21 Oct

Based On A True Story: Rope

Posted by Bryan White | Friday October 21, 2011 | Based On A True Story

RopeNever let it be said that I don’t have class up the ass. I write about low-brow bullshit and trash like it’s something to be savored. Like you have to check the legs, bouquet and let it breathe before taking in a movie like Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-a-rama. I pride myself on my low class sensibilities when it comes to movies but I like to class things up every now and then and pretend that I’m all intellectual and shit. This series has been pretty morbid from the beginning and this doesn’t mean that it’s about to get any lighter because Rope is based on some seriously dark shit that actually happened but in the context of Alfred Hitchcock, it doesn’t seem as nasty as, say, Andrei Chikatilo.

Hitchcock had a seriously dark side evident in everything he did. He pioneered in commodities like dread when he hit with Rebecca and then wrote the blue print for slashers with Psycho, which was also based on a true story. As a matter of fact, I already touched on it early on in the Based On A True Story series. I did Ed Gein when I talked about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. On top of being a completely twisted British guy, Hitchcock also had some seriously wild ideas about how to make a movie. Before Rope was a film, it was a play in three acts where the action was continuous from scene to scene. Hitchcock aimed to replicate this quality in his adaptation but there’s a problem when you shoot on 35mm film. A single magazine of film takes nine minutes of footage so every nine minutes you have to switch out mags. Ultimately, through clever manipulation of scenery, Hitch was able to dupe audiences into thinking that he had filmed a feature-length movie in a single continuous take. It’s cool. You can tell where the cuts are, but the effort was novel. No one had done it before. These days, setting up a single take shot or a single-take feature like La Casa Muda is a challenge but the advantage of video is that you can shoot and shoot and shoot until you run out of disk space. Rope is a gem in this respect. It’s also based on a seriously fucking tragic crime, so fall in. You’re about to get schooled.

Nathan Leopold and Richard LoebThe Leopold and Loeb murder was committed in 1924 yet was so baffling in its motive that it continues to find its way into the popular consciousness even today. Mad Men will drop a passing reference to it and most of its audience is left scratching its head but those of us who have tasked ourselves personally with cataloging the world history of murder know. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, a pair of teenage Nietzche fans considered themselves walking examples of Nietzche’s superman archetype. Too badass for everyone else, perfect in every way. Though this sounds like a typical teenage line of bullshit, the pair were, in fact, brilliant minds. We’re talking gifted at birth with superior intellect. Bored with everything, the pair began planning and executing petty crimes until it occurred to them that they were probably capable of committing the perfect crime, a murder that no one would ever be able to figure out.

The pair plotted to kidnap Bobby Franks, son of a Chicago millionaire, murder him, dispose of the body and collect the ransom money without being caught and on May 21, 1924, they put their plan into motion by luring Franks, a neighbor of Loeb’s into their rented car. Once in the car, Franks was murdered with a chisel. They then stripped the body and dumped the clothes by the roadside. To make identification of the body difficult, the poured hydrochloric acid on it and dumped the body in a culvert. After dinner, they called Franks’ mother to tell her that he had been kidnapped and then mailed a ransom note. Then things began to go wrong.

The body was discovered sooner than they thought it would be and Loeb had lost his glasses near the dump site. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing were it not for the fact that his glasses were extremely unique to the tune of there only being three pairs of them in existence and record of Loeb owning them were on file. This led investigator’s straight to him and even though Leopold and Loeb had been careful to destroy all evidence that could link them to the murder, their alibi began to fray. Inconsistencies in their stories broke, immediately, and it wasn’t long before they had both confessed to the killing but turned on each other as to who actually killed the boy. It’s likely that Leopold, who was witnessed in the back of the car with Bobby Franks was the killer while Loeb was the wheel man.

The victim, Bobby FranksPsychological analysis at the trial of Leopold and Loeb classified them in an unusual class of murderers. Though clearly a pair of sociopaths, neither was motivated by sexual urges as serial killers tend to be and even though ransom was on the menu, both came from affluent backgrounds with no need for money. The pair were thrill killers, a class of murderer typified by younger perps who simply kill at random for the sheer exhilaration of the act. Murder for petty reasons like jealousy and money is shitty enough as it is and the horror of serial murder is a potent blend but thrill killers are particularly tragic in that there is no motive for the waste of life apart from the fleeting rush of adrenaline they get from the act. Pathetic.

At the time of the trial, Leopold and Loeb because of their age and their wealthy backgrounds put them in the media spotlight and the case became the 20’s equivalent of the O.J. Simpson trial. It was a massive media circus that lit up every paper in the United States like a lurid tabloid. Unlike O.J., though the Leopold and Loeb trial was scarcely longer than 12 hours as their defense convinced them to turn in a guilty plea. The prosecution had a case against them that could have put them in the electric chair. Their pleas saved their lives and they wound up sent to Joliet for life for murder one plus 99 years for the kidnapping. While in prison in 1936, Richard Loeb was attacked by an inmate wielding a razor and died from his wounds. After 33 years in prison, in 1958, Nathan Leopold would be paroled from prison.

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