Brandon and Philip are two young men who share a New York apartment. They consider themselves intellectually superior to their friend David Kentley and as a consequence decide to murder him. Together they strangle David with a rope and placing the body in an old chest, they proceed to hold a small party. The guests include David's father, his fiancée Janet and their old schoolteacher Rupert from whom they mistakenly took their ideas. As Brandon becomes increasingly more daring, Rupert begins to suspect.
James Stewart ... Rupert Cadell
John Dall ... Brandon Shaw
Farley Granger ... Phillip Morgan
Cedric Hardwicke ... Mr. Kentley (as Sir Cedric Hardwicke)
Constance Collier ... Mrs. Atwater
Douglas Dick ... Kenneth Lawrence
Edith Evanson ... Mrs. Wilson
Dick Hogan ... David Kentley
Joan Chandler ... Janet Walker
This 1948 Hitchcock film is mostly noted for its technical achievements. Hitchcock filmed this story, about two well-to-do rich kids who decide to commit a murder for the fun of it, as a play. Which, it in fact, originally was, though based in London and not New York. Technical limitations did not enable his original vision of making the entire picture one continuous long shot. Instead it is made up of several 8 minute continuous shots. This was the length of film that fit into one reel. Using some very inventive cutting techniques the film appears as if it was filmed all in one take. This is more impressive when you see the actual size that color film cameras were during this time period. They were absolutely enormous, bigger than a man standing. To move the camera in and around the small stage space, many of the set pieces were set on casters and rolled about to keep out of the way of the camera. Some of the actors were noted in saying that they worried every time they sat down, that there might not be a chair for them to fall into. Another achievement of the film is in terms of lighting. The apartment that the entire film is set in has several large windows overlooking the city. As the movie is more or less uninterrupted from start to finish we see the lighting change as the sun begins to set and night falls. It is a testament to this achievement that upon first viewing you don't really notice the effect. Yet, the filmmakers took great pains to get it to look realistic, staging numerous re-shoots for the final few scenes.
Though the technical achievements are quite wonderful, it is a shame that they have overshadowed what it really a very good bit of suspense. It seems the two high society murderers have planned a dinner party just after the murder. They store the corpse in a wood box that is featured prominently in the midst of the dinner. This creates an excellent mix of suspense and the macabre. Throughout the party the murderers become more unraveled even as they are enjoying their little game.
All of the acting is quite good. The two murderer (John Dall and Farley Granger) do a fine job of playing intellectual, society playboys, with a desire for excitement. It is slightly annoying watching their excited, nervous mannerisms (especially some stuttering by Jon Dall) but it is fitting with the characters. Their former instructor, Rupert Cadell, is played magnificently by the impeccable James Stewart. This is a bit of departure from Stewarts typical roles. Here he is a tough, cynical intellectual. This was his first of four collaborations between Stewart and Hitchock and it is hard to imagine his role as Scottie in Vertigo without having first played in this movie.
The story unravels in typical Hitchock fashion. The suspense is built, then lessoned by some well timed comedy, and then built again to a final crescendo. Hitchcock was excellent as a technical director and allowed his actors the breathing room they needed for fine performances. In the end I left the picture feeling more excited about the superb storytelling than any particular technical achievement. It is a testament to his craft, that Hitchock allows you to leave a picture being enamored with his story over his technical achievements. Some of the greatest effects are those you don't notice because they seem so natural and real.
Alfred Hitchock manages a triumph of technical brilliance and suspense in Rope. It's influence in the technical realm of cinema far outshines any effect the story has on future movies. This is a shame, for the story being told is one of suspense, macabre and excitement.
This movie is always brushed aside as "minor", and "an experiment that failed", EVEN by Hitchcock himself. I can't let that mistaken judgment stand.
I have seen it many times over the years and always found it moving and disturbing but never analyzed why it had this effect. On viewing it again tonight immediately after watching To Catch a Thief, I became aware that Rope remains brilliant whereas the other movie was merely a pretty and lightweight, average 50's period piece.
