Friday, 16 January 2015

Film Review - Rope (1948)

Fig.1. Rope, (Movie Poster, 1948)
Set in a New York apartment, Alfred Hitchcock's Rope is one of many treats from the master of suspense. The film is derived from a 1929 play of the same name by Patrick Hamilton, which in turn was based on the real-life Leopold and Loeb case. The story revolves around a couple of university friends, Brandon and Phillip, and their desire to prove their intellectual superiority by murdering fellow ex-classmate David Kentley. They carry out their attack by strangling him to death with a length of rope and then putting him in an antique chest until the evening when they can dispose of the body (Fig.2). They then plan a dinner party, inviting all of their victim's friends and family, including his fiancée Janet. In a bid to divert any suspicion and prevent the discovery of the body in the chest, Brandon decides to serve the guests' food from the top of the chest, much to the surprise of their housekeeper, Mrs Wilson who has already set the table in the dining room (Fig.3).
Fig.2. Hiding the body in the antique chest (Film still, 1948)
The point of Hitchcock showing the murder at the very beginning works well to build up the suspense throughout the film. One of the most tense parts of the movie comes when the housekeeper is clearing away the dinner plates and prepares to put some books away in the chest. Although the main characters are conversing in the background, the camera stays focused on the chest and the housekeeper, building the suspense for the audience. R Nathaniel says of Hitchcock's skill in his review for The Film Experience "The amount of tension Hitchcock manages to build by doing so little is admirable." (Nathaniel, 2011).

Fig.3. Setting the dinner on the chest, (Film still, 1948)

Suspicions begin to grow when the guests move to the dining area to look through some books that Brandon and Phillip have prepared for David's father, Mr Kentley to take home. One of the guests in particular, ex-teacher Rupert Kadell, begins to piece together some abnormalities. He questions Phillip who has been acting increasingly nervous all evening. The suspense is built again when Phillip is playing the piano along to a metronome during his conversation with Rupert. His playing becomes erratic and he starts to play off-key as he becomes more and more under pressure (Fig.4). These subtleties are what make the movie so effective and addictive to watch.

Fig.4. Rupert Kadell questions Phillip, (Film still, 1948)
Probably the most notable point of the making of Rope is how Hitchcock planned to shoot the film in one continuous take, pausing only when the film reel needed to be changed. To ensure this ran smoothly, he would zoom into the back of a character's jacket, rather than just cut away. The entire film has the feeling of being played in a theatre set. In her review for The Guardian, Pamela Hutchinson says "Rope feels "live", which means that at any minute one of the actors could do something unexpected, such as fluff their lines, or heaven forbid, open the trunk." (Hutchinson, 2012). Shooting in this way gives the audience more of a feeling of being involved in the story and that they are there in person, rather than viewing over a series of days or weeks, as is the norm for most other films, giving the sense of being detached from the action (Fig.5).
Fig.5 Soundstage filming, (Still, 1948)
Vincent Canby, when reviewing Rope back in 1984 for The New York Times, describes the camera as being like a cat and stalking around the set: "That "Rope" does become emotionally involving has nothing to do with character identification and everything to do with watching a camera master at work, as he denies himself the usual tools of his trade to find out just how effective the camera can be, working more or less on its own. It swoops and pries about the set, moving from close-ups to long shots and medium shots, with a kind of studied indifference." (Canby, 1984). That the filming was completed in this way adds to the character of the film and although jerky in places, it still works successfully over sixty years later. The comedy and anticipation of what will happen next are what makes this film one of the greats.
Illustration List:
Figure 1 - Rope (1948) [Movie Poster] At:
(Accessed 14.01.15)
Figure 2 - Hiding the body in the antique chest (1948) [Movie Still] At:
(Accessed 14.01.15)
Figure 3 - Setting the dinner on the chest (1948) [Movie Still] At:
Figure 4 - Rupert Kadell questions Phillip (1948) [Movie Still] At: 14.01.15)
Figure 4 - Soundstage filming (1948( [Still] At:
(Accessed 14.01.15)
Canby, V (3rd June 1984), The New York Times review, At: 
Hutchinson, P (27th July 2012), The Guardian review, At:

1 comment:

  1. Nice thorough review Emma :) I'm not sure about you last line though... the 'comedy'?