Rope (1948)


Two young men (John Dall, The Corn is Green, and Farley Granger, They Live by Night) strangle to death an ex-classmate for no apparent reason and hide his body in a trunk located in the same room where they are planning to throw a dinner party.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“He’s dead, and we’ve killed him; but, he’s still here.”

“Why not cut? What is he trying to prove?,” director Billy Wilder (The Lost Weekend) reportedly said after watching Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller Rope, which was shot entirely in long, uninterrupted takes. For years, I have asked myself the same question — Rope is equal parts interesting and frustrating.

For some bizarre reason, Hitchcock, whose signature style is characterized for its judicious image editing, decided to go against his own cinematic credo. Hitchcock often chastised colleagues for failing to exploit the full potential of the resources available to filmmakers, and yet here he is, not practicing what he preached.

Rope is based on Patrick Hamilton’s 1929 stage play of the same name. The play was inspired by the infamous Leopold and Loeb murder case, about two friends who kidnapped and callously killed a teenager for the thrill of it. The screenplay was written by celebrated playwright Arthur Laurents (The Way We Were). In the end, I found the one-take gimmick far less engrossing than the story and the performances.

Despite being primarily an exercise in technique, Rope is worth seeing because of Laurents’s multilayered screenplay. Laurents explores such themes as masochism (the dinner party is nothing but self-imposed agony), sadism (the dead kid’s father is invited to the feast) and queer anxiety (it’s implied that the killers are lovers).

What’s more interesting, however, is how the story proposes that the killers’ former college professor, played by James Stewart, is at least partly responsible for the heinous murder. We are told that the teacher’s fascist speeches inspired the killers to commit the crime, therefore the movie can be interpreted as a cautionary tale about what happens when an influential person fails to understand the power of his/her words.

Aside from a superb script, the film features outstanding performances by a small but great cast. John Dall and Farley Granger are impressive as the killers. Sir Cedric Hardwicke (1956’s The Ten Commandments) is first-class as the murdered kid’s worrisome father. Constance Collier (Wee Willie Winkie), who plays Hardwicke’s chatty sister-in-law, adds lots of humor to an otherwise morbid storyline.

Stewart is very good, but there is something about the actor that prevents me from accepting him as an intellectual. Hitchcock wanted Cary Grant (Suspicion), but I don’t see him as a scholar either. James Mason (Kubrick’s Lolita) would have been my choice, or maybe Michael Redgrave (Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes). Anyhow, I did like Stewart’s scenes near the end where he finally confronts Dall and Granger.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

I’ve watched the film three times, and I still have mixed feelings about it. It’s a little too self-conscious for my taste. And it isn’t even the best use of continuous takes — the technique worked much better in Jim Jarmusch’s indie classic Stranger Than Paradise (1984) (the long takes feel organic). In any case, Rope, The Master of Suspense’s first color movie, is a good but not great movie. Color, 80 minutes, Not Rated.

Hitch’s (unconfirmed) cameo                                     Hitch’s (official) cameo


18 responses to “Rope (1948)

  1. I did like this, but like you, it’s not the best of his films. I know one of the things he was deciding on was whether or not to show the killing of the guy at the beginning of the film. I wonder how that would have changed the film if we didn’t know for sure whether someone was dead in the box.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Rope was very difficult to take in when I first saw it. Somehow it grew on me over time, enough for me to choose James Stewart’s finale speech for a monologue in one of my acting schools which I got some good praise for. It may still have much to say today about the consequences of failing to grasp the potential of one’s own words. Indeed, teachers in particular should be most responsible. Thank you for reviewing Rope.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m with you: Rope has gown on me overtime. It does help that the movie is very short. By the way, it was smart of you to pick Stewart’s monologue for your acting class: it’s the kind of speech that, when done right, impresses the audience. Coincidentally, I have a friend who is an actor and told me he used Norman Bates’s monologue (the parlor scene in Psycho) for his acting class.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ooh – James Mason would have been amazing in this role, but I don’t mind Stewart as the professor. His anguish at the end is a good payoff, I think.

