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  • Writer's pictureThomas Duncan

Rope (1948)


What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: Two partners in crime cannot seem to agree on anything after their crime has been committed. Or, pride comes before the fall.


Plot Summary: Philip Morgan (Farley Granger) and Brandon Shaw (John Dall) strangle a mutual friend to death with a piece of rope to experience the supremacy of murder. Planning to capitalize on this experience, the two plan a dinner party upon the very chest where they have laid their victim. To make matters worse, the pair welcome their invited guests, including the victim's oblivious fiancée (Joan Chandler), the victim's parents, and the college professor (James Stewart) whose lectures inadvertently inspired the killing. Will the two succeed and prove their superiority, or will they fail and prove the folly of their efforts?


Cast:

  • Alfred Hitchcock, Director

  • Hume Cronyn, Adaptation

  • Arthur Laurents, Screenplay

  • James Stewart as Rupert Cadell

  • John Dall as Brandon Shaw

  • Farley Granger as Phillip Morgan

  • Joan Chandler as Janet Walker

  • Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Mr. Henry Kentley

  • Constance Collier as Mrs. Anita Atwater

  • Douglas Dick as Kenneth Lawrence

  • Edith Evanson as Mrs. Wilson

  • Dick Hogan as David Kentley

*Recognition:

  • Rope was wide released on September 25, 1948.

  • According to Warner Bros. records, the film earned $2,028,000 domestically and $720,000 overseas making it outside the top 15 of 1948.

  • In Rope Unleashed, screenwriter Arthur Laurents attributed this failure to audience uneasiness with the homosexual undertones in the relationship between the two lead characters.

  • Roger Ebert wrote in 1984, "Alfred Hitchcock called Rope an 'experiment that didn't work out', and he was happy to see it kept out of release for most of three decades", but went on to say that "Rope remains one of the most interesting experiments ever attempted by a major director working with big box-office names, and it's worth seeing ...."

  • Rope currently holds a 92% on RT among critics, a 73 score on Metacritic, and 4.1 out of 5 on Letterboxd.

Did You Know:

  • This was Alfred Hitchcock's first movie in color.

  • This movie is very different from Patrick Hamilton's play of the same name. Alfred Hitchcock made his own adaptation with Hume Cronyn, and they created new dialogue and characters for their adaptation. In the play, there is no Janet Walker, no Mrs. Wilson, no Kenneth Lawrence, and no Mrs. Atwater. The play takes place in England. Brandon Shaw is Wyndham Brandon, and Philip Morgan is Charles Granillo in the play. In the play, Rupert Cadell is only twenty-nine years old and he is the current teacher of only Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo. In this movie, Rupert looks like he is at least around the age of mid forties. Rupert had been the teacher of Brandon Shaw, Philip Morgan, Kenneth Lawrence, and David Kentley. In this movie, Rupert is currently a publisher.

  • This movie was shot in ten takes, ranging from four and a half minutes to just over ten minutes (the maximum amount of film that a camera magazine or projector reel could hold). At the end of the takes, the movie alternates between having the camera zoom into a dark object, totally blacking out the lens/screen, and making a conventional cut. However, the second edit, ostensibly one of the conventional ones, was clearly staged and shot to block the camera, but the all-black frames were left out of the final print. Most of the props, and even some of the apartment set's walls, were on casters, and the crew had to wheel them out of the way and back into position as the camera moved around the set.

  • Since the filming times were so long due to the elongated takes for each shot, everybody on the set tried their best to avoid any mistakes. At one point in the movie, the camera dolly ran over and broke a cameraman's foot, but to keep filming, he was gagged and dragged off. Another time, a woman puts her glass down but misses the table. A stagehand had to rush up and catch it before the glass hit the ground. Both parts are used in the final cut.

  • Alfred Hitchcock dismissed his experiment with ten-minute takes as being just a stunt.

