Tuesday’s Overlooked Film: Rope (1948)

This week I have chosen to talk about Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope from 1948.

At the film’s start, we see a murder taking place in an apartment. After ‘disposing’ of the body in a less-than-discreet place, our antagonists, Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) are in throws of preparing for a dinner party. Among the guests to this party are the victim’s fiance, father and former romantic rival. Rounding out the guest list is the pair’s former teacher and mentor, Rupert Cadell, portrayed by James Stewart.

As the evening transpires, the conversation becomes increasingly morose; and James Stewart’s Rupert begins to piece together that something is just not right. As the party dies down, Rupert makes the shocking and unimaginable discovery.

Rope has many layers to it. For one, the story is based on a play, which in turn was ‘inspired’ by the real life case of Leopold and Loeb, who were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a 14 year old boy. It also deals with the intellectual exercise of executing the ‘perfect murder’ (presumably one where the perpetrators do not get caught). Another debate the characters have in the film is about the philosophical concept of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche‘s Übermensch (Superman) and the notion of one man’s superiority to another.

Rope is well regarded in film circles and among Hitchcock fans, but is not as well known to the general public. Among the film’s various accomplishments are:

  • it is the first of Hitchcock’s Technicolor films
  • it takes place in real time
  • it was edited so as to appear as a single continuous shot through the use of long takes. This was achieved by panning, closeups and dissolves, among other techniques. (Source: Wikipedia)

This piece of cinema represents Hitchcock at his most experimental and daring. The idea of Hitchcock being an experimental filmmaker seems antithetical to the impression often associated with him – that is he is often characterized as a controlling taskmaster who methodically laid out all the scenes from his films shot-by-shot. It is worth seeing for this alone.

* For another Hitchcock recommendation this week, go to Flixchatter and read  Ruth’s take on 1945’s Spellbound

* Also be sure to go to Todd Mason’s blog for more Overlooked Films


  1. It is a pretty compelling film, though along with STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and to some extent PSYCHO and several others, it makes one wonder about Hitchcock’s homophobia, and how that interplayed with his misogyny. Stewart is as good as one might expect. (Of course, the basis of this one on Leopold and Loeb, and the other on Highsmith’s novel when she had her own inner conflict over her own homosexuality, just help that resonance come out, so to write…Hitchcock’s choice to have Perkins play Bates, rather than Robert Bloch’s Bates being a character more like a Gein or Bloch’s actual physical and to some extent demeanor model, film historian Calvin Thomas Beck, is a bit telling.)

    I’m not sure his control-freak tendencies are in any way antithetical to experiment…though I think Hitchcock is both overpraised and underappreciated, depending where one looks, for his technical advancements and his attempts at taking on challenging exercises such as this, and of course LIFEBOAT.

    • Very good analysis, Todd.

      I was going to make mention of the homosexual themes of the film but did not feel that I had enough context to make much sense. Hitchcock’s misogyny on the other hand ….
      I think you explained it better to me re: his experimentation. I feel like some may think that having so much control that would mean he is less apt to deviate from the formula.
      Funny thing is that many people now question the conventional wisdom his “control freak” tendencies – stating that such stories are a bit overplayed.

      And how could I forget about Lifeboat! I wrote about it on the blog earlier this year 🙂

  2. Patti Abbott says:

    This is certainly a scary one. And this film points out his technical expertise. L love his films but there is a coldness in them that keeps them from being films that ever touch the heart.

  3. Thanks so much for the shout-out, Iba.

    I’ve only seen James Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life. I’d intrigued to see him in a thriller, this looks pretty good. Thanks for the tip!

  4. Hi, iluv and company:

    Excellent choice!

    ‘Rope’ was/is a very experimental film and I imagine, something new and exciting for its cast. Filmed in continuous takes. Where one missed cue or line meant not only starting over for the cast, but for the reel of film in the camera(s).

    That the film flows so fluidly speaks volumes for the cast and director. Who took a very hot topic, the Loeb-Leopold murders and handles it with, as Patti mentions. Cold detached dispatch.

    Not a great film for studying acting styles, but more for its meticulous technical aspects!

    • Yes years ago when I was in high school one of my classmates recommended I see this film @Jack. In a word they said it was “cool.” They were too right on so many levels.

  5. Patti has hit on the ‘something’ that has always bothered me about Hitchcock’s films, though I too love a lot of his work. That ‘coldness’ though…There’s little if any warmth or heart at the center of his movies. Maybe it’s all those phobias, Todd talks about.

    I’ve never seen ROPE, but I think maybe I might take a look.

  6. As to the coldness, in this case, I think it works because you have two characters coldly deciding to murder someone to see if they can get away with it. I like to think that Hitchcock experimented with the way the film was shot to reflect the fact that the characters were experimenting with murder.


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