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Alfred Hitchcock's Rope

Rope (1948), an Alfred Hitchcock film inspired by the real-life murder of a young boy in 1924 by two college students named Leopold and Loeb. Two brilliant students (John Dall[?] and Farley Granger[?]) plan the perfect murder after an ill-advised lecture by their headmaster (James Stewart) on the art of murder. They strangle a classmate and hide his body in a chest in their apartment, whereupon they throw a party for the victim's family and others from the school, thus, they believe, demonstrating their superiority. When Stewart realizes at the end that his two former students have indeed murdered, he is horrified -- and ashamed of his own rhetoric.

Hitchcock was both producer and director. Except for the 1932 film Lord Camber's Ladies[?], which was Hitchcock's only association with that film, Rope is the first movie for which Hitchcock receives a credit as producer (he was the uncredited producer on Number 13[?], Suspicion and Notorious.)

The film of Rope employed numerous innovations:

  • This was Hitchcock's first color film.
  • It was shot on a single set.
  • Each shot ran continuously for up to ten minutes without interruption. Camera moves were planned in advance and there was almost no editing.

Hitchcock filmed each scene in segments lasting up to ten minutes (the length of a reel of film at the time), each segment continuously panning from character to character in real time. Several segments end by panning against or zooming into an object (a man's jacket, or the back of a piece of furniture, for example) or by having an actor move in front of the camera, blocking the entire screen; each scene after that starts a static shot of that same object. In this way Hitchcock effectively masked some (but not all) of the cuts in the film.

(This technique has been used frequently since to "hide" edits, for instance in the Eagle-Eye Cherry music video "Save Tonight," and also in Steven Soderbergh's film Erin Brockovich: Julia Roberts appears to get into a car, drive down the street, and get hit by another car, but in fact the camera lingers behind on the road after she leaves, and at that point the film cuts).

Although it is commonly believed that all the cuts in Rope are hidden, in fact, only half are. Another misconception is that all the shots last ten minutes. Actually, of the ten shots used for the film, only three approach or exceed the ten minute mark. Five of the shots range between seven and eight minutes, and the penultimate and final shots last only about four-and-a-half and five-and-a-half minutes, respectively. A description of the beginning and end of each reel follows, with the approximate duration of the shot given in parentheses.

  • R1 CU strangulation to Blackout on Brandon's back. (9:34)
  • R2 Black, pan off Brandon's back to CU Kenneth: "What do you mean?" (7:51)
  • R3 Unmasked cut, men crossing to Janet to Blackout on Kenneth's back. (7:18)
  • R4 Black, pan off Kenneth's back to CU Phillip: "That's a lie." (7:08)
  • R5 Unmasked cut, CU Rupert to Blackout on Brandon's back. (9:57)
  • R6 Black, pan off Brandon's back to Three shot. (7:33)
  • R7 Unmasked cut, Mrs. Wilson: "Pardon me, sir."to Blackout on Brandon.(7:46)
  • R8 Black, pan off Brandon to CU Brandon's hand in gun pocket. (10:06)
  • R9 Unmasked cut, CU Rupert to Blackout on lid of chest. (4:37)
  • R10 Black, pan up from lid of chest to End. (5:38)

Two other films, Compulsion and Swoon, were also based on the Leopold and Loeb case.

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