MovieChat Forums > RopeΒ (1948) Discussion > The line Jimmy Stewart hated to say

The line Jimmy Stewart hated to say


From what I've read, Jimmy Stewart was not pleased with his work as Rupert Cadell and, indeed, the film ROPE, itself. I imagine the actor felt stifled portraying an old and tired retired college professor, who espouses Nietzchean "superman" theories, and who, when on his best behavior, is patronizing and acerbic, while in his worst musings is overbearing, insulting and anti-humanity. Coupled with the gay subtext of the plot that touches his character, I bet at some point Stewart must have been thinking how did he ever say yes to this off-beat, subversive little murder mystery. Be that as it may, and even with all that dark character baggage, my feeling is that most of his distaste for his role came down to one line of dialogue, and it's a very particular line that would probably never be spoken by another Hollywood leading man of his day (or since).

The line is, "Good old Mrs. Wilson, I may marry her." Why this line? Well, look who he's talking about, the old biddy housekeeper who's held a torch for him for years. Rupert Cadell is supposed to be similarly smitten with the myopic 50-ish year old character who's more suited to be the paramour of a Walter Brennan or Thomas Mitchell. Stewart puts as much focus on eating his ice cream as delivering this line, which he does as a throwaway, giving more passion to the dialogue, "I'll have another cup of coffee." Stewart does not want the audience to think for a second that he would seriously considering marrying the busybody maid despite the script inferring just that in previous scenes. If not for that, the line would come off as a patronizing bit of whimsy, but Mrs. Wilson and Brandon have made it clear there are deep feelings between Rupert and Mrs. Wilson. Stewart must have blanched when he learned matronly Edith Evanson was cast in the role; and therefore he delivered the line accordingly (like he doesn't mean what he's saying).

One wonders what this does to a star's self-esteem, one who had in previous films romanced the likes of Jean Arthur, Kate Hepburn and Donna Reed, and in a few years hence, trade in those Hollywood beauties for Doris Day, Grace Kelly and Kim Novak. Superstar actor James Stewart seems totally wrong for the pro-authoritarian milquetoast Rupert Cadell, a role better suited for Vincent Price, and Stewart knows it. That is, until the last 1/8th of the film.

The last reel is where Stewart gets to do what he was paid to do. He goes to town in his final speech; the rage, the self-flagellation, the disgust and remorse he displays he does like no one else of his era could do. He pulls the film from its moorings, and gives a seven-minute star turn in bravura larger-than-life acting that Bogart, Cagney and all the others could envy. Stewart the actor must have needed lot of patience waiting for his big moment in ROPE, even allowing himself to say one of the most distasteful lines of dialogue in his long career.

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Good post, I always thought Jimmy Stewart's character was just joking when he said that line, but it was Jimmy himself who added the humor to make himself feel better?!? Illuminating.

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Yeah, it's important to remember the previous scenes where the maid has made his favorite dish and her primping her hair in anticipation of his arrival, etc. Big Hollywood male stars don't court dowdy women, but that's what the role called for and Jimmy had no choice but to go with the flow. He just took out his frustration with his "romance" with Mrs. Wilson by saying the line as matter-of-factly as possible.

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I've always thought that line sounded out of place. Thank you for the interesting theory.

Excuse my English please, not a native speaker.

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I watched this film again tonight and I'm more and more convinced that the feelings were one-sided. She definitely seemed to have quite the schoolgirl crush on him. Meanwhile, he seemed more interested in the drama of the party than in her. He was concerned about David. He was following the Kenneth-Janet situation. He was curious what the hosts were up to. Most of the chatting he did with Mrs. Wilson was about the behaviour of the hosts, about how they were out of sorts that day.

Yes, there were references made to how Rupert and Mrs. Wilson had shared some wine at a previous social function (maybe a date rather than a party), but that doesn't mean that he was interested in continuing the relationship.

