Rope, 1948

Hitchcock's Experiment

Alfred Hitchcock's experimental murder film Rope is about two young intellectuals in Manhatten who perform what (they think) is the perfect killing on a former school classmate that they despised as socially inferior. They claim that this is an intellectual exercise.

James Stewart is in the film as Professor Rupert Cadell, who unintentionally provided the basis for the murder through his theories about morality, or perhaps more accurately, that there isn't a morality. John Dall and Farley Granger also star in the film as the two apartment roommates who throw an elaborate dinner party with the dead body of their classmate hidden in a trunk in the midst of their guests socializing.

Hitchcock considered the film a 'failed' experiment. His process was to shoot in long sequences, usually at lengths of ten minutes at a time (because that was the length limit of a film canister), and cuts are usually positioned to coincide with characters walking into the camera, blocking the screen, which would also coincide with the break between film reels.

Unusual filming process

During filming, the film crew would constantly be in motion behind the scene, moving props and scenery walls that were mounted on well-oiled wheels so they could be silently slid out of the way when the technicolor cameras would move around the apartment set, following the action of the characters.

Rope is a unique film in that it utilizes precise planning (something Hitchcock pioneered by using comic-book style story boards to map out his movies visually) and technology to create a fusion of film and what is essentially a single set stage play.

In fact, Rope is based upon a 1929 play of the same name by playwright Patrick Hamilton, though the film treatment was updated by Hume Cronyn and Arthur Laurents.

HItchcock's Lost Five

Hitchcock's Rope has a very good reputation with modern film critics, though the movie was disparaged by many contemporary critics for the nihilistic tone of the films characters. It should be noted, in the story it is Stewart's character that is the one that registers the horror of realization about what has happened, displaying an arc of change that makes the film enter into the kind of territory that a more modern movie, like the Coen Brothers Fargo (1996), explored.

Rope was unavailable for decades as one of the five "Lost Hitchcocks" that were withdrawn from circulation. Hitchcock owned the rights to Rope (along the four others, Rear Window, Vertigo, The Trouble With Harry, and his 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much) and prevented the films being screened. It was only after his daughter Patricia inherited Hitchcock's estate that negotiations were made to bring the films out of retirement. Since then massive restoration work has been done on the films (particularly Vertigo) and they are all available in premium blu-ray disc copies, and the films themselves show up on repertory screens around the world.

Hitchcock Rope 1948

Original Page May 2014

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