly, the stage adaptation makes explicit what
was at best only hinted at in Hitchcock's film, that Rupert (played in
the film by James Stewart) had once had an affair with his student
Brandon (John Dahl in the film).  The Hitchcock Scholars/'MacGuffin'
website's News and Comment page has been running a series of items about
the validity/effectiveness of such an explicit interpretation. The
latest entry follows.  Hollywood correspondent for 'Cahiers du Cinéma',
Bill Krohn ('Hitchcock at Work'), has emailed us to the effect that ah,
well, that's the new trend - 'to turn connotations into denotations'.
We'll publish on the website Bill's full comments, perhaps with comment,
too, from the stage version's director, Jack Shouse.  Further details,
including details of performances at Solvang and Santa Maria,
California, are on the above-mentioned website (link follows).  The
'MacGuffin' editor invites comments from readers
(<[log in to unmask]>).

 - Ken Mogg (Ed., 'The MacGuffin').
August 22 This matter of Rupert and Brandon - did they or didn't they? -
in Rope, is crucial to Hitchcock's method of filmmaking.  After all, as
I've often pointed out, there's an ambiguity in his films that goes
right back to The Lodger (1926) where we can't be certain that the Ivor
Novello character may not be 'The Avenger', his sister's murderer -
though an apparent 'happy ending' ultimately deflects our attention away
from such a possibility.  Similarly, in I Confess (1953), the scene in
the summer-house is allowed to remain unresolved by an expedient
fade-out and fade-in.  Of Michael Logan (Montgomery Clift), who was
newly returned from war service at the time, we may ask: did he or
didn't he have sex with the married Ruth Grandfort (Anne Baxter)?  Of
course, we're told that he hadn't known that Ruth was married, which
raises the further question even more 'shocking' (if you're so
inclined): did she or didn't she lead him on?  (When asked about this
scene, Hitchcock added an ambiguity of his own, replying to the effect
that he was a non-judgemental recorder of events, but that he naturally
wished the pair well!)  So you may see why I question a stage production
of the Rope screenplay that too explicitly indicates that Rupert and
Brandon had once had an affair.  At best, the possibility should hang in
the air.  That possibility was always there (despite what I wrote
yesterday, school teachers have been known to have affairs - of whatever
degree of involvement, including homosexual involvement - with students,
and I believe there was a 'school' of lesbian writing in England that
showed as much at about the time Patrick Hamilton's 'Rope' appeared),
but to spell it out is counter-productive to the dramatic effect.  At
least, Hitchcock appears to have thought so.  True, perhaps he was
equally concerned to find his away around censorship rules (and by the
time of Frenzy [1972] he was prepared to take advantage of a perceived
easing of those rules), but certainly part of the 'Hitchcock touch' was
to positively delight in hinting at the 'unthinkable'.  When, in
Saboteur (1942), a car-load of (male) fascists starts singing 'Tonight
We Love" to the melody of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, this is
more than an illustration of actor Norman Lloyd's observation that
Hitchcock liked to leave audiences a bit puzzled.  (At other times, when
suspense was paramount, he liked to be as crystal-clear as possible.)
It also hints, for those prepared to take Hitchcock's point, at how
these men are gay.  Indeed, to drive home the point, one of the men is
heard saying that his mother had dressed him as a girl until an
abnormally late age!  Likewise, in Under Capricorn (1949), made the year
after Rope, there are the merest hints that in the years when husband
(Joseph Cotten) and wife (Ingrid Bergman) had been separated while he
served his sentence as a convict, she had survived by prostituting
herself and he meanwhile had practised homosexuality.  (But, the film
implies, there's no blame - only the feeling of shame that has created
the 'great gulf fixed' between them.)  Accordingly, it worries me that
the director of the stage production of the Rope screenplay has seen fit
to 'go explicit' about a matter that Hitchcock intended to be
otherwise.  After all, it's the emotional truth in these cases that is
important, not their possible physical basis ...

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