The really strange thing is that Hitchcock's movies fall into certain distinct periods which have been written about at length (from early British to late Hollywood; from suspenseful dramas to macabre comedies), but this does not fit into any of them. It is a forties movie, like Saboteur, yet it is shot in colour so it looks like a much later film. To everyone, forties equals black and white. This is a stage play and takes place all in a one room set, but there is the remarkable effect of the huge window which shows the sun going down in real time over the course of the movie, over Manhattan buildings. This is of course done carefully with special lighting effects, but it gives the perfect illusion of the sun setting. It is just that there are fewer skyscrapers there than we would see today.
Some of the slang is dated (but charming), and such elements as a cigarette case could never play a part in a movie made today, but even with these few period references it seems to be a very modern film. The subject matter was horrifying and shocking for 1948, but is rather less so now, as we are unfortunately used to seeing gore and mindless violence. The homosexual subtext would now be played overtly, but the way it is filmed gives it a more ominous atmosphere than movies which have everything spelled out.
This is a movie filled with suspense from the first frame, without any extraneous footage. All the dialogue sounds genuine, not "stagey" as most plays generally do when made into movies. Examples: Glengarry Glen Ross, Oleanna, Boys in the Band etc. All good movies, but all scream out "filmed stage play - actors emoting!" whereas this movie simply draws you into its scenes of gradually dawning horror. I doubt if any Hitchcock film contains more pure tragedy and pathos, or a stronger moral message.
It is a powerfully modern film and yet it is 52 years old. Even the dinner party repartee is filled with wry comments that would not be out of place at a dinner party today - about such topics as the astrological signs of movie stars.
Yet under the witty dialogue is an undertone of tragic irony as the two hosts play an elaborate and secret prank on their guests, simply for their own smug satisfaction.
But it isn't simply the two hosts being in on it together; they are at odds, they bicker, and we are kept on edge because (as Hitchcock wants us to) we are forced to empathize with them to a degree, as well as hating them; we are fascinated by their quirks, played out in subtle nervousness. In taking us into the minds of the criminals as well as the minds of the innocent bystanders, we are left in torment for the horrifying state of humanity, until finally we are forced to take sides.
There are so many brilliant touches in this movie that I can only list a few (without giving anything away). Jimmy Stewart idly setting the metronome in motion as Farley Granger plays the piano, making him play faster and faster while he questions him. The preoccupied worrying of Sir Cedric Hardwicke as he looks out the window hoping to see his son, who is late, as the others chatter; the gradual coming together of the estranged couple who were hostile about each other's presence at the beginning; the unbearable tension as the plates and candles are being cleared away by the housekeeper while the guests and hosts are heard conversing off camera.
The devastation in Jimmy Stewart's face as he realizes that his careless armchair philosophy has fed the imagination of two unstable minds and therefore he too is guilty.
I can't say enough good about this film. It is underappreciated, never on any list of Hitchcock's greatest, but the time is long overdue for it to be appreciated as a masterpiece of suspense and art.
It has none of the irritating Hollywood production glossiness of otherwise great movies such as Vertigo and North by Northwest, none of the blatant psychological mood shots of films such as Marnie. It doesn't have the simplistic filmmaking style of the forties and yet it springs from that era, not fitting in with anything else from the period, decades ahead of its time.
Spellbinding. It's about two (purportedly) gay men, Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) who strangle a friend to death for the thrill of it. They then hide the body in a trunk just before a dinner party they have which include the victim's family and friends. They also proceed to serve the food on the trunk containing his body. They also invite a headmaster they had at school together--Rupert Cadell (James Stewart) a very cynical individual. As the party progresses Cadell realizes something is very wrong--and is afraid he might be responsible in an indirect way.
Absolutely fascinating. Hitchcock's first color film was also shot in 10 minute takes--Hitch thought it might provide a seamless flow of narrative. After all this was adapted from a play. I think it works very well--it's not distracting at all and the film does move very smoothly. Also he purposedly had the color toned down--he didn't think bright Technicolor was appropriate for the subject matter.
