Tonight I learned that Farley Granger has died of natural causes at the age of 85.
The name Farley Granger may not mean much to a lot of people out there, and I can’t claim to be an expert on his filmography, but two films in particular stand out as important both to me personally and in the realm of cinema. In Rope, Granger played one of two characters loosely based on the killers Leopold & Loeb, opposite Jimmy Stewart as their former professor. What is most remembered about the film is that Hitchcock chose to shoot it entirely in reel-long continuous takes, giving the illusion of (almost) no cuts. It was this film, with its carefully choreographed cinematography, which instilled in me a love of long takes years before I was to see Touch of Evil. But such camerawork, however impressive, would be pointless if not for the compelling performances by Granger and his co-stars Stewart and John Dall. Granger and Dall play off each other perfectly, with Dall’s character fixated on treating his “perfect murder” as a game and Granger’s character becoming more unhinged and intoxicated as the film progresses.
Just a few years after Rope, Granger worked for Hitchcock a second time, again paired opposite a character obsessed with the perfect murder. Strangers on a Train is by no means Hitchcock’s greatest film, but it is still an entertaining suspense thriller. The most memorable performance in the film is certainly that of Robert Walker as the unstable, flamboyant Bruno. However, it is Granger’s sincerity which makes his co-star appear all the more dangerous. The last section of the film, in which Granger’s character races against the clock to win a tennis match leading to a ride on a runaway carousel, is incredibly suspenseful, in no small part due to the performances of the lead actors.
Looking at the rest of Granger’s filmography, I can’t say that there are many other films that I have seen. Side Street, directed by Anthony Mann, is a noir crime film that I am told should be seen for one of the first modern car chase sequences. He also made some Italian films, like the spaghetti western They Call Me Trinity. Much later in his career he appeared in the 1981 slasher film The Prowler, which I have only heard of by way of Eli Roth. I freely admit my ignorance of all these movies, but only as I add them all to my Netflix queue.
Farley Granger’s life, which spanned the Great Depression, World War II, and over 40 years of films plus numerous television & Broadway credits, is the sort of rags to riches tale that could itself be a movie (and is mostly recounted in his memoir, Include Me Out, which he co-wrote with his domestic partner). While he may not be a household name, Granger’s work has more than stood the test of time. If you’ve never seen Rope or Strangers on a Train, I encourage you to seek them out and watch Granger’s performances. His grounded earnestness, especially in Strangers on a Train, is the foundation from which Hitchcock propels his audience into a carnival ride of murder and suspense. Perhaps then, if you have not already, you will join me in mourning the loss of Farley Granger.
© Ralph Lawson III, 2011, All Rights Reserved