Rope


1h 20m 1948
Rope

Brief Synopsis

Two wealthy young men try to commit the perfect crime by murdering a friend.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Mystery
Thriller
Adaptation
Release Date
Sep 25, 1948
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Transatlantic Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play The Rope by Patrick Hamilton (London, 25 Apr 1929).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 20m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

John Brandon and his friend and roommate, pianist Phillip, strangle their mutual friend, David Kentley, with a piece of rope and then temporarily place his body in a trunk, intending to dispose of it in the country that night. Over champagne, Brandon boasts to Phillip that they have committed the perfect crime because they are exceptional men. As an added touch, they have planned a dinner party that evening for David's parents; his fiancée, Janet Walker; his friend, and Janet's former fiancé, Kenneth Lawrence; and their former prep school housemaster, Rupert Cadell. Brandon attributes the impulse for the murder to Rupert, who professes to believe that murder is a crime for most men, but a privilege for the few. After Mrs. Wilson, the men's housekeeper, sets the dining room table for dinner, Brandon decides it would be far more interesting if the dinner was set out on the trunk that holds David's body. The guests arrive as scheduled, but because Mrs. Kentley is ill, Mr. Kentley is accompanied by his sister, Mrs. Atwater. When she mistakes Kenneth for David, Phillip is so unnerved that he breaks the glass that he is holding. Rupert is the last guest to arrive. When Phillip states that he does not eat chicken, Brandon explains to the guests that it used to be Phillip's job to choke chickens and once, one revived. Phillip angrily denies the story, to Rupert's bemusement, because he knows that the story is true. Rupert then expounds his theory that murder should be an art, reserved for the few who are superior beings. When Kentley asks who will decide who is superior, Brandon responds that men of intellectual and cultural superiority are above traditional moral concepts. Recognizing the ideas of philosopher Frederich Nietzsche, Kentley points out that Hitler, too, espoused his beliefs. Privately, Rupert asks Brandon if he is planning to do away with someone. As the evening progresses, Kentley becomes alarmed by David's failure to arrive; Janet grows dismayed by Brandon's efforts to reunite her with Kenneth; and Phillip becomes more and more agitated. When Brandon gives Kentley a bundle of books tied with the rope they used to strangle David, Phillip cracks. Disturbed by the odd behavior of Phillip and Brandon, Rupert tries to determine where David might have gone. After a distraught Mrs. Kentley telephones the apartment to report that David is not at home, the guests leave hurriedly. Mrs. Wilson gives Rupert a hat, but it is not his, and he notices the initials D. K. inside. After everyone leaves, Brandon and Phillip quarrel when Phillip admits that he is frightened. Then Rupert rings the doorbell, claiming to have forgotten his cigarette case. Once inside, Rupert speculates on what happened to David. He reconstructs the crime and then pulls a piece of rope out of his pocket and starts to play with it. This action drives Phillip into hysterics. Rupert then finds David's body where it is hidden. When Brandon explains why they committed the murder, Rupert responds that he has given his words a meaning that he never intended. He then opens the window and fires several gunshots into the air, and together, the men wait for the police to arrive.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Mystery
Thriller
Adaptation
Release Date
Sep 25, 1948
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Transatlantic Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play The Rope by Patrick Hamilton (London, 25 Apr 1929).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 20m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Articles

Rope


At last he was free. For almost a decade, Alfred Hitchcock had worked for producer David O. Selznick, the greatest micro-manager in the history of movies. Now Hitchcock's contract was finally up, he had joined forces with producer Sidney Bernstein, and together they had formed their own producing company, Transatlantic Pictures. So why, for his first film, did Hitchcock tangle himself up in Rope (1948)?

Rope had not been the partners' first choice. An adaptation of Helen Simpson's period novel Under Capricorn was slated as their first production, but prior commitments by star Ingrid Bergman forced them to wait. Next was a plan for a modern dress version of Hamlet starring Cary Grant but the duo finally decided it was not to be. The third choice was a play Hitchcock had seen back in 1929. Its story was based on the infamous murder of fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks by college students Richard Loeb and his lover Nathan Leopold in 1924. Loeb fancied himself an intellectual and sought to prove it by committing the perfect crime.

