Stranger on a train

Cover of "Rope"

Cover of Rope

Farley Granger died Sunday.

I’m guessing that name doesn’t mean too much to people today, but he was a big star in the 1950s, appearing in two Alfred Hitchcock classics.

One was “Rope.” It came out in 1948, with James Stewart as the star,  and was essentially a fictionalized interpretation of the 1924 Leopold and Loeb murder.

OK, history lesson: Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were two rich University of Chicago students who killed a 14-year-old boy for no reason other than they wanted to commit the perfect murder. They considered themselves superior beings. Not in a crazy mystical deity way, but kind of a precursor to the Nazi philosophy of the master race. Which is kind of weird because they were both Jewish.

According to Wikipedia:

The two were exceptionally intelligent. Nathan Leopold was a child prodigy who spoke his first words at the age of four months; he reportedly had an intelligence quotient of 210, though this is not directly comparable to scores on modern IQ tests. Leopold had already completed college, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and was attending law school at the University of Chicago. He claimed to have studied 15 languages, was able to speak four, and was an expert ornithologist. Loeb was the youngest graduate in the history of the University of Michigan and planned to enter the University of Chicago Law School after taking some postgraduate courses. Leopold planned to transfer to Harvard Law School in September after taking a trip to Europe.

They committed a series of crimes leading up to the murder, just because they could. They were caught because Leopold left his glasses at the scene. Idiot.

Clarence Darrow was their defense attorney. They should have gotten the death penalty, but received life sentences. Loeb was slashed to death in jail by another inmate. Leopold was paroled in 1958 after 33 years in prison, moved to Puerto Rico and died in 1971.

Which brings us back to “Rope.” The play was written in 1929, and Hitchcock decided to do the movie in 1948. It’s likely Farley Granger was the Loeb character (he struck the audience as the more neurotic of the two). John Dall was the other murderer. “Rope” was not a great Hitchcock movie, but the thing that made it memorable was the cinematic experiment Hitchcock tried to pull off. Making the movie seem like it was all done in one shot. An interesting attempt, but the movie falls short.

Now “Strangers on a Train” is a great movie. It has one of the most charming psychopathic killers of all time.

Bruno, played by Robert Walker, hates his father. Farley Granger is Guy, a professional tennis player who’s trying to get out of a bad marriage. Bruno and Guy meet on a train by accident, and Bruno comes up with this crazy idea: to solve both of their problems, they swap murders. Bruno will kill Guy’s wife while Guy kills Bruno’s father. Guy thinks Bruno is joking. He’s not.

Here’s Granger on his experience with Robert Walker.

In both cases, Granger is a star of the movie, but not the big star: Those would be Stewart in “Rope” and Walker in “Strangers on a Train.”

But Granger was one of the few ties remaining to Hitchcock’s glory years. And now he’s gone.

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