1948                                Thriller

    •   US   •   Colour   •   76mins   •

    books | dvds | posters | videos

    Site search Web search

    powered by FreeFind


    • James Stewart Rupert Cadell
    • John Dall John Brandon
    • Farley Granger Philip Morgan
    • Cedric Hardwicke Mr Kentley
    • Constance Collier Mrs Atwater
    • Joan Chandler Janet Walker


  • Dir:
  • Prod:
      Hitchcock, Sidney Bernstein
  • Scr:
      Arthur Laurents, Hume Cronyn, Ben Hecht (uncredited), from the play by Patrick Hamilton
  • Ph:
      Joseph Valentine, William V. Skall
  • Ed:
      William H. Ziegler
  • Mus:
      David Buttolph
  • Art Dir:
      Perry Ferguson


      Extract from the book:



    [ r o p e : m o v i e  r e v i e w ]

    vhs dvd

    Rated: u

      Hitchcock could have chosen a more entertaining subject with which to use the arresting camera and staging technique displayed in Rope. Theme is of a thrill murder, done for no reason but to satisfy a sadistical urge and intellectual vanity. Plot has its real-life counterpart in the infamous Loeb-Leopold case, and is based on the play by Patrick Hamilton [adapted by Hume Cronyn]. Hitch places his his pair of homosexual student murderers (Farley Granger, John Dall) in a fashionable New York apartment.

      Feature of the picture is that story action is continuous without time lapses. Action takes place within an hour-and-a-half period and the film footage nearly duplicates the span, being 80 minutes. It is entirely confined to the murder apartment of two male dilettantes, intellectual morons who commit what they believe to be the perfect crime, then celebrate the deed with a ghoulish supper served to the victim's relatives and friends from atop the chest in which the body is concealed.

      To achieve his effects, Hitchcock put his cast and technicians through lengthy rehearsals before turning a camera.

      James Stewart, as the ex-professor who first senses the guilt of his former pupils and nibbles away at their composure with verbal barbs, does a commanding job. John Dall stands out as the egocentric who masterminds the killing and ghoulish wake. Equally good is Farley Granger as the weakling partner in crime.

    j a m e s  s t e w a r t ' s  r o p e

      In retrospect, the most surprising thing about Rope is that James Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock were ever eager to work with one another again after its completion. When the director wasn't giving short shrift to the actor and the rest of the cast in his enthrallment with what he viewed as a technical innovation, the leading man was making it evident that he didn't think all that much of the picture, thought himself miscast, and detested the preoccupation with technical trickery. If they agreed on anything, it was in the opinion often voiced in subsequent years that the filmization of the Patrick Hamilton play was not particularly good.

      The Hamilton play was inspired by the Leopold-Loeb case, in which a pair of educated young men in Chicago in the 1920s committed a random murder for the thrill of it and to demonstrate their superiority to society. Confining itself to eighty minutes of "real action" time, the mostly faithful Hitchcock adaptation shows the two killers Brandon (John Dall) and Philip (Farley Granger) as they host a cocktail party while the body of their victim reposes in a chest being used as a serving table in their living room. The party guests in the single-set drama include the father (Cedric Hardwicke) and the aunt (Constance Collier) of the dead man, his fiancee (Joan Chandler), and, most important, the one-time school housemaster and now publisher (Stewart) whose Nietzschean spoutings in the past lighted the fuse for the killing in the minds of Brandon and and Philip . In a cat-and-mouse game with the killers, the publisher bores small, large, and larger holes in their sangfroid until he reveals the truth and, denying that his ideas were ever meant to justify homicide, summons the police.

      Rope's numerous problems started with the casting. As originally planned by Hitchcock, the film would have starred Cary Grant in the role of the publisher and Montgomery Clift as Brandon. But the established homosexual relationship between Leopold and Loeb, and the tacit recognition of a similar tie between Hamilton's killers, persuaded the bisexual Grant and the gay Clift to steer clear of the project to avoid long-term commercial repercussions. As he would go to the actor in the 1950s to soften various neuroses of his protagonists, Hitchcock then opted for Stewart, overcoming the actor's doubts about being right for the part with the help of an offer of $300,000 for a production whose entire budget was merely $1.5 million. Farley Granger was just one of the people connected to the picture who saw the casting as a mistake:

        I suppose they got what they wanted in muting the homosexual undercurrents by bringing Jimmy in, but I can't help but think that's all they got. Jimmy never really got comfortable with the idea of playing this real heavy, a true villain. After all, no matter what he says at the end, his is the character that has triggered the killing in the story. He was extremely conscious of being this dark figure, and that made him edgy all the way through. He was a pro, of course, and he worked at it. But off camera he wasn't especially friendly, and on camera I really never got the feeling that we were building a scene together. Of course, a lot of that also had to do with the fact that we were all a little distracted by Hitchcock's technical considerations.

