Sunday, 24 January 2016

Film Review: Rope (1948)

Fig. 1: Rope poster.
Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (1948) is not your typical murder film. Films about this topic are usually incredibly dark, both visually and in their writing, and while Rope certainly has a dark theme, it is in complete contrast to the pleasant setting. Rope is a film about two men (who have just committed murder) throwing a party. Though some consider the film an experiment that didn't work, "Rope remains one of the most interesting experiments ever attempted by a major director working with big box-office names" (Ebert, 1984).

Fig. 2: Philip and Brandon strangle David.
The film begins with Philip and Brandon -- two men who share a New York apartment together -- strangling their friend David with a piece of rope (fig. 2). The motive behind the murder is also not typical of a film on this subject; Brandon and Philip do not strongly dislike David, nor had David done either of them any wrong. They strangled him due to a twisted belief that because David was intellectually inferior to them, his life did not matter. Much of the discussion between Philip and Brandon also reveals that -- for Brandon especially -- murder was something they simply wanted to try in their lifetime. With David dead, Brandon becomes more daring, thrilled by the idea of holding a party in the very room where he just committed murder. Meanwhile, Philip is filled with worry that they will be found out. "Killing a man, and getting away with it, too, just to feed one's own intellectual vanity, is a hideous, amoral stunt, but it's just the kind of trick that Hitchcock excels at. For the director, like Brandon and Philip, murder was an art, and when he made Rope he had a stunt of his own that he wanted to pull off." (Hutchinson, 2012).

rope smugs
Fig. 3: Brandon decorates the chest.
Brandon immediately begins to show off, feeling superior at the idea of only him and Philip knowing about the murder, while the other party guests will have no idea. He begins by decorating the chest containing David's body with candles and a table cloth (fig. 3), until the chest resembles something similar to a church altar. "In the role of the more cold-blooded killer, John Dall does a hard, aggressive job of making this unpleasant fellow supremely contemptible" (Crowther, 1948). With David's body in the chest, and Brandon and Philip's plan to dispose of the body that evening, in many ways, the party is David's funeral. 

Rope 1948
Fig. 4: All party guests.
The choice of party guests also show Brandon's need to be the most intelligent man in the room (this doesn't apply to Philip, as he had no idea who many of the party guests were going to be, and even asked if it would be better to cancel the party). The guests include David's father, David's aunt, his fiancee Janet, his "rival" (and Janet's ex boyfriend) Kenneth, and Rupert, a professor whose ideas inspired Philip and Brandon to murder David. Over the course of the evening, the guests continuously ask where David is, as he is the guest of honour. Philip gets progressively more drunk as the party goes on, attempting to calm his nerves. Meanwhile, Rupert is catching on to what Philip and Brandon have done, based on their odd behaviour and David's absence. "As the sun sets over the New York skyline, the guests at the "sacrificial feast" discuss the victim, and fret over his unexplained absence, while the burial chest looms in the foreground." (Hutchinson, 2012).

By the end of the film, all party guests have left to try and find out what's happened to David, as they grow more and more concerned that he may have been in some kind of accident. It is when the housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson, nearly hands Rupert a hat with David's initials on, that Rupert knows for sure that David was in the apartment, prompting him to return to the apartment later, claiming he left his cigarette case. Rupert's return results in Philip's complete breakdown, as he is sure Rupert knows what he and Brandon have done. However, Philip is not entirely to blame for the two of them being found out, Brandon's behaviour throughout the evening has also been noticeably odd, with him pushing the subject of people of inferior intellect not being important, and therefore, deserving of having their lives cut short.

Fig. 5: After Rupert's confrontation.
Rupert discovers David's body, and immediately chastises Philip and Brandon for what they've done. When Brandon tries to argue that Rupert is supposed to support this kind of behaviour, Rupert tells him "…you’ve given my words a meaning I never dreamed of. And you’ve tried to twist them into a cold, logical excuse for your ugly murder! …tonight you’ve made me ashamed of every concept I ever had of superior of inferior beings. Did you think you were God, Brandon?  Is that what you thought when you choked the life out of him?"

Fig. 6: Mrs. Wilson clears the chest.
There are moments in the film where the camera focuses on only one character, leaving all the speaking characters out of shot. One moment is when Mrs. Wilson is clearing away the leftover food from the chest. She walks in and out of the room several times, before returning with the books that are supposed to go in the chest. The scene is drawn out, building suspense. Every time she returns to the chest, the audience wonders if this will be the moment she opens it. She manages to have the chest partially open, when Brandon walks over and tells her not to bother putting the books away. Rupert notices this, which leads to him later requesting to look in the chest. Another moment is when Mrs. Wilson accidentally hands Rupert David's hat, with his initials on the inside. The camera focuses on a worried looking Rupert, while the guests say their goodbyes in the background.

Fig. 7: Rupert questions Philip.
Another interesting scene shows Philip playing the piano, while being questioned by Rupert (fig. 7). Rupert picks up a metronome, and releases the pendulum so it begins ticking. The ticks are representative of a ticking clock, or possibly, the quickening of Philip's heartbeat as Rupert questions him. Either way, the sound builds suspense throughout the scene, as Philip becomes more and more stressed.

Rope was based on a 1929 play by Patrick Hamilton, and it does feel like a play. It is easy to picture it on stage, as all the main events happen in one room. Hitchcock shot the film in a series of long takes, moving from actor to actor, with a set that would be rearranged out of view so the camera equipment could fit; "He built elaborate sets with movable walls on wheels. He choreographed his actors so that they and the camera could perform intricate ballets without interrupting the action." (Ebert, 1984). Sometimes this is obvious, as objects seem to have moved when the camera shows a larger shot of the scene. Filming this way makes the audience feel more immersed in the events, as there is no switching between faces or room, but instead, what feels like a long, fluid event. 

Figure 1. Rope Poster.  (1948) [poster] At: (Accessed on: 12.01.16)

Figure 2. Philip and Brandon strangle David. (1948) From: Rope. Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock [Film still] United States: Transatlantic Pictures. At: (Accessed on 24.01.16)

Figure 3. Brandon decorates the chest. (1948) From: Rope. Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock [Film still] United States: Transatlantic Pictures. At: (Accessed on 24.01.16)

Figure 4. All party guests. (1948) From: Rope. Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock [Film still] United States: Transatlantic Pictures. At: (Accessed on 24.01.16)

Figure 5. After Rupert's confrontation. (1948) From: Rope. Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock [Film still] United States: Transatlantic Pictures. At: (Accessed on 24.01.16)

Figure 6. Mrs. Wilson clears the chest. (1948) From: Rope. Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock [Film still] United States: Transatlantic Pictures. At: (Accessed on 24.01.16)

Figure 7. Rupert questions Philip. (1948) From: Rope. Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock [Film still] United States: Transatlantic Pictures. At: (Accessed on 24.01.16)

Ebert, R. (1984) 'Rope' In 15.06.1984 [online] At: (Accessed on: 25.01.16)

Hutchinson, P. (2012) 'My favourite Hitchcock: Rope' In: The Guardian 27.07.12 [online] At: (Accessed on: 25.01.16)

Crowther, B (1948) 'Rope (1948)
THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; ' Rope,' an Exercise in Suspense Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Is New Bill at the Globe' 27.08.1948 [online] At: (Accessed on: 25.01.16)

Unknown (2010) 'Archive for the ‘Week 33: ‘Rope’ – 1948’ Category' 19.08.10 [online] At: (Accessed on: 25.01.16)

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