Hitchcock loved creating his own technical boundaries only to overcome them. In Lifeboat he set out to shot a riveting drama within the confines of one small, cramped location. In Rope he now goes one step further: to create a riveting drama within a small, cramped location…in one single shot. An incredibly ambitious undertaking. Too ambitious, in fact.
The short reels of the time wouldn’t allow Hitchcock to shoot the film as one take. As such, the finished film consists of nine shots cut together to give the appearance of a single take. Unfortunately, the illusion doesn’t always work; some of the cuts are jilting obvious and serve as a bit of a distraction.
Regardless, Rope is an extremely engaging story. Brandon (John Dall) and Philip (Farley Granger) are two friends who decide to commit a murder as an intellectual exercise. After throttling their mutual friend, David (Dick Hogan), in their New York apartment they hide the body in a trunk and throw a party with a bunch of clueless party guests as David’s still warm corpse lies stored just out of sight. All part of the fun, really.
What they don’t count on is the observant eye of their old school teacher Rupert (James Stewart) who starts to suspect that something truly dreadful has happened.
Rope was Hitchcock’s first colour picture as well as his first collaboration with the great actor James Stewart. Although Stewart gives a strong performance (when does he not?) he’s still not yet at the absolute top of his game as the sleuthing school teacher.
The real stand-out is John Dall, who gives plays the more suave – and creepy – half of the murdering duo. He’s a slick screen presence and always fun to watch.
The real achievement of Rope is that, despite the clunky cuts, Hitchcock keeps the camera in nearly constant motion. He’d learnt from Juno and the Paycock that shooting a one room drama like a static stage play simply wouldn’t do. In contrast, all of Rope is always visually interesting, not least of all the beautiful addition of the New York skyline backdrop designed to slowly shift from dusk to nighttime.
Hitchcock later dismissed his “one-shot” approach as a stunt. Maybe so, but it’s a stunt which gives an engaging and suspenseful film, even if it’s slightly frayed at the edges.