The play, Rope's End by Patrick Hamilton featuring not only grisly murders but also references to the murderers' homosexual relationship, was certain to make trouble in 1948 Hollywood. This was not enough, however, for Hitchcock. In addition to tweaking the censor's nose by seeing how far he could push the homosexual angle, he also decided to make it his first Technicolor production and film it in a radical style.

For years, Hitchcock had played with the idea of creating a film in one uninterrupted take. He had always loved technical challenges from elaborate crane shots in Young and Innocent (1937) and Notorious (1946) to oversized props in Easy Virtue (1928) and Spellbound (1945) to making an entire movie within the confines of a small boat on the open sea in Lifeboat (1944). However, there were also financial reasons as well. Hitchcock thought that by shooting the full length of the ten minutes of film contained in a Technicolor camera in one go, he could speed through the shooting in record time. Hitchcock would then give the illusion of a continuous take by placing the reel changes when the camera's vision was obscured by a person's back or a raised trunk lid.

Unfortunately, the process was neither easy nor cost-effective. Any small detail that went wrong would ruin a full ten-minutes of filming such as when Hitchcock discovered after several days of shooting that the developed Technicolor film was distorting the sunset he had so elaborately designed for the backdrop. Almost half the movie had to be re-shot as a result. Meanwhile the actors, even though they were stage trained professionals, were terrified to flub a line of dialogue as the mistake would require a ten-minute re-shoot. While they were trying to remember their lines and hit their marks, stagehands were whisking away furniture and walls to make way for the gigantic Technicolor camera. Finally, even the mild-mannered Jimmy Stewart had had enough, asking Hitchcock why, if he was so intent on capturing the feel of live theatre, he didn't just set up seats at the studio and sell tickets?

The ten-minute take garnered publicity for Rope but it did not bring in the audiences. Hitchcock, still unconvinced, went on to try the ten-minute take to a more limited extent in his next film, the even more unsuccessful Under Capricorn (1949) whose box-office failure brought Transatlantic Pictures to an end. Rope might have been written off as a failed experiment at the time but it was responsible for introducing Hitchcock to a valued asset, the actor Jimmy Stewart. Stewart was brave enough to work again with Hitchcock and together they created some of their greatest movies with Rear Window (1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Vertigo (1958).

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producers: Alfred Hitchcock, Sidney Bernstein
Screenplay: Hume Cronyn, Arthur Laurents based on the play Rope's End by Patrick Hamilton
Cinematography: William V. Skall, Joseph Valentine
Art Direction: Perry Ferguson
Music: David Buttolph
Editing: William H. Ziegler
Cast: James Stewart (Rupert Cadell), John Dall (Brandon Shaw), Farley Granger (Phillip Morgan), Sir Cedric Hardwicke (Mr. Kentley), Constance Collier (Mrs. Atwater), Douglas Dick (Kenneth Lawrence)
C-81m. Closed captioning.