    As for the continuous non-editing, it’s weird and somewhat distracting, but it’s grown on me. I think it had to be tried, although, as you say, Hitchcock went against what he preached.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. As has been noted above, this is a movie that probably grows on you in time. I guess I like it a little better now than I did when I first saw it. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it over the years – probably four or five anyway – but I still don’t really like it. I appreciate the technical skill and the work that went into it and the subtle changes in the background and skyline lighting that indicates the passage of time is extraordinarily well done.
    That said, there is a coldness to it all – Dall has never engaged me at all in anything I’ve seen him in and while Granger was very good at playing essentially unlikable people, those characters are still unlikable at the end of the day regardless of how skillful the portrayal is. Stewart does get the inner conflict aspect and would of curse explore that with great success both with Hitchcock and Anthony Mann. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that this is a film where there basically no sympathetic characters, no-one for the viewer to empathize with. Hardwicke does bring great warmth and humanity to his part, but his is very much a supporting role and there’s not enough of him in the movie to remove that remote chilliness at its heart.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Rope is indeed a cold, cold movie. You are right about the lack of sympathetic characters. I did admire the performances, and as you said, the film does have some cool technical tricks. But, it isn’t a movie, really. It’s an experiment of sorts.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The technical aspects and how they are achieved are undoubtedly interesting but I’m not sure they really succeed on a dramatic level. It’s very hard to maintain interest and generate suspense when you can’t cut – everything becomes just a little too busy and cluttered. He tried something similar with Under Capricorn and the results there are not great at all.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Now that you mention it, Rope is the kind of the film that probably, due to the nature in dialogue, succeeds just for the talk rather than drama. When the film opens up with Brandon and Phillip having a very lengthy discussion about what should set them apart from the rest of the ‘imperfect world’, it was a trial to sit through. Later with Rupert joining in and we finally understand how their confusion of his words have led them down the wrong path, we can still expect a most impactful ending. But the imaginable drama would have been David’s loved ones coming back to see the traumatizing truth and of course we as the audience are spared that. Any attempt at suspense for how Rope ends may be satisfied by how Brandon is finally taken down by Rupert’s grand finale speech. Strong point too for how the use and understanding of words may influence people for better or worse.

          Liked by 3 people

  5. Fascinating thoughts on this film. I will have to watch my Blu on this film again. Another film based on Leopold and Loeb is ‘Compulsion’ from ’59. The acting is quite excellent and Orson Welles does a good cameo as the Clarence Darrow figure. I am surprised that a really good factual film on the killers hasn’t been made. Jazz age Chicago could be evoked, psychopathy, sexuality, privliege, the justice system. So much going on there. The case has a little bit of everything.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on Rope, Eric! This one has never grabbed me and I wondered why. It’s probably because of the coldness of the material and the lack of sympathetic characters as the commenters have discussed. Still it’s interesting to see Hitchcock experiment even if it’s not a total success.

    By the way, I’m at it again with my blogathon for Kim Novak. This year she’ll be 90! Would love to have you join us once again 🙂 Here is the link if you’re interested:

    Liked by 2 people

      • Looking back now, it can be surprising how I could take such a cold movie at a very young age. In all fairness I think that coldness may be interesting in the sense of how all forms of darkness in films can often give us more to explore. So long as we still find a humanizing point somewhere like James Stewart’s most valid speech, then it can remind us how the coldness doesn’t have to be desensitizing, but for the sake of our freedom to think as an audience, just the opposite.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I don’t think the story or the performances are cold. On the contrary, this is essentially a timeless, cautionary tale about evil manifesting in the most unexpected places. The actors, especially Stewart, are superb, and very human. But the 10-minute take thing makes the movie feels too studied, and unpleasantly chilly. Just my opinion.

          Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s