Alfred Hitchock’s Rope (adapted from the play by Patrick Hamilton) is particularly famous for one special novelty: the use of long takes with little to no editing, making it appear as though the film is shown in one long continuous shot. While the film has a few cuts here and there, the way the film is shot happens to be only the second most impressive thing in the film; the other thing is the acting. The stellar performances and the camera continually rolling (for the most part) compliment each other in a way that is almost always reserved exclusively for the stage. Indeed, given that it’s based off a play, this film acts like one completely, featuring one setting during its entirety and taking place in real time. It also features minimal music and relies only on the dialogue of its actors, as well as the ever growing tension that permeates throughout the course of the film.
The film’s plot is fairly simple: It starts with the murder of David Kently, strangled with a rope by Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Philip Morgan (Farley Granger). The reason why they kill David is not explained immediately but becomes clear during the course of the film. As it turns out, they’re hosting a cock tail party the same day they kill David, but as one will find out, all this was intentional and carefully planned. I won’t go into much detail, since explaining any more will spoil the film and its surprises. We see that the character’s motivations seem to stem from various things, from possible jealousy to simply the thrill of taking the life of another individual. The characters of Brandon and Philip (played phenomenally by both Dall and Granger) are so different from one another it almost seems like it was meant to be that these two would concoct such a heinous act together.
However, the actor who gets top billing here is James Stewart, playing the former head master of Brandon and Philip, Rupert Cadell. Brandon believes that of all people, Rupert would be the one to understand his reasoning behind murdering David. Stewart’s character is incredibly important and unique and his acting is also top notch, with his best scene being the final monologue he delivers at the film’s end. Stewart’s trademark dialect also makes its appearance and actually adds to his character in a way I didn’t think possible (although in a way, his dialect always adds to whatever character he plays to some degree).
The rest of the actors do an excellent job, but the standouts are without a doubt Dall and Granger. The character of Philip is such a nervous wreak throughout while Brandon is so smug and proud of what he’s done he can’t hide his excitement. His explanation for murder and his reasoning for doing what he does is so convincing and evil it’s more than just thrilling in itself to witness; it’s outright disturbing. To see Philip go from concerned to just completely losing it is also something wonderful to behold. The suspense attached to the possibility of anyone knowing what these two have done is another thrill the film does expertly and it wouldn’t be half as exciting if not for the fine performances taking us through this nerve shattering event.
Without a doubt in my mind, Rope is one of the greatest thrillers I’ve ever seen. As a film in general, it is also one of the best I’ve ever seen, packed with amazing performances and stellar camera effects that keep us on the edge wondering what will happen next. It may not be the most known film out there, but it’s most definitely worth at least one viewing. And if you’ve already seen it, why not see it again, for thrill’s sake?