Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Cutting Edge Film Programme: Rope (1948)

Figure 1: Movie Poster [Still Image]
Rope (1948) is a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It is film adapted from Patrick Hamilton’s 1929 play of the same name. The play itself was said to be based on the gruesome murder of a teenage boy in 1924 committed by upper class Chicago law students, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. The characteristics of Brandon Shaw and Philip Morgan does not differ from the real life murderers Leopold and Leob, who were arrogant. They committed the murder to prove their intellectual superiority. To test themselves, they organized a dinner party where a number of friends including the victim’s father, aunt and former prep school housemaster, Rupert Cadell, were in attendance. Several years before the murder, Rupert Cadell had a several discussions about Nietzschean philosophy, which might have triggered the men to commit the crime.
Figure 2: Shaw and Morgan placing David's body in the chest [Still Image]
To make the party more interesting and to “test” their intellectual superiority, Shaw taunts the guests by tying some of David’s books using the rope that he was killed with for his father to take back home. Rupert suspects that these two men committed the murder in spite of their efforts to cover up the crime. The film’s climax is for Rupert to prove if the boys really committed the murder.
Figure 3: David's Father Carrying The Book His Son Was Killed With [Still Image]
The film’s plot is excellent with at the twists and turns. The factor that separates this film from any other murder mystery film is that it was seen from a different perspective- that of the perpetrators. The tension is build upon the whether the murderers will be discovered at the end of it. This point can be further emphasized by Hutchinson who accurately states in her review, “Murder in the movies is usually more about motive than consequence. The bad guys have it coming, and killers are much more interesting before they start repenting their crimes. But Rope rejects that formula by taking inspiration from a real-life murder, a particularly cold-hearted one, and rubbernecking on its aftermath." (Hutchinson, 2012)

A definite element that contributes to this masterpiece by Hitchcock is the appealing visuals. This can be supported by a Kermode’s statement when she says “It is remembered primarily for its technical brilliance - it's immaculately lit, and the camera never stops moving around, following the guests from room to room, with the few cuts hidden almost to the point of invisibility.” (Kermode, 2009) What Kermode is trying to say is that the continuous camera movement has allowed the audience to feel and experience the whole situation in real time. The technique was to shoot the sequence for a whole 10 minutes before changing the film as it has maximized the amount of footage it could capture with one film reel. The cut in between shots were almost invisible. To make this possible, Hitchcock combines a shot with another by having the camera appear to pan across someone’s back during which film reel is changed, as it would be a dark close-ups. It was indeed a unique thing to do in terms film editing. A statement by Canby supports this when he states “His obsession with telling a story without resorting to the usual methods of montage, and without cutting from one shot to another, results in a film of unusual, fascinating technical facility, whose chilliness almost perfectly suits the subject.” (Canby, 1984)
Figure 4: How The Continuous Camera Shot Was Taken [Still Image]
In addition to the continuous camera movement, Hitchcock was able to bring up a tension of a scene by the way he had his characters positioned and framed them in a shot . Creofire was on point when they say The framing and positioning the characters at those heated arguments towards the ultimate scene is note worthy as they elevate the viewing experience by clearly transporting the restlessness of the characters to the audience.” (Creofire, 2013)
Figure 5: Heated Argument [Still Image]
Another major thing about Rope is the underlying context of homosexuals. As people during this time were mosly conservatives, Hitchcock was not able to bring this context directly on screen. The almost certainly romantic relationship between Shaw and Morgan in nature was was Hitchcock brought on to the screen.
Figure 6: Morgan and Shaw Conversing [Still Image]
To summarise this point and the film as whole, Kermode was accurate when she states “Skilfully composed, expertly performed, Rope is so immaculate that it barely leaves room for real emotion - the shock of that, complete with the full realisation of what has occurred, must wait until the very end, when the tone changes abruptly. It's Hitchcock's willingness to gamble on this inspired course that really marks him out as a visionary filmmaker." (Kermode, 2009)

List of Illustrations:

Figure 1 Rope (1948) [Poster] at http://h.habitacion101.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Rope-poster.jpg (Accessed on 14 January 2014)

Figure 2 Shaw and Morgan placing David's body in the Chest (1948) [Still Image] at http://derekwinnert.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/584.jpg (Accessed on 14 January 2014)

Figure 3 David's Father Carrying His Books With The Rope He Was Killed With (1948) [Still Image] at http://home.comcast.net/~flickhead/rope05.jpg (Accessed on 14 January 2014)

Figure 4 Behind The Scenes: How The Continuous Shot Was Taken [Still Image] at http://www.fulltable.com/VTS/s/si/a/94.jpg (Accessed on 14 January 2014)

Figure 5 Heated Argument (1948) [Still Image] at http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-lacIwJNboQ8/UtRrampx_rI/AAAAAAAAQTA/xJpIl0LvTx0/s1600/Rope%2BAlfred%2BHitchcock.jpg (Accessed on 14 January 2014)

Figure 6 Morgan and Shaw Conversing (1948) [Still Image] at http://i358.photobucket.com/albums/oo24/tessthreeem/2012/rope3preview.jpg (Accessed on 14 January 2014)

List of Bibliography:

Canby, Vincent
Hitchcock's 'Rope': A Stunt To Behold
(Accessed on 14 January 2014)

Rope (1948) – A Brief Analysis
(Accessed on 14 January 2014)

Hutchinson, Pamela
Rope (1948) Review
(Accessed on 14 January 2014)

Kermode, Jennie
Rope (1948) Film Review
(Accessed on 14 January 2014)


  1. Interesting review Ayunie...did you notice another 'trick' that Hitchcock used to make it appear you were watching in real time, albeit a speeded up real time? If you get a chance to watch it again, keep an eye on the painted backdrops; the view out of the windows very gradually turns from daylight to night, making it feel like more time has passed than actually has :)
    Make sure you remember to italicise the film names!

    1. HI Jackie, I did not pay close attention to the backdrop. At the start, I saw it was broad daylight and saw the sun setting towards the end. I didn't actually notice the change as it was happening! Will pay closer attention to it when I get the chance to watch it again.

      And Oops! I've got them italicise now :)

  2. A bit of feedback from me now: see below, where you've used cautious, academic language in response to the Kermode quote; you write:

    *What Kermode is trying to say is that the continuous camera movement has allowed the audience to feel and experience the whole situation in real time.*

    Sometimes, this more cautious language is appropriate, but in this context, I don't think Kermode is 'trying to say' - I think she's being completely clear. I'd have written something less cautious, as in 'As Kermode observes, the continuous movement has allowed the audience... etc.'. I know you're recommended to use cautious language and these sorts of constructions, but don't use them mechanistically. It's a 'style' thing and a 'flow' thing, so your feedback is getting quite subtle now.

    1. Hi Phil, Thank you and I will take note of that! :)