Purportedly Dall, Granger and Stewart's characters were all gay. It's never made clear but it DOES seem like Dall and Granger are lovers (and both were gay in real life) and the script was adapted by a gay man (Arthur Laurents). Also it's based the Leopold-Loeb murders in which two gay men killed a young boy for the thrill of it in the 1920s. So there is a strong gay subtext in the film.
Also there's plenty of black humor throughout. After the murder there are lines like "Knock 'em dead", "killing two birds with one stone", "I could strangle you" and "these hands will bring you great fame". They're actually quite funny and frightening at the same time.
With two exceptions all the acting is good. The two bad performances are by Sir Cedric Hardwicke (he seems to have no idea what he's saying) and Farley Granger. Actually Granger is so bad he provides some unintentional humor! The best acting is by Dall who is absolutely chilling and Joan Chandler (who Hitchcock kept tormenting on the set) as Janet Walker. She has some great lines and gives her all to every one of them. Best of all is Stewart--he doesn't pop up until the film is almost half over and he's incredible. He plays a very cold, cynical intellectual--this is unlike anything he's played before. His acting is very toned down (until the end) but you can see all his expressions through his eyes. This is easily one of his best performances. He hated making the film. For the 10 minute takes Hitch had to design a set which could accomidate the huge cameras. When the camera moved the set walls were designed to go flying up (off camera) so the crew could move from room to room. It distracted Stewart a lot and he couldn't sleep nights.
There's also the VERY impressive cyclorama background of NYC where we slowly see day turn into night.
This is basically all talk but every single line is fascinating. Stewart's lines especially are great and the philosophy described is intriguing. And the gay subtext adds another layer to it--see the looks Dall and Granger exchange once in a while. Actually Montgomery Clift was approached about playing Granger's role but turned it down. He was gay too but wanted to keep it hidden and that role was just a bit too risky.
All in all an absolutely fascinating picture. A definite must-see! It's short too (only 81 minutes). Don't miss this one!
Rope is one of the finer films that Hitchcock made. Philosophy, sociology and psychology are contained in equal parts. The plot is simple, the characters are complex and Hitchcock's treatment of the Leopold and Loeb parallel quite deft. The final soliloquy from Jimmy Stewart's character, Rupert, is not only one of the finest examples of Stewart's acting abilities but also of film-making.
On the subject of filmmaking - Hitchcock filmed this in as much of a single take as possible. I believe there are only five edits in the whole thing. I can wholeheartedly tell you that it was no gimmick on Hitchcock's part. The play's plot requires that a certain amount of tension be maintained. Tracking shots are used for this purpose and quite well in my opinion. Timing, position and prop movements alone are to force us to stand in awe of a logistical challenge. All the actors are played superbly. The dialogue is natural and flowing. The finest bit of timing involves a swinging kitchen door, the rope, and the fear of discovery.
In short, this is a fine film that cannot disappoint. Highly recommended and will be well worth your time.
* Director Cameo: [Alfred Hitchcock] His profile appears on a neon sign visible through the apartment window approximately 55 minutes into the movie. Some sources indicate that he also appears walking down the street during the opening credits.
* Story was very loosely based on the real-life murder committed by University of Chicago students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, which was also the (fictionalized) subject of _Compulsion (1959)_ and Swoon (1992).
* The film was shot in ten takes, ranging from four-and-a-half to just over ten minutes (the maximum amount of film that a camera magazine or projector reel could hold) duration. At the end of the takes, the film alternates between having the camera zoom into a dark object, totally blacking out the lens/screen, and making a conventional cut. However, the second edit, ostensibly one of the conventional ones, was clearly staged and shot to block the camera, but the all-black frames were left out of the final print. Most of the props, and even some of the apartment set's walls, were on casters and the crew had to wheel them out of the way and back into position as the camera moved around the set.
* Alfred Hitchcock's inspiration for the long takes came from a BBC Television broadcast of "Rope" in 1939. The producer, Dallas Bower, decided on the technique in order to keep the murder chest constantly in shot.
