Saturday, 19 February 2011

Story-Telling: The Cutting Edge: Rope, Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1948

Rope Poster
Fig. 1 Movie Poster

Rope, Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1948

The basic storyline of this film is about two young students that decide to kill a fellow student because they think him inferior to themselves so being superior they believe they have the right to kill for pleasure. This takes place in their apartment and decide to hide the body while they have a party. They then show off this 'superior pleasure' by inviting the dead man's parents and girlfriend to the party (all pre planned). They had invited their tutor along as he was the person that placed the mindset into the young men's mind not realising his words were to be taken literally. Over the course of the party he works out what has happened and returns after everybody has left to confront the two young men. After reaching the shocking truth that the train of thought started with him and the young men thought he would be proud, he sets off gun fire out of the window for the police to be alerted and for it all to be judged.

This film is an iconic one for a few reasons. As screenwriter Arthur Laurents refers to when Hitchcock described the film, 'it's going to be a picture about 'it'' meaning it was going to be one of the first, if not the first, films to include a gay couple and they were shown just as an ordinary couple, unlike the way the topic was illegal and a voodoo at the time. There was also the subject of the type of killers they were. How they did it for reasons unheard of in films at this time, they were killers because their tutor had unintentionally put the idea into their heads that people of a superior intellect had the right to kill those less superior just to clean up the world, and that they believed they were a couple of the superiors that could do this act. Originally, the idea came from a true story about two young millionaires named Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb who killed 14 year old Bobby Franks, in the story was the character known as 'David' (Dick Hogan), who confessed to the murder on 31st of May 1924 in Chicago. Following this, in 1929 a british play was performed based from this story in but they set it in an apartment in London, this was titled 'Rope's End'. The play was later published by Samuel French in 1933.

Hitchcock wanted to make this play into a film but keep it in the style of a play because it hadn't been done that way before. The script was revised as it was too 'British' and because of the british phrasing it was seen as homosexual language, for example 'my dear boy' this was unintentional. So again the scripts were revised.  Almar Haflidason writes in his review of the film on the BBC movies website, how Laurents found that the technical aspects of the film weren't important when watching the film, but he was 'interested in how the movie was clearly about homosexuality, but that no-one at the time could discuss it'. There is only one scene within this film (it could be classed as two as the opening shot is of the outside of the apartment block, this is the only opportunity Hitchcock got to insert himself into his film, but as it is in the opening introductory manor it is not really classed as a scene) which aids the effect of the 'play' style.
Fig. 2. Brandon and Phillip talking intimately.

On the subject of editing, it is quite different as there isn't really much in the film. The editing that it does contain is very planned in advance as they shot continuous sections and only cut a scene when the amount of film on a spool ran out. So in effect it was forced editing by the technology available at the time. The point of the cuts were executed well, the camera would move slyly behind a character in part of a camera movement in order for the lens to be completely blacked out by the clothes of the character for what seemed only a second and the scene continued (after a new reel of film and a day's break) around to the other side of the character. This was also a remembered movie for being one of the first to have a 10 minute take. The actors were all choreographed to be able to act out the long scenes without tripping over camera wires and make sure they were out of the way as the walls were wheeled around the one big scene so the shots were able to happen. Roger Ebert from Chicago Sun-Times describes the film as 'one of the most interesting experiments ever attempted by a major director working with big box-office names', and it did work.

Fig. 3. Palm Reading

In the making of it is explained that there was a double meaning for everything throughout the film. For instance in Fig. 3 Phillip is having his palms read by David's aunt, Mrs. Anita Atwater. Here she speaks of great talent and a long life, she means talent for music and a long life but the double meaning is about how he just killed her nephew with these hands and how his life has ended. 

The story is told through the camera. As there was very little editing, the camera movements were key to the build up of suspense and tension. A great example of this is when Mrs. Wilson (Edith Evanson) clears away the dining ware from the chest and starts to pile up the books next to the chest to put back inside it. It is shot so we can see what she is doing but we can hear the conversation from the rest of the party who are standing almost outside of the shot so it gives the impression that they are too busy to see what she is doing and that she might open the chest and see the dead body which would expose the two murderers. It is only at the last second when she goes to put the books back inside and slightly lifts the chest that the almost unbearable suspense gets shattered as Brandon walks over, shuts the chest and says to leave the books and tidy them the next day when she comes back to clean. 

As the takes were to be so long Hitchcock wanted a way to make the backdrop outside the window show the daylight gradually turning to night time as the party went on. They made a prop with lights to indicate lights of windows showing from the silhouettes of the town scape. At the end some dramatic green and red lighting was used to intensify the mood. This was meant to represent the danger and suspense during the build up of them being found out.

List of Illustrations

Fig. 1. Movie Poster (1948) From: Rope Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock. [poster art] USA: Transatlantic Pictures, Warner Bros.

Fig. 2. Brandon and Phillip talking intimately (1948) From: Rope Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock. [film still] USA: Transatlantic Pictures, Warner Bros.

Fig. 3. Palm reading (1948) From: Rope Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock. [film still] USA: Transatlantic Pictures, Warner Bros.


Rope. (1948) Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock [DVD] USA: Transatlantic Pictures, Warner Bros.

'Rope' Unleashed. From: Rope: 2001 Edition. (2001) Directed by Laurent Bouzereau. [DVD] USA: Universal Pictures., Inc. (Date Unknown) Rope (1948). (Accessed on 18.02.11)

Ebert, J. (1984) Rope. In: Chicago Sun-Times [online] (Accessed on: 19.02.11)

Haflidason, A. (2007) Rope DVD (1948). In BBC MOVIES [online] (accessed on: 19.02.11)


  1. 'the topic was illegal and a *taboo* at the time'

    Remember to use the Harvard Method for your quotes, Nat (Egbert, 19??) etc.

    It's satisfying to see this review appear within the bounds of the specific unit.

  2. What do you mean about the Harvard method part? To insert the info in brackets after as well? Gaby said the other day during an essay guidance meeting that it was not necessary to insert them after as well if they have been named in the phrasing of the sentence. Am I mistaken on this? I followed the referencing guide for this on myUCA.
    Other than that, does it contain the type of content needed?