Come to think of it, there wasn't much chemistry between those two characters.

~~~~~
Jim Hutton (1934-79) and Ellery Queen = 

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From a writing perspective, I can see why that line was in there for Rupert: It's to establish his credentials as a clever intellectual snob.

I've been to enough parties like this (without the murder, of course) to see how people like Rupert act. If they're college professors especially, they're expected to be cleverly droll in order to be part of the life of the party. Rupert has a number of lines like this.

CADELL: Brandon's spoken well of you.

WALKER: Did he do me justice?

CADELL: Do you deserve justice?

By saying he may marry Mrs. Atwater, he's saying that "I'm driven by intellectualism alone, therefore I'm superior to anyone else who's driven by carnal desires."

Notice, that as he uncovers the truth, right up to the point he opens the chest, he's abandoning the clever veneer, little by little. Afterward, now he's impassioned! He's talking about God, and how we all have a responsibility to the society we live in.

CADELL: By what right do you dare say that there's a superior few to which you belong?"

Because he's realized what he's done. It was his grandiose stupidity of believing his own bullsh-t and teaching that to his students that led directly to the murder of David. He may not have strangled him, or planned it, but he has blood on his hands for it. Ideas matter. He's not smart; he's just as stupid as anyone else, perhaps more so because he let his hubris blind him to what he was doing.

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Well, I think that Rupert had a lot of theories, but I get the impression that he never expected anyone (himself included) to actually put those theories into practice. If he really believed what he said, then he would have committed murder years earlier.

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πŸ’• JimHutton (1934-79) and ElleryQueen πŸ‘

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THAT line? Geez, each time I hear it, I forget about it a second later. It's not a big part of the movie, not by any stretch of the imagination. Now I think that Rupert just said it as a tongue-in-cheek remark. I have never given it a second thought.

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πŸ’• JimHutton (1934-79) and ElleryQueen πŸ‘

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It's only tongue-in-cheek because of Stewart's delivery. I'm sure the line in the script simply reads: RUPERT: "Good old Mrs. Wilson... I may marry her." Such a line could be said a number of ways; say, with Rupert looking longingly at Mrs. Wilson or, perhaps, introspectively, or even with the hint of a smile. Whatever, Stewart decides to deliver the line like he doesn't mean what he's saying, as an action he would never seriously consider. And that's the actor's choice.

My theory is that as one of the leading actors of his day, Stewart did not want the audience to envision his character actually walking down the aisle with an old biddy maid. Kate Hepburn? That's OK. Edith Evanson? I don't think so.

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I never, EVER got the impression that Rupert was interested in marrying that woman, or that he was even interested in her at all.

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πŸ’• JimHutton (1934-79) and ElleryQueen πŸ‘

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The dialogue says otherwise. Especially between Mrs. Wilson and Brandon, where they talk about the relationship and Mrs. Wilson preparing Rupert's favorite dish.

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Well, that was her job to prepare the meals which the regular guests enjoyed. I don't think that there was anything between them.

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πŸ’• JimHutton (1934-79) and ElleryQueen πŸ‘

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I'm watching this film now (probably my 15th viewing or so), and I think that Mrs. Wilson did have a bit of a crush on Rupert (her comments near the start of the film prove that), but I don't think that he really thought twice about her. I doubt that their relationship would have progressed beyond the meetings in that apartment (when Brandon and Philip gave parties).

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πŸ’• JimHutton (1934-79) and ElleryQueen πŸ‘

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I took it as a crush she had, though she knew her place and would stay in it.

I also thought it was another of Brandon's sadistic setups, to later watch with glee Mrs. WIlson's disappointment and frustration.

He tried the same with Kenneth and Janet, but HE was the disappointed one there.

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I think ya got it all wrong. The line was about Rupert--his intelligence and wit. That line dismisses all pompous intellectuals, which Mrs. Wilson is not. I don't think Stewart would've cared one bit about how it would make him appear to the public. He was in love with his real-life wife to the end.

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The line was in the movie the way the director wanted it. Jimmy Stewart could have said it anyway he wanted, but if Hitchcock didn't want it said that way, it wouldn't have been filmed that way. Dialogue and tone are at the director's discretion.

As for Mrs. Wilson, everything points to a one way crush. She prepares things he likes, she wanted to primp herself up when she heard he was coming. Nothing in the movie or script alludes to the fact Rupert had any feelings for her. What other characters say jokingly means nothing about how he feels. He himself says nothing, except for the one remark that was intended to be facetious. Furthermore, the time she said they had champagne together, it was while Mrs. Wilson was working for Rupert and it just happened to be her birthday. The fact she worked for him is how she knows what he likes.

In any case, it's giant leap to assume Jimmy Stewart hated that line. Nothing shows evidence of that and he, himself, never publicly said anything of the sort.

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