      Of far more consequence than the film's adherence to an eighty-minute real-time framework was Hitchcock's decision to shoot the entire picture in eight 10-minute takes, obviating the need for any cutting within scenes. At least during Rope's pre-production and shooting phases, the director proclaimed that this challenge added up to his "most exciting" filmmaking experience:

        Every movement of the camera and the actors was worked out first in sessions with a big blackboard, like football skull practice. Even the floor was marked and plotted with numbered circles for the 25 to 30 camera moves in each 10 minute reel. Whole walls of the apartment had to slide away to allow the camera to follow the actors through narrow doors, then swing back noiselessly to show a solid room. Even the furniture was "wild." Tables and chairs had to be pulled away by prop men, then set in place again by the time the camera returned to its original position, since the camera was on a special crane, not on tracks, and designed to roll through everything like a juggernaut.

      Largely to divert attention from what was essentially a static theatrical piece and from the homoerotic assumptions of the film, Warner Brothers also made a show of being enthusiastic about Hitchcock's ten-minute takes, sending out daily press releases on the ingenuity of the director and the prop men and finally even publishing an elaborate brochure describing every move of the camera during production. What none of the literature pointed out was that filming in such a manner made most of the actors miserable. "With the exception of Hardwicke and Collier, who were pretty along in years and who thought the whole thing was a lark that they hadn't been exposed to before, it got very tense at times" says Granger.

        We were constantly redoing scenes because the cameraman had moved an instant too late so that some prop man came into a view with this table in his hand or something like that. It was also Hitchcock's first color film, so he was going to make the most of that by doing every room of the apartment in a different color, and that made for more matching problems. It sounds silly today, but one of my biggest problems was having to trust that when I sat down, there would be a chair under my rear end, that the stagehand had gotten there in time. All of that created a helluva lot of insecurities.

      Stewart didn't hide his, especially when Warners pressured Hitchcock into opening the set more than once for the media. Lingering at the edges of one press conference, he suggested aloud to a member of the crew that the studio start charging five dollars a head for tourists who might be interested in all the technical secrets of extended takes. On another occasion, he interrupted a query to the director about the film's lengthy rehearsal schedule by declaring that "the only thing I rehearsed around here is the camera." Screenwriter Arthur Laurents and others involved in the movie have also reported the actor as doing some considerable drinking during the shooting ("certainly more than I ever expected," in the words of Laurents). Stewart himself has said that he was so tense at times that he found it impossible to sleep at night.

        "It was hard to see how the picture was going to work even while we were doing it. The noises made by the moving of the walls was a continual problem, and we would have to do scenes over again just for sound reasons, using only microphones like in a radio play. It was pretty wearing. Nobody but Hitchcock would have tried it, but in the end it really didn't work"

      More than didn't work, it didn't matter. Few critics spent words on the technique of the extended takes when Rope opened in September 1948, and fewer still thought it rescued the stagy, indifferently acted piece. Seen today, it preserves little sap. The performance of Dall seems especially monotonous, the camera trick of concluding every reel by focusing on some dark jacket or other transition surface becomes predictable, and even the plot suffers from Columbo Syndrome at critical junctures (i.e., just as in the case of the television detective played by Peter Falk, the murderers sometimes get tripped up on details that, though challengeable by logic, were known only to the audience and should never have bothered the investigator within the story). As Granger describes it, Stewart looks mainly "uncomfortable," except for a few minutes near the end when he gets to deliver a trademark monologue, this time on the perfidy of the killers. Before then, even the inevitable question to a character played by the actor—"Are you crazy?"—as he is about to open the chest with the body draws merely a glib "I hope so" from a figure who barely registers any sense of responsibility, let alone vulnerability, for the crime that has been committed. If there is one moment that encapsulates the problems of Rope, however, it comes about fifteen minutes before the end of the picture, when Dall's Brandon suddenly silences the whimpering Philip with a slap. It is about the only time in the film's eighty minutes that action takes precedence over motion.

      The picture fared little better with the public than it did with the critics. It made its biggest ripples in Sioux City, Memphis, Seattle, and Spokane, where local censors discerned enough of the homoerotic subtext to ban it as immoral; Chicago used the same grounds for barring it, though memories of the real Leopold-Loeb case also appeared to be a contributing factor there. Abroad, West Germany refused to show it without major cuts until 1963, while in other European countries it was a commercial failure. For all his enthusiasm about his extended, single-reel takes, Hitchcock had to wait until 1962 until another filmmaker declared interest in the technique. In that year, India's A. S. A. Swami announced plans for a 15,000-foot Tamil feature based on Rope. Swami's picture, never shown in the West, was supposed to run for fifteen hours.

© 2015 by the appropriate owners of the included material