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Rope

Original 1948 theatrical poster
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock
Sidney Bernstein (uncredited)
Written by Play:
Patrick Hamilton
Adaptation:
Hume Cronyn
Screenplay:
Arthur Laurents
Ben Hecht (uncredited)
Starring John Dall
Farley Granger
James Stewart
Joan Chandler
Cedric Hardwicke
Music by Musical direction:
Leo F. Forbstein
Music: (uncredited)
David Buttolph
Francis Poulenc
Cinematography Joseph A. Valentine
William V. Skall
Editing by William H. Ziegler
Studio Warner Bros. Pictures
Transatlantic Pictures
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures (1948)
Transatlantic Pictures, thru MGM (1950)
Release date(s) August 28, 1948
Running time 80 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget US$1,500,000[1]

Rope is a 1948 thriller film based on the play Rope (1929) by Patrick Hamilton and adapted by Hume Cronyn (treatment)[2] and Arthur Laurents, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and produced by Sidney Bernstein and Hitchcock as the first of their Transatlantic Pictures productions. Starring James Stewart, John Dall and Farley Granger, it is the first of Hitchcock's Technicolor films, and is notable for taking place in real time and being edited so as to appear as a single continuous shot through the use of long takes.

The original play was said to be inspired by the real-life murder of 14-year-old Bobby Franks in 1924 by University of Chicago students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb who simply wanted to prove to themselves that they could commit a murder and get away with it. However, they were both arrested and received long prison terms.

Contents

Plot

On a late afternoon, two brilliant young aesthetes, Brandon Shaw (Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Granger), murder a former classmate, David Kentley (Dick Hogan), in their apartment.

After hiding the body in a large antique wooden chest, Brandon and Phillip host a dinner party at the apartment which has a panoramic view of Manhattan's skyline. The guests, unaware of what has happened, include the victim’s father Mr. Kentley (Cedric Hardwicke) and aunt Mrs. Atwater (Constance Collier) (his mother is not able to attend). Also there is his fiancee, Janet Walker (Joan Chandler) and her former lover Kenneth Lawrence (Douglas Dick), who was once David's close friend.

James Stewart in the film’s trailer

In a subtle move, Brandon uses the chest containing the body as a buffet for the food, just before their maid, Mrs. Wilson (Edith Evanson) arrives to help with the party. "Now the fun begins", Brandon says when the first guests arrive.

Brandon's and Phillip's idea for the murder was inspired years earlier by conversations with their erstwhile prep-school housemaster, publisher Rupert Cadell (Stewart). While at school, Rupert had discussed with them, in an apparently approving way, the intellectual concepts of Nietzsche's Übermensch and the art of murder, a means of showing one's superiority over others. He too is among the guests at the party, since Brandon in particular feels that he would very likely approve of their "work of art".

Brandon's subtle hints about the absence of David leads to a discussion on the art of murder. He manages to appear calm and in control, although when he first speaks to Rupert, he is nervously excited, stammering. Phillip on the other hand is visibly upset and morose. He does not conceal it well and starts to drink too much. When David's aunt, Mrs. Atwater, who fancies herself as a fortune-teller, tells him that his hands will bring him fame, she is talking about his skill at the piano, but he appears to think that it will be notoriety.

Much of the conversation, however, focuses on David and his strange absence, which worries the guests. A suspicious Rupert quizzes a fidgety Phillip about this and about some of the inconsistencies that have been raised in conversation. For example, Phillip had vehemently denied ever strangling a chicken at the Shaws’ farm, but Rupert has personally seen Phillip strangle several. Phillip later complains to Brandon about having had a "rotten evening", not because of David's murder, but over Rupert's questioning.

Emotions run high. David's father and fiancée are disturbed, wondering why he has neither arrived nor phoned. Brandon even goes so far as to play matchmaker between Janet and Kenneth, who rather resent this and increases the tension.

Constance Collier as Mrs. Anita Atwater in the film’s trailer

Mr. Kentley decides to leave when his wife calls, overwrought because she has not heard a word from David herself. He takes with him some books Brandon has given him, tied together with the very rope Brandon and Phillip used to strangle his son; Brandon's icing on the cake.

While leaving, Rupert is handed the wrong hat, with a monogram "D.K." (as in David Kentley) inside it. Rupert returns to the apartment a short while after everyone else has departed, pretending that he has absentmindedly left his cigarette case behind. He 'plants' the case, asks for a drink and then stays to theorize about the disappearance of David, encouraged by Brandon, who seems eager to have Rupert discover the crime. A tipsy Phillip is unable to take it any more, throwing a glass and saying: "Cat and mouse, cat and mouse. But which is the cat and which is the mouse?"

