Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film, Rope, is considered by many to be his most experimental and innovative film. It is renowned for its ingenious editing techniques and use of real time which has led numerous people to believe that the film consists of one continuous shot.
The inspiration for Rope was drawn from a British play by the playwright Patrick Hamilton, which in turn drew from the real life murder of Robert “Bobby” Franks. In 1924, two University of Chicago students, Leopold and Loeb, murdered 14-year-old Franks in an attempt to commit the “perfect crime” after being inspired the Nietzchean concept of the superman. The film, therefore, opens with two friends Brandon and Philip murdering their long time acquaintance David Kently in an attempt to prove their intellectual superiority by literally getting away with murder. They strangled David and then proceeded to stash his body in an antique chest in their living room; to demonstrate their power, they hosted a dinner party to and invited David’s father, aunt, his prospective fiancée Janet, her former lover Kenneth. Their old school teacher, Rupert Cadwell, who first introduced them to the concepts of Nietzsche, was also present. Over the course of the dinner part both Brandon and Philip’s behaviour becomes increasingly suspicious, which lead Cadwell at the climax of the film to discover David’s body and alert the police.
While this film is highly effective in terms of narrative and the creation of unbearable suspense, it is also extremely interesting with regards to cinematic techniques and production. It is often celebrated for being filmed as one continuous shot, which strictly speaking is not true. Due to the constraints of both the equipment used in the shooting of films and in projecting them in cinemas, it was only possible to shoot 10 minutes of continuous footage onto one reel. This meant that Hitchcock could not exceed this time when filming Rope, leading him to find imaginative solutions to the problem of using cuts. There are a total of 10 cuts throughout the film, meaning that the film is composed of only eleven shots.
Although it is claimed by some that all of these cuts are hidden, giving the illusion of a continuously shot film, this is in fact a common misconception and only half of the cuts are hidden. Hitchcock used a number of techniques to hide these breaks, with the most common being a dark close up of a person or object, the most noticeable of which are close up shots of character’s backs. The other five breaks however are all conventional cuts marking a transition from setting, position, camera angle, and so on.
Additionally, exempting the opening establishing shot which pans across the street into the apartment, the action of the film only takes place within the apartment. In order to film such long shots on only one set, there had to be a number of technical adjustments made; the walls were mounted on castors and were frequently moved during the filming of one scene, with set hands having to constantly move and replace various props and items of furniture. The cyclorama of the New York cityscape that stood behind the apartment was also at the time the largest backing screen to be used on a film set and over the course of the film changes from daytime to night.
Rope is not commonly regarded as one of Hitchcock’s most successful films and failed to perform upon its release at the box office. However, in more recent years, it has garnered great interest and appreciation as it not only provides a fascinating stylist approach to cinema that goes against cinematic conventions such as montage, but it also presents us with a suspenseful and absorbing plot.
Full information about the Leopold and Loeb case can be found in this site, which gives a detailed account of the full trial. Rope has been featured on the 1000 frames of Hitchcock project where you can view a thousand frames from the film as well as information about its production here.
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