Hitchcock's first film in color is famous for appearing to be one continuous take. It tells of two cocky young collegiates, Shaw and Philip (Dall and Granger), who murder a weak-willed friend, David (Hogan), simply for the thrill of it. Strangling their friend with rope, they stuff his corpse into an antique chest and then ready the apartment for a cocktail...read more
Hitchcock's first film in color is famous for appearing to be one continuous take. It tells of two cocky young collegiates, Shaw and Philip (Dall and Granger), who murder a weak-willed friend, David (Hogan), simply for the thrill of it. Strangling their friend with rope, they stuff his
corpse into an antique chest and then ready the apartment for a cocktail party. Among the guests are David's father (Hardwicke), his fiancee (Chandler), and Rupert Cadell (Stewart), a philosophy professor whose discussions of Nietzsche's "superman" theory have inspired the murderers. Shaw, the
more arrogant of the two, insists that dinner be served from the chest and makes veiled references to the crime such as "I could kill you." Philip, on the other hand, reacts nervously to such purposely ironic comments. As times passes, the guests become concerned by David's absence and the
increasingly morbid conversation.
Although the story of this verbose film is intriguing, it's not top-drawer Hitchcock. Like LIFEBOAT before it, ROPE is an experiment in overcoming technical restrictions--a task which always thrilled Hitchcock. Here, all of his energies go into technique, but, paradoxically, ROPE seems favorable
to the actors because it plays like so much theater. The construction of ROPE is simple--eight 10-minute takes cut together (except for the opening and a few reverse-angle shots) to appear as one continuous shot. (Feature films generally have about 600 shots.) Since the maximum length of a reel of
35mm film is around 10 minutes, the reels were joined by stopping the camera behind a character with his back filling the entire frame. Not surprisingly, there were many other hurdles for Hitchcock and his crew to overcome. Ziegler's job was to choreograph the actors' movements with a small scale
model of the set. Valentine's camera needed the freedom to travel through the set without crashing into things, so breakaway walls on rollers were built. A special camera dolly was invented (by head grip Morris Rosen) to allow for greater freedom of movement.
Valentine was only experienced with black-and-white photography, so he was unable to capture the color Hitchcock needed during sundown. Technicolor advisor Skall was brought in and, after Valentine left the production due to illness, reshot the final five reels. Special care was also taken on the
New York City skyline; since the film took place in real time, night had to fall over the city. A set was built which encompassed 35 square miles of skyline, including such landmarks as the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. (The skyline included an ad for Reduco, featuring a before
and after silhouette of Hitchcock--a gag also used in a newspaper in LIFEBOAT.) Correct cloud formations were even constructed from spun glass and chickenwire under the advice of a meteorologist.
Hitchcock later said, "I undertook ROPE as a stunt," and that's how it plays. Stewart seems uncomfortable playing an intellectual; his dull performance never displays the disturbance or authority that it needs. Dall and Granger, by contrast, are superb. Their characters and their thinly shrouded
homosexuality were based on the murderous exploits of Richard Leopold and Nathan Loeb, wealthy Chicago teenagers who, in 1924, killed 14 year-old Bobbie Franks just to see if they could pull it off. Because of the homosexuality in ROPE, however discreet, the film was initially banned in Chicago
(perhaps because it evoked memories of the real case), Spokane, Memphis, and Seattle, and was morally condemned in many other towns. Only after an "adults only" policy was enacted in Chicago, and the opening murder scene deleted in Sioux City, Iowa, could the film be shown in those cities. The
Leopold/Loeb case also was the basis for SWOON, a stylish, if self-indulgent, 1992 feature by independent New York filmmaker Tom Kalin.
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