  • In a Dick Cavett interview, Alfred Hitchcock seemed tired of answering the question on why he did the ten-minute takes, and his answer (through a bit of a sigh) was that it fit the framework of a stage play, and that it kept the actors active, like a play.

  • Although this movie lasts one hour and twenty minutes, and is supposed to be in "real time", the time frame it covers is actually longer, a little more than one hour and forty minutes. This is accomplished by speeding up the action: the formal dinner lasts only twenty minutes, the sun sets too quickly, and so on. The September 2002 issue of "Scientific American" contains a complete analysis of this technique (and the effect it has on the viewers, who actually feel as if they watched a one hour and forty minute movie).

  • Screenwriter Arthur Laurents claimed that originally Alfred Hitchcock assured him the movie wouldn't show the opening murder, therefore creating doubt as to whether the two leading characters actually committed murder, and whether the trunk had a corpse inside.

  • This movie was banned in several American cities because of the implied homosexuality of Phillip (Farley Granger) and Brandon (John Dall).

  • This movie was unavailable for three decades because its rights (together with four other movies of the same period) were bought back by Alfred Hitchcock and left as part of his legacy to his daughter Patricia Hitchcock. They've been known for a long time as the infamous "five lost Hitchcocks" amongst movie buffs, and were re-released in theaters around 1984 after a thirty-year absence. The others are Rear Window (1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), The Trouble with Harry (1955), and Vertigo (1958).

  • This was the only movie James Stewart made with Alfred Hitchcock that he did not like. Stewart later admitted he felt he was miscast as the professor (he makes his first entrance twenty-eight minutes into the movie).

  • Screenwriter Arthur Laurents assures that in the original play, the character of Cadell (played by James Stewart) allegedly had an affair with one of the two murderers while in school.

  • Montgomery Clift was the original choice to play Brandon, and Cary Grant was the original choice for Rupert.

  • Alfred Hitchcock made an opening romantic scene in Central Park with Joan Chandler (Janet Walker) and Dick Hogan (David Kentley). The scene was used for the 1948 promotional trailer, but deleted from the movie.

  • The theatrical trailer features footage shot specifically for the advertisement that takes place before the beginning of the movie. David (the victim) sits on a park bench and speaks with Janet before leaving to meet Brandon and Phillip. James Stewart narrates the sequence, noting that's the last time Janet and the audience would see him alive.

  • The Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman film of which Janet Walker and Mrs. Atwater are struggling to remember the title for Mr. Cadell is Notorious (1946), which was also directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Best Performance: John Dall (Brandon)/Alfred Hitchcock (Director)

Best Secondary Performance: Hume Cronyn (Adaptation Writer)/Farley Granger (Phillip)

Most Charismatic Award: John Dall (Brandon)/Alfred Hitchcock (Director)

Best Scene:

  • David's Murder

  • Setting Up for the Party

  • Kenneth and Janet

  • Strangling Chickens

  • Murder for the Superior Few

  • Rupert Returns

Favorite Scene: Murder for the Superior Few

Most Indelible Moment: Rupert Firing the Gun


In Memorium:

  • Venetia Stevenson, 84, English-American actress (Day of the Outlaw, Seven Ways from Sundown, The Sergeant Was a Lady) "The Most Photogenic Girl in the World"

  • Rita Gardner, 87, American actress (A Family Affair, The Wedding Singer, Little Voice, Law and Order, Dora the Explorer (Grandma Fox))

  • Robert Cormier, 33, Canadian actor (Heartland)

  • Zack Estrin, 51, American television writer and producer (Prison Break, Charmed, Lost in Space)

  • Louise Fletcher, 88, American actress (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Brainstorm), Oscar winner (1976), Nominated for two Emmys for Picket Fences and Joan of Arcadia

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Rupert Cadell: Brandon's spoken of you.

Janet: Did he do me justice?

Rupert Cadell: Do you deserve justice?


Brandon: The few are those men of such intellectual and cultural superiority that they're above the traditional moral concepts. Good and evil, right and wrong, were invented for the ordinary, average man, the inferior man, because he needs them.