Rupert lifts the lid of the chest and finds the body inside; his two former students have indeed committed murder. He is horrified, but also deeply ashamed since it was his own rhetoric which led them to commit murder as an intellectual exercise. Rupert seizes Brandon’s gun and fires several shots into the night in order to attract the police.

Cast

John Dall, Farley Granger, and James Stewart
  • John Dall as Brandon Shaw, co-murderer and host at the party
  • Farley Granger as Phillip Morgan, co-murderer
  • James Stewart as Rupert Cadell, prep-school housemaster and publisher
  • Douglas Dick as Kenneth Lawrence
  • Joan Chandler as Janet Walker, columnist and David's fiancee
  • Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Mr. Henry Kentley, David's father
  • Constance Collier as Mrs. Anita Atwater, David's aunt
  • Edith Evanson as Mrs. Wilson, housekeeper
  • Dick Hogan as David Kentley, victim

Production

The film is one of Hitchcock’s most experimental and "one of the most interesting experiments ever attempted by a major director working with big box-office names",[3] abandoning many standard film techniques to allow for the long unbroken scenes. Each shot ran continuously for up to ten minutes without interruption. It was shot on a single set, aside from the opening establishing shot street scene under the credits. Camera moves were planned in advance and there was almost no editing.

The walls of the set were on rollers and could silently be moved out of the way to make way for the camera, and then replaced when they were to come back into shot. Prop men also had to constantly move the furniture and other props out of the way of the large Technicolor camera, and then ensure they were replaced in the correct location. A team of soundmen and camera operators kept the camera and microphones in constant motion, as the actors kept to a carefully choreographed set of cues.[1]

The extraordinary cyclorama in the background was the largest backing ever used on a sound stage.[1] It included models of the Empire State and the Chrysler buildings. Numerous chimneys smoke, lights come on in buildings, neon signs light up, and the sunset slowly unfolds as the movie progressed. At about one hour into the film, a red neon sign in the far background showing Hitchcock's profile with "Reduco"—the fictitious weight loss product used in his Lifeboat (1944) cameo—is visible for just a moment. Within the course of the film, the clouds—made of spun glass—change position and shape a total of eight times.[1]

Long takes

Hitchcock shot for periods lasting up to ten minutes (the length of a film camera magazine), continuously panning from actor to actor, though most shots in the film wound up being shorter.[4] Most segments end by panning against or tracking into an object (a man’s jacket blocking the entire screen, or the back of a piece of furniture, for example). In this way, Hitchcock effectively masked almost all the cuts in the film.

However, at the end of 20 minutes (two reels), the projectionist—when the film was shown in theaters—had to change reels, and on these, Hitchcock cuts to a new camera setup, not disguising the cut. A description of the beginning and end of each segment follows.

film’s trailer
Segment Length Start Finish
1 09:34 CU (Close-Up), strangulation Blackout on Brandon’s back
2 07:51 Black, pan off Brandon’s back CU Kenneth: “What do you mean?”
3 07:18 Unmasked cut, men crossing to Janet Blackout on Kenneth’s back
4 07:08 Black, pan off Kenneth’s back CU Phillip: “That’s a lie.”
5 09:57 Unmasked cut, CU Rupert Blackout on Brandon’s back
6 07:33 Black, pan off Brandon’s back Three shot
7 07:46 Unmasked cut, Mrs. Wilson: “Excuse me, sir.” Blackout on Brandon
8 10:06 Black, pan off Brandon CU Brandon’s hand in gun pocket
9 04:37 Unmasked cut, CU Rupert Blackout on lid of chest
10 05:38 Black, pan up from lid of chest End of film

Hitchcock told François Truffaut in the book-length Hitchcock/Truffaut (Simon & Schuster, 1967) that he ended up re-shooting the last four or five segments because he was dissatisfied with the color of the sunset.

Hitchcock used this long-take approach again to a lesser extent on his next film, Under Capricorn (1949) and in a very limited way in his film Stage Fright (1950).

Director's cameo

Hitchcock's inventiveness extended to the problem of how to justify cameo appearances.