* Although the film lasts 80 minutes and is supposed to be in "real time", the time frame it covers is actually longer - a little more than 100 minutes. This is accomplished by speeding up the action: the formal dinner lasts only 20 minutes, the sun sets too quickly and so on. The September 2002 issue of Scientific American contains a complete analysis of this technique (and the effect it has on the viewers, who actually feel as if they watched a 100-minutes movie).
* There are only two intentionally visible cuts during the main body of the movie: One when the maid enters to announce a telephone call, another after James Stewart narrates his theory on how the murder was committed. Other than those two, there is a cut at the beginning of the film going from outside the apartment to inside, a cut when Janet arrives, and a cut when the Atwells arrive.
* When Janet and Mrs. Atwater are discussing their favorite leading men in movies, they bring up Cary Grant, and how brilliant he was in "that new thing with (Ingrid) Bergman." Neither can recall the title, but it's just plain "something" (meaning only one word). This refers to Alfred Hitchcock's earlier movie, Notorious (1946). Grant had also been Hitchcock's first choice for the role of Rupert Cadell.
* During filming, the cast had to avoid tripping on cables that laid over the floor, because of the moving cameras and lighting.
* Screenwriter Arthur Laurents claims that the actress that played the maid used to be treated like one by the other actors, while shooting.
* Screenwriter Arthur Laurents assures that in the original play, the character of Cadell (played by James Stewart) allegedly had an affair with one of the two murderers while in school.
* Alfred Hitchcock only managed to shoot roughly one segment per day. The last four or five segments had to be completely re-shot because Hitchcock wasn't happy with the color of the sunset.
* The film was unavailable for decades because its rights (together with four other pictures of the same period) were bought back by Alfred Hitchcock and left as part of his legacy to his daughter Patricia Hitchcock. They've been known for long as the infamous "5 lost Hitchcocks" amongst film buffs, and were re-released in theatres around 1984 after a 30-year absence. The others are The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Rear Window (1954), The Trouble with Harry (1955), and Vertigo (1958).
* Alfred Hitchcock's first color film.
* The picture was filmed entirely in-studio (except for the opening credits). The clouds that you see out the window are made out of fiberglass. For the effect of a police siren coming towards the apartment building at the end, Alfred Hitchcock had an ambulance come at full speed, from several blocks away, straight to the Warner Brothers studio, siren blaring all the way. The sounds were picked up by a microphone suspended from the studio gate.
* Alfred Hitchcock made an opening romantic scene in Central Park with Joan Chandler (Janet Walker) and Dick Hogan (David Kentley). The scene was used for the 1948 promotional trailer but deleted in the film.
* Cary Grant was the first choice to play the role of the teacher, Rupert Cadell.
* Montgomery Clift was the original choice to play Brandon Shaw.
* Since the filming times were so long, everybody on the set tried their best to avoid any mistakes. At one point in the movie, the camera dolly ran over and broke a cameraman's foot, but to keep filming, he was gagged and dragged off. Another time, a woman puts her glass down but misses the table. A stagehand had to rush up and catch it before the glass hit the ground. Both parts are used in the finial cut.
* The theatrical trailer features footage shot specifically for the advertisement that takes place before the beginning of the movie. David (the victim) sits on a park bench and speaks with Janet before leaving to meet Brandon and Phillip. James Stewart narrates the sequence, noting that's the last time Janet and the audience would see him alive.
* The film was banned in a number of American cities because of the implied homosexuality of Phillip (Farley Granger) and Brandon (John Dall).
* The play, originally entitled "Rope" when it played in London, was re-titled "Rope's End" when it went to Broadway.
* The apartment set showed up the following year, slightly re-furbished, in the Doris Day movie "My Dream Is Yours".
# SPOILER: The screenwriter Arthur Laurents claimed that originally Hitchcock assured him the movie wouldn't show the murder itself, therefore creating doubt as to whether the two leading characters actually committed murder and whether the trunk had a corpse inside.
# SPOILER: Dick Hogan's cameo as the murder victim, David Kentley, is his last appearance in a film.