Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope" -- An Analysis


                                      Hitchcock, after "The Paradine Case" (1947) was fed up with kowtowing to the demands of producers and annoyed with being loaned out as a director-for-hire. He decided to go it alone, to form a company with his old friend Sidney Bernstein and produce his own films. Hitchcock knew that the only way he could make the films he wanted to make, with the minimum of interference from outsiders, was to produce. From 1948's "Rope", Hitch produced every film he ever worked on.

                                      "Rope" starts with Philip and Brandon strangling David with a rope as an experiment. They put him on a chest and prepares for a party they have arranged. Brandon arranges for the food to be served on the chest, like some ceremonial altar. The guests arrive: David's father and his sister, David's girlfriend Janet and David's best friend Kenneth. Finally Rupert Cadell, who taught all four boys, and now a publisher of intellectual books, arrives -- he is the only man Brandon looks up to.

Opening Scene



                                     Everybody is concerned about the whereabouts of David. Brandon tries to reunite Janet and Kenneth, who were former lovers. The conversation turns to disaster (it turns out that Philip is very proficient at strangling chickens), and Rupert explains that some people are superior to others and have the privilege to kill inferiors if they so wish. He says it in a light-hearted way but with conviction.

                                   Then things start going wrong: Janet and Kenneth argue with Brandon and virtually accuse him of kidnapping David; Rupert notices Philip's agitation and begins interrogating him. At the end of the party, Rupert puts on the wrong hat -- it is David's hat. Brandon and Philip think they have got away with murder and prepare to dispose of David's body, but Rupert returns to find out the truth. A fight ensues over a gun, Rupert wins, fires three shots out of the window and waits for the police to come.

                                   In the movie, James Stewart's Rupert seems more like an intellectual without emotional experience who realists his position is wrong when he responds emotionally to David's death. To a certain extent, Rupert is to blame because he put these ideas into Brandon's head and encouraged him, although the act itself was carried out by Philip egged on by the dominant Brandon.

                                  The whole film is done in ten-minute takes (the maximum amount of film held in a film camera) and transitions from one take to the other are covered by the people walking into shot filling the screen. This gives us the impression that we are seeing what is happening in real time. This is the legend. However, there is said to be one definite cut, when Brandon talks about Philip strangling chickens, Philip shouts and then we cut directly to Rupert's face.

                                 The repeated ideas in "Rope" by Hitchcock are the cultured villain (two this time); Hats; Neon (colored lights make red, green and blue hues on the characters as emotions come to the boil). In "Rope," Hitchcock is not concerned with the characters and their moral dilemmas. Here the concern is on the way the characters look, sound and move, and with the overall spectacle of how a perfect crime goes wrong.

                                  The film was based on a play by Patrick Hamilton, which was based on the 1924 Leopold-Loeb case, the story of two homosexual law students in Chicago who murdered a 14 year old boy for kicks to prove they were super intelligent and could get away with it. Though the movie was made back in the days when any suggestion of homosexuality was supposedly taboo, Hitchcock's "Rope" is immediately explicit in characterization,  without actually committing any offenses the Production Code people could object to. The Climax is fitting, that Hitchcock's theme of death end in a pistol's climatic ejaculation out the window, a moment of necessary exposure, leaving the three principal characters alone with their sobering revelations under the camera's inescapable gaze, feels paradoxically liberating.

                                 With a running time of 80 minutes, "Rope"  is a fascinating experiment that still remains as a provocative entertainment.

Rope -- IMDb

7 comments:

Ravi said...

The first time I saw this film, without knowing the significance of it, that is limited shots and edits. Apart from the direction- set design, cinematography, character placement in the scene and dialogues are to be noted in this film. Having seen few Hitchcock' films, personally I like Rope among all.

Raghav said...

My all time favourite Hitchcock film. Just love everything about it. Good review.

Arun said...

@Ravi, Thanks for the comment. I also saw "Rope" simply as a murder-mystery, but i have watched it few times from there (especially for the cinematography) and it turned out be one of my favorite Hitchcock movie.

@Raghav, Thanks for the comment.

Canary said...

Got to watch now! thanks for sharing :)

Ravi said...

Hi Arun & others.

This is not related to Rope ..!

I had started a "video review\discussion" of the films in youtube. I just got two videos in my list, feel free to browse through it and let me know you thoughts\feedback.

Paradesi-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1h3btM5ufMg
The Quarrel- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFgnzYYrnLM

pppsandeep said...

Although mostly Rope normally doesn't make to the list of Hitchcock's top movies - it is my personal favorite.
The best part is, committing crime to assert one's superiority/perfection...! Also, the editing-direction-acting... Loved it

rhuneke said...

Love this movie!!!