Alfred Hitchcock's cameo is a signature occurrence in most of his films. In this film, Hitchcock is considered by some to make two appearances.[5] According to Arthur Laurents in the documentary Rope Unleashed, available on the DVD, Hitchcock is one of the men walking down the street in the opening scene. Later on in the film, Hitchcock’s caricature is on a red neon sign visible from the apartment window (including at about 00:55 into the film as Janet and Kenneth leave the living room for the last time). Below his caricature is the word "Reduco",[6] recalling Hitch’s cameo in a newspaper ad for "Reduco" in Lifeboat, made four years before.

Themes

Homoeroticism

Rope may be considered a homoerotic movie, even though the film version never indicates that the two murderers in the film are having an affair, and Brandon says he was in a previous relationship with Janet, the girlfriend of the murdered man. However, there is no indication that the two men live apart; Phillip even has a key of his own for the Shaw apartment, and towards the end of the movie they discuss going away together for a holiday. At one point, when Janet asks where the telephone is, Brandon says "It's in the bedroom" — indicating there is only one bedroom — and she responds "How cozy!"

Even though homosexuality was a highly controversial theme for the 1940s, the movie made it past the Production Code censors; during the film's production those involved described homosexuality as "it".[2] However, many towns chose to ban it independently, memories of Leopold and Loeb still being fresh in some people’s minds. Dall was actually gay in real life, as was screenwriter Arthur Laurents — even the piano score played by Granger (Mouvement Perpétuel No. 1 by Francis Poulenc) was the work of a gay composer. Granger, meanwhile, was bisexual.[7] Granger’s role was first offered to another bisexual actor, Montgomery Clift, who turned the offer down, probably due to the risks of coming out in public.[1] Cary Grant turned down the part of Rupert Cadell for similar reasons.[1]

John Dall and Farley Granger from the film’s trailer

In Hitchcock’s Films Revisited, critic Robin Wood points to several instances in the film that could be interpreted as homoerotic. He suggests the opening strangulation reflects the euphoria of an orgasm and the subsequent limpness; and Wood sees masturbatory overtones to the scene in which Brandon excitedly fingers the neck of a champagne bottle.

In Hamilton’s play, the dialogue is much more homoerotic, as is the relationship between the students and their teacher. Many of these "risky" elements were removed from the script as the play was rewritten for the film. Despite this, Hitchcock managed to supply much subtext which made it past the rigorous tests of the censor.

Another example of homosexual overtones comes at the very start of the movie, with the first lines of dialogue spoken. Directly after the murder, while both men are standing, Brandon wants to get moving to arrange the party — but Phillip, shocked and drained by what they have just done, asks if they can’t "stay this way for a minute". Brandon agrees, then lights a cigarette. This mirroring of post-coital dialog is immediately identifiable, and also indicates that Phillip’s role in the relationship is that of the submissive archetype, while Brandon’s is that of the dominant partner.

The fact that the two characters were inspired by Leopold and Loeb, who were themselves homosexual, only furthers the argument that Brandon and Philip were meant to be gay as well.[8]

Nietzsche

The film is based on the idea that one might murder someone just to prove that one could. Some film scholarship has found links between this idea and literature and philosophy. Suggestions have been made that Crime and Punishment and its protagonist Raskolnikov form a subtext to the film — whereby the film parallels the idea of murdering just for the sake of performing the act (the term "Crime and Punishment" is used by Granger within the film). References to Nietzsche abound throughout the film, particularly to his idea of the superman.

Reception

In 1948, Variety magazine said "Hitchcock could have chosen a more entertaining subject with which to use the arresting camera and staging technique displayed in Rope".[9] That same year, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times said the "novelty of the picture is not in the drama itself, it being a plainly deliberate and rather thin exercise in suspense, but merely in the method which Mr. Hitchcock has used to stretch the intended tension for the length of the little stunt" for a "story of meager range".[10] Nearly 36 years later, Vincent Canby, also of The New York Times, called the "seldom seen" and "underrated" film "full of the kind of self-conscious epigrams and breezy ripostes that once defined wit and decadence in the Broadway theater"; it's a film "less concerned with the characters and their moral dilemmas than with how they look, sound and move, and with the overall spectacle of how a perfect crime goes wrong".[11]

In the Time magazine 1948 review , the play that the film was based on is called an "intelligent and hideously exciting melodrama" though "in turning it into a movie for mass distribution, much of the edge [is] blunted":[12]

Much of the play's deadly excitement dwelt in [the] juxtaposition of callow brilliance and lavender dandyism with moral idiocy and brutal horror. Much of its intensity came from the shocking change in the teacher, once he learned what was going on. In the movie, the boys and their teacher are shrewdly plausible but much more conventional types. Even so, the basic idea is so good and, in its diluted way, Rope is so well done that it makes a rattling good melodrama.

