Hitchcock evaded Hollywood’s Hays Code with his 1940s release of the incredibly queer-coded thriller Rope, which was also his first technicolor film.
Alfred Hitchcock stirred the pot for 1940s Hollywood censor boards with his release of the remarkably LGBTQ+ Rope. By casting queer actors as well as assuring the script and narrative would be queer-coded, Hitchcock inadvertently created an LGBTQ+ masterpiece that remains revolutionary more than 70 years later. rope caused significant controversy at the time of its release but has sparked conversation in queer film study in the following decades.
In August 1948, rope hit theaters as Alfred Hitchcock’s first technicolor film. The film is adapted from a British play of the same name and based loosely on the true-crime story of Leopold and Loeb, two young men who decided to kill their cousin together in 1924. The screenwriter, Arthur Laurents, was an openly gay playwright who went on to write the musical gypsy and a bilingual revival of West Side Story. The only music utilized in the film after the opening credits was produced by another queer artist, infamous composer Francis Poulenc. Hitchcock went out of his way to cast two queer actors for the starring roles, John Dall and Farley Granger. He tried to cast Cary Grant in Jimmy Stewart’s role but Grant turned him down.
Due to Leopold and Loeb’s queer identities, Hitchcock knew what the film rope would imply to the censor boards who had to abide by the Hays Code. “Any inference of sex perversion,” was a broad rule in the code that included homosexual representation. rope would have been banned or irredeemably censored if Arthur Laurents hadn’t tampered with the original British script enough for the queer narrative to slip under the radar. Alfred Hitchcock’s history of movies has always embraced what Hollywood considers taboo, as he’s famously known for subtle breaches of Hays Code implications such as the toilet flushing scene in Psycho. the reason rope is a masterpiece is not only because it’s an engaging narrative from start to finish but because it made waves in Hollywood and non-LGBTQ+ audiences at the time. While the villainization of queer characters may seem exploitative to modern audiences, rope’s depiction of a queer couple actually kickstarted a trend of normalization and inclusion in cinema.
In the documentary The Celluloid Closet, Arthur Laurents discusses how he kept many of the more explicitly queer lines from the original British script so that the censor board wouldn’t notice the more subtle queer-coded dialogue. Actor Farley Granger has also stated the discussions he shared with co-star John Dall to figure out how to represent the identities of their characters while avoiding Old Hollywood’s censorship. Their relationship in the film resembles a common heterosexual Old Hollywood marriage due to their collaboration. Those are a few of many anti-code implementations Alfred Hitchcock encouraged to assure rope was received as the undeniably influential LGBTQ+ story it’s meant to be. Though Hitchcock’s intentions may have been to shock audiences, as that was his calling card, he incidentally crafted a milestone in queer cinema that is still considered relatively progressive. He continued to progress representation forward in his notoriously queer-coded Strangers on a Train from 1951.
Hollywood has come a long way since the release of rope yet Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller still holds up to scrutiny due to its opposition of conventions and the incredible performances and chemistry from Dall and Granger. Jimmy Stewart is a highlight of the film but it would be interesting to know how the reception could have changed had Cary Grant accepted the Hitchcock role. rope remains Alfred Hitchcock’s subtle LGBTQ+ masterpiece.
Next: Why Alfred Hitchcock Made Psycho In Black And White
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