by Brian Cady
Rope

Rope

At last he was free. For almost a decade, Alfred Hitchcock had worked for producer David O. Selznick, the greatest micro-manager in the history of movies. Now Hitchcock's contract was finally up, he had joined forces with producer Sidney Bernstein, and together they had formed their own producing company, Transatlantic Pictures. So why, for his first film, did Hitchcock tangle himself up in Rope (1948)? Rope had not been the partners' first choice. An adaptation of Helen Simpson's period novel Under Capricorn was slated as their first production, but prior commitments by star Ingrid Bergman forced them to wait. Next was a plan for a modern dress version of Hamlet starring Cary Grant but the duo finally decided it was not to be. The third choice was a play Hitchcock had seen back in 1929. Its story was based on the infamous murder of fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks by college students Richard Loeb and his lover Nathan Leopold in 1924. Loeb fancied himself an intellectual and sought to prove it by committing the perfect crime. The play, Rope's End by Patrick Hamilton featuring not only grisly murders but also references to the murderers' homosexual relationship, was certain to make trouble in 1948 Hollywood. This was not enough, however, for Hitchcock. In addition to tweaking the censor's nose by seeing how far he could push the homosexual angle, he also decided to make it his first Technicolor production and film it in a radical style. For years, Hitchcock had played with the idea of creating a film in one uninterrupted take. He had always loved technical challenges from elaborate crane shots in Young and Innocent (1937) and Notorious (1946) to oversized props in Easy Virtue (1928) and Spellbound (1945) to making an entire movie within the confines of a small boat on the open sea in Lifeboat (1944). However, there were also financial reasons as well. Hitchcock thought that by shooting the full length of the ten minutes of film contained in a Technicolor camera in one go, he could speed through the shooting in record time. Hitchcock would then give the illusion of a continuous take by placing the reel changes when the camera's vision was obscured by a person's back or a raised trunk lid. Unfortunately, the process was neither easy nor cost-effective. Any small detail that went wrong would ruin a full ten-minutes of filming such as when Hitchcock discovered after several days of shooting that the developed Technicolor film was distorting the sunset he had so elaborately designed for the backdrop. Almost half the movie had to be re-shot as a result. Meanwhile the actors, even though they were stage trained professionals, were terrified to flub a line of dialogue as the mistake would require a ten-minute re-shoot. While they were trying to remember their lines and hit their marks, stagehands were whisking away furniture and walls to make way for the gigantic Technicolor camera. Finally, even the mild-mannered Jimmy Stewart had had enough, asking Hitchcock why, if he was so intent on capturing the feel of live theatre, he didn't just set up seats at the studio and sell tickets? The ten-minute take garnered publicity for Rope but it did not bring in the audiences. Hitchcock, still unconvinced, went on to try the ten-minute take to a more limited extent in his next film, the even more unsuccessful Under Capricorn (1949) whose box-office failure brought Transatlantic Pictures to an end. Rope might have been written off as a failed experiment at the time but it was responsible for introducing Hitchcock to a valued asset, the actor Jimmy Stewart. Stewart was brave enough to work again with Hitchcock and together they created some of their greatest movies with Rear Window (1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Vertigo (1958). Director: Alfred Hitchcock Producers: Alfred Hitchcock, Sidney Bernstein Screenplay: Hume Cronyn, Arthur Laurents based on the play Rope's End by Patrick Hamilton Cinematography: William V. Skall, Joseph Valentine Art Direction: Perry Ferguson Music: David Buttolph Editing: William H. Ziegler Cast: James Stewart (Rupert Cadell), John Dall (Brandon Shaw), Farley Granger (Phillip Morgan), Sir Cedric Hardwicke (Mr. Kentley), Constance Collier (Mrs. Atwater), Douglas Dick (Kenneth Lawrence) C-81m. Closed captioning. by Brian Cady

Quotes

Do you know when I was a girl I used to read quite a bit.
- Mrs. Atwater
We all do strange things in our childhood.
- Brandon
Rupert is extremely radical. Do you know that he selects his books on the assumption that people not only can read but actually can think?
- Brandon
Brandon has told me a lot about you.
- Rupert Cadell
Did he do me justice?
- Janet Walker
Do you deserve justice?
- Rupert Cadell
The good Americans usually die young on the battlefield, don't they? Well, the Davids of the world merely occupy space, which is why he was the perfect victim for the perfect crime.
- Brandon
We killed for the sake of danger and for the sake of killing.
- Brandon

Trivia

on a neon sign in the view from the apartment window.

Story was very loosely based on the real-life murder committed by University of Chicago students Leopold and Loeb, which was also the (fictionalized) subject of Compulsion.

The film was shot in a series of 8-minute continuous takes (the maximum amount of film that a camera could hold). Every eight minutes, the camera alternates between zooming into a dark object and making a conventional cut (to allow a projector switchover in the theatre). Most of the props were on castors and the crew had to wheel them out of the way as the camera moved around the set.

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).

Notes

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.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1948

Released in United States September 25, 1948

Re-released in United States on Video May 23, 1995

Released in United States November 1971

Formerly distributed by MCA Home Video.

Released in USA on laserdisc December 1988.

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1948

Released in United States September 25, 1948

Re-released in United States on Video May 23, 1995

Released in United States November 1971 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The Alfred Hitchcock Marathon) November 4-14, 1971.)