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. He was correct that it didn’t work out, but 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 [...]".[3]

A 2001 BBC review of that year's DVD release called the film "technically and socially bold" and points out that given "how primitive the Technicolor process was back then", the DVD's image quality is "by those standards quite astonishing"; the release's "2.0 mono mix" was clear and reasonably strong, though "distortion creeps into the music".[13]

Although the film was made during a period where reference to homosexuality was prohibited by the Production Code, more recent reviews and criticism explicitly note the homosexual subtext of the relationship between Brandon and Phillip.[11][14]

Film rights

The rights to the film are now owned by Universal Studios, which bought the rights from the Hitchcock estate in 1983. The rights had reverted to the Hitchcock estate from United Artists, which at that time held rights to the pre-1950 Warner Bros. films.[15][16] At present, UA continues to hold the film's copyright.

See also

  • R.S.V.P., a 2002 film which borrowed several key elements from Rope, and in which the film is discussed.
  • Psychoville, a 2009 BBC2 comedy series. Episode four of the series is a deliberate two-take pastiche of Rope.

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f Truffaut, Francois (1967). Hitchcock/Truffaut. New York: Simon and Schuster.  
  2. ^ a b Rope Unleashed - Making Of (2000) - documentary on the Universal Studios DVD of the film.
  3. ^ a b Ebert, Roger. "Rope". http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19840615/REVIEWS/811069998/1023. Retrieved November 8, 2008.  
  4. ^ Jacobs, Steven (2007). The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock.   |page=272
  5. ^ Interview with Arthur Laurents in the making-of documentary, Rope Unleashed.
  6. ^ Gottlieb, Sidney: Hitchcock on Hitchcock. Faber and Faber, 1995. p282.
  7. ^ Granger, Farley (2007). Include Me Out. New York: St. Martin's Press.  
  8. ^ Maclachlan, Lawrence D.. "Nathan Leopold Jr.". Famous American Trials. University of Missouri-Kansas City. http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/leoploeb/LEOPOLD.HTM. Retrieved 2009-02-26.  
  9. ^ 1948 Review of Rope from Variety
  10. ^ Crowther, Bosley (17 August 1948). "‘Rope’: An Exercise in Suspense Directed by Alfred Hitchcock". The New York Times. http://partners.nytimes.com/library/film/081748hitch-rope-review.html. Retrieved 2009-05-14.  
  11. ^ a b Canby, Vincent (3 June 1984). "Hitchcock’s ‘Rope:’ A Stunt to Behold". The New York Times. http://movies.nytimes.com/mem/movies/review.html?res=9E02EFDA143AF930A35755C0A962948260. Retrieved 2009-05-14.  
  12. ^ "The New Pictures". TIME. 13 September 1948. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,888513,00.html. Retrieved 2009-05-14.  
  13. ^ Haflidason, Almar (18 June 2001). "Rope DVD (1948)". BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2001/08/07/rope_1948_dvd_review.shtml. Retrieved 2009-05-14.  
  14. ^ Miller, D. A. "Anal Rope" in Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories, pp. 119-172. Routledge, 1991. ISBN 04-1590-237-1
  15. ^ You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story (2008), p. 255.
  16. ^ WB retained a pair of features from 1949 that they merely distributed, and all short subjects released on or after September 1, 1948; in addition to all cartoons released in August 1948.

Further reading

  • Wollen, Peter. Rope: Three Hypotheses. Alfred Hitchcock Centenary Essays.

External links


Simple English

Rope is a 1948 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring James Stewart, John Dall and Farley Granger. It tells the story of two young intellectuals, played by Dall and Granger, who murder one of their friends in order to prove that it is possible to commit the perfect murder then hold a dinner party at which they invite the parents of the victim as well as their former teacher, played by Stewart. During the dinner party they come close to boasting about their crime and arouse the suspicions of the teacher who eventually exposes them and alerts the police. The film is famous for seemingly being made in one long shot without changing the angle of the camera as well as for implying a homosexual relationship between the two intellectuals at a time when homosexuality was rarely mentioned in film or popular American culture.

References

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0040746/ - Rope at the Internet Movie Database








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