Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger
Tag line: "The guest who's dead on time"
Trivia: During filming, the cast had to avoid tripping on cables that laid over the floor, because of the moving cameras and lighting
Rope marked a number of “firsts” in the career of Alfred Hitchcock. Aside from being his first color movie, it was also the director’s first collaboration with Jimmy Stewart, who’d go on to appear in a couple of his finest pictures, Rear Window and Vertigo. Yet, despite all this, Rope is perhaps most notable for its daring experiment. Based on a 1929 play written by Patrick Hamilton, Hitchcock shot Rope as if it were being performed on-stage, with uninterrupted takes lasting as long as 10 minutes at a time. And while the movie does occasionally come across as “stage-bound”, the demands this experiment made on the actors (one mistake meant re-shooting the entire scene) resulted in an intensity that, at times, is all-consuming.
Inspired by the real-life Leopold-Loeb case, Rope stars John Dall and Farley Granger as a pair of friends who plan, then carry out, what they believe to be the perfect murder, perpetrated simply to experience the thrill of killing someone. Once the deed is done, the two stuff their victim, a classmate named David (Dick Hogan), into a trunk. Not content with mere murder, they then host a dinner party at their fancy New York apartment, invite several guests including the dead man’s father (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) and fiancé (Joan Chandler), and serve refreshments laid out on the very chest that contains the body! Also attending the party is Rupert Cadell (James Stewart), a University professor whose philosophy that murder could, and should, be used as a tool to weed out society’s undesirables inspired their deed. But what they didn’t bank on was Rupert’s keen eye for treachery, and it isn’t long before he's putting the pieces together.
With an entire story set in a single location, Hitchcock never attempts to hide the fact that Rope was based on a play; by the time the film ends, we’re as familiar with that apartment as we could ever hope to be. Yet while some might consider the limited setting a drawback, the performances more than make up for it. Dall and Granger are solid as the two killers, and play off one another perfectly, with Dall’s cocky self-assuredness countered at every turn by Granger’s anxiety, a bundle of nerves because he’s convinced, unlike Dall, that their deed will soon be discovered. Yet outshining them both is James Stewart as Rupert, the teacher whose beliefs have made him an unwitting accomplice to murder. Over the course of the film, Stewart brings his character full-circle, from preaching how systematic killings could benefit society to regretting those very words when he sees the effect they've had on his star pupils.
Though lacking many basic cinematic elements, Rope manages, with the help of its cast, to overcome its inherent staginess and relate a tale that oozes suspense. It may not be Hitchcock’s most artistic picture, but Rope is certainly one of his most fascinating.