James Stewart, John Dall and Farley Granger in Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (1948)

Hitch Knot

Released in 1948 "Rope" is acknowledged as one of Alfred Hitchcock's more experimental movies. Between being set in just one location and shot in long 10 minutes takes which appear to merge into each other it feels like you are watching a thriller on the stage. And that is not so surprising as "Rope" is an adaptation of the 1929 play "Rope", interestingly adapted to the big screen by actor Hume Cronyn. It's also interesting as the story about 2 men committing a murder because they felt superior has its roots in history and the case of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb which in turn would inspire the much later movie "Murder by Numbers".

Brandon Shaw (John Dall - Spartacus) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) decide to murder their friend David Kentley, in an act to prove their superiority to others. And what better way to prove this than to place their victim in an old wooden chest in their New York apartment and then hold a dinner party for guests including Kentley's father, girlfriend and their former mentor Rupert Cadell (James Stewart - Call Northside 777) who gave them the idea of superior murder. With Brandon getting off on what they are doing, Phillip struggles, raising the suspicions of Rupert who begins to put 2 and 2 together.

James Stewart as Rupert Cadell in Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (1948)

From a storyline point of view "Rope" feels like a mix of cat and mouse with a traditional detective story despite there being not a single detective in site. We watch Brandon & Phillip murder an 'inferior' friend then host a dinner party, and in the case of Brandon take almost pleasure in the fact that his guests are oblivious to the fact that in a box in the living room is the dead body of their victim. We watch as he almost taunts those around him with almost innuendo like statements as to what has just happened seeing how far he can push things, inflating his already large ego as being superior to all those around him.

At the same time, whilst Brandon almost gets off on the danger, we watch Phillip struggle with his part in the murder and the despicable games which Brandon plays with those in the room. Which leads to their former tutor Rupert who having sowed the seeds of thought about murder of the inferior finds himself playing detective, suspicions raised by the nature of Brandon & Phillip and into a game of cat and mouse as Brandon tries to outwit him.

As such "Rope" has that feeling of a game of Cluedo with the exception that we know what happened. We watch as Rupert observes the two young men, picking up on their mannerisms, clues, abnormalities and rather brazen choice of discussion to come to the conclusion that maybe they have taken his concept of inferior murder too literally. It sort of works because whilst some of the unravelling of the clues seems a little too obvious the fact that Rupert explains his reasoning as to why he suspects them of murder gives us that semi insight into the mind of a detective, except that he isn't one.

Aside from this mix of detective and cat n mouse "Rope" most certainly pays homage to its roots from the stage. Hitchcock used "Rope" as an experiment with it not only being his first movie in colour but also that it was shot in long 10 minute takes and this technique which combined with it being set in one location, predominantly a single room really delivers that feel of being a play.

The use of long takes, 10 minutes of singular camera action is quite brilliant, yes you do get the transitions where the camera will suddenly stop panning and focus on one insignificant object as the film is changed, but you don't notice this immediately. For me I was half an hour into the movie until it suddenly dawned on me that what I was watching what was almost just one long take, from one camera. And as such from a technical point of view, the clever manipulation of the set and camera to accommodate this is just brilliant.

Adding to that feeling of being almost stage like is the acting and it has to be said that whilst the big name star of "Rope" is James Stewart it is the performances of John Dall as Brandon Shaw and Farley Granger as Phillip Morgan which make it so entertaining. John Dall as Brandon is captivating with his sense of superiority as well as devious and conniving in the way he gets off on his manipulation of those at his dinner party, Whilst Farley Granger is just as captivating as the struggling Phillip. Together they are a contrasting pair and it works so much so that James Stewart is for once over shadowed, almost just a supporting role.

Now of course as is now common place people like to find deeper meaning, another level of context to Hitchcock's movies and one of the most often mentioned is the homoerotic undertones in "Rope". This is all built around the fact that the real life murderers Leopold and Loeb were homosexuals and we are lead to assume that Brandon and Phillip live together and Brandon is the more dominant of the pair, almost bullying Phillip to do what he wants. I suppose you could say this is true, and as such Hitchcock pulled one out of the bag to get such a movie passed the 1940's censors. But this deeper context does not really influence the movie, the pleasure of watching it and seems like many try to make something more out of something than needs to be.

What this all boils down to is that "Rope" is a very good movie and different to what you would probably expect from Alfred Hitchcock. It is experimental and the series of long takes combined with the one location pays homage to the stories roots of being a stage play. But it is the wonderful performances from John Dall and Farley Granger which make it so fun to watch as the cat and mouse games occur.