Mr. Kentley: Then obviously you agree with Nietzsche and his theory of the superman.

Brandon: Yes, I do.

Mr. Kentley: So did Hitler.

Brandon: Hitler was a paranoiac savage. His supermen, all fascist supermen, were brainless murderers. I'd hang any who were left. But then, you see, I'd hang them first for being stupid. I'd hang all incompetents and fools anyway. There are far too many in the world.

Mr. Kentley: Then, perhaps you should hang me, Brandon.


Mrs. Atwater: Do you know, when I was a girl I used to read quite a bit.

Brandon: We all do strange things in our childhood.


Brandon: We've killed for the sake of danger and for the sake of killing. We're alive, truly and wonderfully alive.


Brandon: I've always wished for more artistic talent. Well, murder can be an art, too. The power to kill can be just as satisfying as the power to create.


Rupert Cadell: By what right do you dare to say that there's a superior few to which you belong?


Rupert Cadell: [Phillip and Brandon have been arguing about strangling chickens] Personally, I think a chicken is as good a reason for murder as a blonde, a mattress full of dollar bills or any of the customary, unimaginative reasons.

Janet: Well, now, you don't really approve of murder, Rupert? If I may?

Rupert Cadell: You may... and I do. Think of the problems it would solve: unemployment, poverty, standing in line for theatre tickets...


Brandon: What are you doing?

Rupert Cadell: It's not what I'm going to do, Brandon. It's what society is going to do. I don't know what that will be, but I can guess, and I can help. You're going to die, Brandon. Both of you. You are going to die.

[opens a window and fires three shots]


Brandon: It's the darkness that's got you down. Nobody feels really safe in the dark.


Brandon: The good Americans usually die young on the battlefield, don't they? Well, the Davids of this world merely occupy space, which is why he was the perfect victim for the perfect murder. Course he, uh, he was a Harvard undergraduate. That might make it justifiable homicide.


Janet: I could really strangle you, Brandon.

Brandon: What have I done now?

Janet: At times, your sense of humor is a little too malicious, chum.


Brandon: That's the difference between us and the ordinary men, Phillip. They talk about committing the perfect crime, but nobody does it.


Rupert Cadell: Brandon, till this very moment, this world and the people in it have always been dark and incomprehensible to me. I’ve tried to clear my way with logic and superior intellect. And you’ve thrown my own words right back in my face, Brandon. You were right, too. If nothing else, a man should stand by his words. But you’ve given my words a meaning that I never dreamed of! And you’ve tried to twist them into a cold, logical excuse for your ugly murder! Well, they never were that Brandon, and you can't make them that. There must have been something deep inside you from the very start that let you do this thing, but there’s always been something deep inside me, that would never let me do it – and would never let me be a party to it now...I mean that tonight you’ve made me ashamed of every concept I ever had of superior or inferior beings. But I thank you for that shame, because now I know that we are each of us a separate human being, Brandon. With the right to live and work and think as individuals, but with an obligation to the society we live in. By what right do you dare to say that there's a superior few to which you belong? By what right did you decide that that boy in there was inferior and could be killed? Did you think you were God, Brandon? Is that what you thought when you choked the life out of him? Is that what you thought when you served food from his grave?! I don't know who you are but I know what you've done. You've murdered! You choked the life out of a fellow human being who could live and love as you never could, and never will again!


The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 5.25

Impact/Significance: 4.75

Novelty: 9

Classic-ness: 9.25

Rewatchability: 7.75

Audience Score: 8.7 (84% Google, 90% RT)

Total: 44.7


Remaining Questions:

  • With all the bookshelves in the apartment, why are they storing the first editions in a chest?

  • If Rupert didn't actually want to justify murder, then what was he really trying to say?

  • Why would Brandon choose David to murder instead of Kenneth? What made David so unimportant since he clearly had people who cared about him?

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