Provocative, pensive and splendidly acted, Hitchcock’s ‘Rope’ is a heck of a film

Hitchcock and his camera crew—including ASC members Joseph A. Valentine and William V. Skall (standing in front of camera)—rehearse to shoot one of the 10 lengthy shots (up to 10 minutes each) seen in the thriller Rope (1948), which was written, choreographed, photographed and edited to appear to be one single, continuous shot taking place in real time. This was also the director's first Technicolor project

Back in 1948 the great Alfred Hitchcock took a risk when, as a major director, decided to turn his film Rope into an experiment of sorts. This tense psychological crime thriller was based on Patrick Hamilton’s 1929 play of the same name, which drew heavy inspiration from the notorious case of Leopold and Loeb, two University of Chicago students who kidnapped and murdered a 14-year-old boy allegedly to demonstrate their intellectual superiority by committing the perfect crime. The play was adapted by Hume Cronyn, Arthur Laurents, and Ben Hecht, Hitchcock secured the services of hugely popular Jimmy Stewart and made a film that became famous for the director’s exemplary skill most evident in fresh editing approach: it’s fascinating to see that the film is comprised of only ten seven to ten minute takes, but what’s even more impressive are the brilliantly simple editing maneuvers that Hitchcock used to make Rope seem as a single-take movie.

Filmed on a single stage with walls on rollers and a beautiful cyclorama in the background, the film leaves the impression of a carefully choreographed stage play, simple and straightforward, but constantly replenished by wonderful writing and benefiting from a nervous, gripping atmosphere that steadily builds up as the events unfold before our eyes. The homoerotic subtext, subsequently scrutinized by numerous analyses, only adds up to the greatness of the work and bravery of Hitchcock, his willingness to gamble and by trying out new techniques further advancing his craft. Even when its innovative aspect is pushed aside, we’re left with an accomplished thriller dealing with questions and themes that are still not digested easily. Provocative, pensive and splendidly acted, Rope is a heck of a film that we’re proud to call perhaps not the master’s best, but certainly one of the most interesting stories he ever told.

A monumentally important screenplay. Dear every screenwriter/filmmaker, read Hume Cronyn, Arthur Laurents & Ben Hecht’s screenplay for Rope [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.

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Hitchcock’s Rope is famous for its extremely long takes, but each long take (about 20 minutes, the length of one ‘reel’) is made up of two scenes, with a hidden transition. Here are those hidden transitions, usually someone’s back filling the frame.

Rope is often described as having no editing, a film that plays out in real-time, but it had to hide the cuts due to the 10-minute film reel limits of the day. On further examination, Hitchcock’s gem actually contains 10 edits. Five of them are hidden as the camera lens is filled by foreground objects. The other five edits are regular hard cuts that not many people either realize or acknowledge. Vashi Nedomansky has isolated all 10 edits in the video below so you can learn from the Master of Suspense on how to hide your edits without losing momentum in your story.

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Documentary covering the making of Rope (1948).

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Christopher Aguiar shine a magnifying glass over 1948’s Rope. Editing and cinematic structure is vastly different today when one compares it to the 40s. Its evolution, though, can arguably be tracked from the moment Alfred Hitchcock decided he wanted to disguise cuts in Rope.

Here is a selection of articles for further reading:

Alfred Hitchcock takes us inside his creative process in this fascinating 1964 program from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. A Talk with Alfred Hitchcock is part interview, part masterclass in the craft of telling stories on film.

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The making of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope. Photographed by John Miehle © Warner Bros., Transatlantic Pictures. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.

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