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The working title of this film was The Rope. Patrick Hamilton's play, which loosely parallels the notorious 1920s Leopold and Loeb murder case, was produced in New York under the title Rope's End. On March 2, 1946, Los Angeles Times reported that Noel Madison was organizing a company to film the play. A November 20, 1948 Los Angeles Examiner news item noted that M-G-M had been interested in filming the play as a vehicle for Gregory Peck. Using an unprecedented technique, director Alfred Hitchcock shot the film entirely in uninterrupted 10 minute takes, the length of a reel of film. To mask the necessary breaks when the reel was changed, Hitchcock moved the camera in close on the back of a character until it filled the frame and then pulled away to begin the next shot. The actors and technicians underwent fifteen days of rehearsals to accommodate this unusual procedure.
The action of the film takes place in real time, between seven and eight-thirty in the evening. Contemporary sources note that the set used "wild walls," walls that rolled on overhead tracks, to allow the camera to follow the actors without a break in the shot. An article in Look magazine reports that Hitchcock mounted the camera on a specially built dolly to give it access to all parts of the set. Head grip Morris Rosen, who invented the dolly, was nominated for an Academy Award. Behind the window of the apartment set, a cyclorama portrayed "an exact miniature reproduction of nearly 35 miles of New York skyline lighted by 6,000 incandescent bulbs and 200 neon signs requiring 150 transformers," according to publicity material included in the file on the film at the AMPAS Library.
Rope was the first film released by Transatlantic Pictures, a company formed by Hitchcock and British chain theater owner Sidney Bernstein, and was the first film that Hitchcock shot using Technicolor. By showing sunset, the darkening sky and a flashing neon light outside the apartment window, the director used color to enhance the feeling of suspense and time passage. A February 19, 1948 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that Warner Bros. made a two-reel film, designed to be shown to professional groups, on the techniques Hitchcock used to make Rope. Rope was the first of four films that actor James Stewart made with the director.
Although some modern sources state that Hitchcock, who almost always made a cameo in his films, appears in Rope via a red neon light that flashes his well-known profile outline that was used on his television show, he actually appears as a man walking down the sidewalk, just after the opening credits. According to an interview with screenwriter Arthur Laurents, included on the film's 2000 DVD release, Hitchcock had planned to use the neon sign but decided it would be too "jokey" given the serious nature of the film, and so made the other appearance instead. Although a red neon sign was seen in the viewed print, it could not be discerned if it actually was Hitchcock's profile.
Modern sources add the following information about the film: The homosexual content of the play was toned down for the film, and the role of "Rupert" was softened for James Stewart. Hitchcock had hoped to cast Cary Grant as "Rupert Cadell" and Montgomery Clift as "Brandon." The film was re-issued in 1983.