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Brandon Shaw

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Brandon Shaw is the villain protagonist of the Alfred Hitchcock movie Rope. He was portrayed by John Dall.

Biography

Brandon is a university graduate who lives with his friend and possible lover Phillip Morgan in a lavish New York penthouse apartment. While studying philosophy under Rupert Cadell, Brandon and Phillip became obsessed with the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, in particular the concept of the "superman." Very arrogant young men, the two became convinced that they were exactly the sort of superior human beings intellectually and culturally that Nietzsche wrote about, and carried themselves as such, especially Brandon.

Rupert in particular held (or claimed he did) the belief that murder was a crime for the ordinary man but a privilege for the few such "supermen" as described by Nietzsche, and this idea also rubbed off on Brandon (who also may or may not have had an affair with the professor). Although Rupert never claimed he thought these ideas should be actually implemented, due to how socially unacceptable (and illegal) they were, the idea took root in Brandon's mind and stayed with him long after college.

Some years later, he decided he wanted to prove his mental superiority above everyone else, who viewed as being beneath him, by committing the perfect murder and getting away with it. He convinced Phillip to assist him. The duo invited their friend David Kentley to their apartment, where they strangled him to death with a length of rope. After stuffing David's body in a trunk, the second phase of Brandon's plan was put into action. For his own private amusement, he invited a number of their other friends, including David's father and aunt, to the apartment for a lavish party, so he could have them all there and secretly smugly enjoy the fact he had a dead body hidden in his home and them never suspecting a thing. Phillip, feeling a little guilty, thought this was risky, but Brandon, who thrived on risk, refused to listen, and went ahead.

Things started going swimmingly at first. But Brandon made a number of mistakes due to his arrogance. The party itself was a mistake, because people began suspecting was wrong, although they didn't know quite what, due to Phillip's growing edginess as well as the fact David was a no-show - despite Brandon's claim that he'd invited him. He also invited Rupert Cadell, whose presence Phillip objected to quite strongly because he feared Rupert was the one man who could figure them out. Brandon in a way hoped that Rupert would figure it out, as he was eager to impress his former teacher.

Rupert did indeed gradually put the pieces together. Little things like Phillip's nervousness and constant drinking, the strange dining arrangements, and Brandon's sudden insistence that housekeeper Mrs. Wilson not touch the trunk in the living room until tomorrow. That plus David's continued absence and Brandon mentioning he and Phillip were driving out to a remote farm owned by Brandon's family later that same night got Rupert's mental gears turning. The clincher was when he found David's hat in the coat closet. So he knew that if nothing else, David had been there earlier, despite Brandon and Phillip's claim that they hadn't seen him all day.

He avoided directly accusing the two young men in front of the other guests, leaving with everyone else when the party was over. A smug Brandon then declared to a relieved Phillip that the whole thing was a success. After seeing Mrs. Wilson off and telling her not to come in tomorrow, they prepared to move the body down the back stairs to put it in the trunk of their car, so they could drive out to the farm and dispose of the evidence there that night. However, Rupert returned, on the pretense of having forgotten his cigarette case.

He laid out his concerns about the strangeness that'd been going on, still without directly accusing them. Brandon had a nearly perfect answer for almost everything. When Rupert pointed out that Brandon had a snub-nosed revolver in his pocket, Brandon dismissed it as being for protection during the long nighttime drive to come, setting it aside on a table. He then demanded that Rupert come right out and say what it was he suspected, and Rupert explained he had a vague idea that the two had conspired to remove David from a love triangle existing between him, Janet and Kenneth, two other people who'd been guests at the party.

Liking where this was going and still eager to impress his former professor, and to see if Rupert could figure things out, asked him to explain how they were supposed to have gotten rid of David. Rupert then outlined, step by step, how he would've killed David and hidden the body. Initially he tried to mislead the two by pretending he didn't think David was in the trunk, but eventually, with some goading from Brandon, he settled on the trunk as the best place for the body, given the evidence he'd observed.

Things came crashing down when Phillip cried, "He knows!" and grabbed for the revolver on the table. Rupert tackled him and the two men fought over the gun. Brandon, proving quite cowardly, and apparently attempting to appear innocent and make it seem as if Phillip had acted alone, stood back and didn't interfere either to help or hinder Phillip. The desperate struggle ended with the weapon in Rupert's hands, but not before it'd gone off and injured his finger. Wrapping his bloodied hand in a handkerchief, Rupert held his two former students at gunpoint and looked inside the trunk.

If Brandon had hoped Rupert would be impressed, he was gravely mistaken. Horrified, near tears, knowing he bore some responsibility for David's death because of the ideas he put in Brandon and Phillip's heads about intellectual superiority and why murder could be okay, Rupert told the two that their murder of the innocent young man inside the trunk for no other reason than to feel smugly superior to other people, and that Brandon had hoped he'd be impressed, made him regret everything he'd ever taught in school. Going to the window, he opened it, and fired off several shots into the air with the gun, drawing the attention of passersby below, who called the police.

Defeated, Brandon merely sat and waited for the authorities to come, resigned to his fate, sick at heart that Rupert condemned rather than praised what he'd done.

Although Rupert swore that both he and Phillip would be found guilty and sentenced to death in a trial, the movie ends before this is seen and so we don't know if Brandon got off somehow, if he was executed, or if he was merely sent to prison.

Notes

  • His and Phillip's murder of David Kentley and their motivation for doing so was based on the Leopold and Loeb case.
  • Brandon's bisexuality, his relationship with Phillip and his having once been Rupert Cadell's lover while studying under him, was in the script, but censors demanded all references to male-on-male romance and sexuality (which they simply called "it") be cut from the film. Consequently, Brandon and Phillip being lovers and Brandon having once slept with Rupert were reduced to merely vague suggestions.

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