Thursday, 16 January 2014

Rope (1948)

Fig 0
Suspenseful, nerve-wracking and downright intense, Alfred Hitchcock’s first colour picture Rope explores the use of real-time editing and dramatic irony whilst following the story of two unsuspecting murderers holding a dinner party. The film is typically regarded as one of great experimentation, which has divided critics ever since its release in 1948. The main characters, Brandon and Phillip, are shown strangling their former classmate, David, only moments after the title screens have rolled, already setting the scene for an unsettling viewing experience. The remainder of the film uses specifically-timed segues between shots in order to create the illusion that the party is being shown in real-time.

The stage play from which the film derives features further information about the murderers, involving the sexual undertones between them. “In the play, two homosexual college students become fascinated by their philosophy professor’s ideas about the “innate superiority” of some over others.” (Ebert, 1984) The Professor in question, played by James Stewart, maintains a somewhat troubled presence throughout the dinner party, which only heightens the tension further as he starts to build on the suspicious atmosphere. Several scenes in the film can be perceived as devices used to build tension whilst also suggesting an underlying homoerotic subtext. For instance, the scene in which the Professor subtly interrogates Phillip as he plays the piano to the sound of a metronome truly fastens the pace of the mystery, which is also true for the scene in which the Professor returns to the party for a drink, as the murderers crowd him in an uncomfortable, and perhaps unintentionally humorous, manner. (See Fig 1)

Fig 1
Rope is an 80 minute feature made to feel fairly longer by giving the audience a consistent sense of time passing and infrequently cutting from shot to shot. The set of the film was built specifically for this purpose: “In Rope, (Hitchcock) used a set with walls built on wheels so that he could have the cameras move unimpeded around the film’s group of three rooms.” (Arbunkle, 1999) The apartment layout coupled with an extravagant recreation of New York City in the background presents us with the perfect atmosphere for a film set in ‘real-time’. Since Hitchcock was already accustomed to filming various locations for one picture, it is understandable that he would make the most of such a theatrical setting and have it constructed on the budget of a film. The background construction was particularly necessary to the story, (See Fig 2) as the crew would not have been burdened with any inauthenticity at the behest of using a genuine view of the city.
Fig 2
There are several moments in which painfully-anxious Phillip creates tension in his paranoia. “After they kill David, they pop a bottle of champagne, as Brandon, with baited breath, shares his orgasmic exhilaration with Phillip.” (Wisniewski, 2007) This moment briefly captures the unrelenting suspense of the party to come, setting the mood for the arrival of their unsuspecting guests. (See Fig 3) At another point during the film, Phillip subtly snaps the stem of the glass he is holding and casually hides his obvious ‘red hands’, which are later commented upon by a guest saying (in relation to his musical talents) “These hands will bring you great fame.” Perhaps this quote shadows the inevitable coverage of their arrest, bringing Phillip fame in his infamousness.

Fig 3
Despite the mixed reviews of critics past and present, the essential elements of the original story are presented in a sophisticated and voyeuristic manner, making it enjoyable viewing for all fans of Hitchcock’s genius.



Ebert, R. (1984) Rope Review (Accessed on 16/01/14)

Arbunkle, W. (1999) Hitchcock's Film Interiors: Home Is Where The Knife Is (Accessed on 16/01/14)

Wisniewski, C. (2007) Rope: Hidden in Plain Sight (Accessed on 16/01/14)


Fig 0. Rope Poster (1948) From: Rope - Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock (Accessed on 16/01/14)

Fig 1. Rope Screenshot (1948) From: Rope - Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock (Accessed on 16/01/14)

Fig 2. Hitchcock on Set (1948) From: Rope - Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock (Accessed on 16/01/14)

Fig 3. Rope Screenshot (1948) From: Rope - Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock (Accessed on 16/01/14)


  1. A thorough review once again, Josh :)

    It might have been worth mentioning the technique used by Hitchcock to create the continuous shot, i.e. panning into the actor's back in order to change the reel, and also the use of the darkening skyline outside the window, to give the illusion of more time passing than actually was.

    On a technical note, make sure that your bibliography is arranged alphabetically by author's surname. Also, the author's name and date within the text reference do not need to be italicised, just put in brackets.

  2. good stuff, Josh :) I know the viewing experience of this can feel dated, but this could be remade right now with a stellar cast and it would still play out beautifully - full of mordant wit and nastiness! Lovely!