…why am I writing about Rope? I don’t really know. It popped into my head the other day while I was making breakfast and no, I didn’t pour rum onto my French toast.
I had pancakes.
Rope isn’t on any “Best of” lists, yet I don’t think anyone hates it as much as they tend to dismiss it. Rebecca is probably the best example of an outlier in Hitchcock’s oeuvre, but it’s a great film, whereas Rope is, at best, mediocre. In my opinion anyway.
Rope began life as a play written by Patrick Hamilton, and the plot seems very well suited for a Hitchcock film: Two men kill one of their old college mates, conceal the body in a trunk located in the living room their apartment , then proceed to throw a fabulous cocktail party. The invited guests include: the dead man’s fiancee, the dead man’s parents, and, to make things more interesting, their former college professor.
Where did it all go wrong? Since the action takes place in real time over the course of an evening, Hitchcock decided to shoot Rope in one continuous take. The biggest problem he faced was that the camera holds ten minutes of film at a time. The script was then broken into segments in order to overcome the limitations of the camera.
If anything, Rope resembles a documentary of sorts. There are no cuts or montages to give the film any sort of visual tension or excitement–it’s pretty much what you see is what you get. I sometimes wonder if Hitchcock had decided to shoot Rope in a more traditional manner would it have been better? Who knows? I guess it depends on you feelings about Lifeboat, but that film was far more psychological in nature as opposed to Rope, which was about John Dall and Farley Grainger wanting to see if James Stewart will figure out what’s going on.
Nowadays, thanks to digital cameras, a filmmaker could shoot a film in one continuous take with a minimum of fuss; Steven Soderbergh could knock it out in an afternoon. Come to think of it, maybe Gus Van Sant would have been better off remaking Rope.