The film is one of Hitchcock's most experimental and "one of the most interesting experiments ever attempted by a major director working with big box-office names", abandoning many standard film techniques to allow for the long unbroken scenes. Each shot ran continuously for up to ten minutes without interruption. It was shot on a single set, aside from the opening establishing shot street scene under the credits. Camera moves were carefully planned and there was almost no editing.
The walls of the set were on rollers and could silently be moved out of the way to make way for the camera and then replaced when they were to come back into shot. Prop men constantly had to move the furniture and other props out of the way of the large Technicolor camera, and then ensure they were replaced in the correct location. A team of soundmen and camera operators kept the camera and microphones in constant motion, as the actors kept to a carefully choreographed set of cues.
The extraordinary cyclorama in the background was the largest backing ever used on a sound stage. It included models of the Empire State and the Chrysler buildings. Numerous chimneys smoke, lights come on in buildings, neon signs light up, and the sunset slowly unfolds as the movie progresses. Within the course of the film the clouds—made of spun glass—change position and shape eight times.
A camera operator's foot was broken by a heavy dolly during one intensive take, and he was gagged (to stop his vocal noises from being recorded on the film) and hauled out of the studio so that filming could continue without interruption.
Hitchcock shot for periods lasting up to 10 minutes (the length of a film camera magazine), continuously panning from actor to actor, though most shots in the film wound up being shorter. Every other segment ends by panning against or tracking into an object—a man's jacket blocking the entire screen, or the back of a piece of furniture, for example. In this way, Hitchcock effectively masked half the cuts in the film.
However, at the end of 20 minutes (two magazines of film make one reel of film on the projector in the movie theater), the projectionist—when the film was shown in theaters—had to change reels. On these changeovers, Hitchcock cuts to a new camera setup, deliberately not disguising the cut. A description of the beginning and end of each segment follows.
|1||09:34||00:02:30||Close-up (CU), strangulation||Blackout on Brandon's back|
|2||07:51||00:11:59||Black, pan off Brandon's back||CU Kenneth: "What do you mean?"|
|3||07:18||00:19:45||Unmasked cut, men crossing to Janet||Blackout on Kenneth's back|
|4||07:08||00:27:15||Black, pan off Kenneth's back||CU Phillip: "That's a lie."|
|5||09:57||00:34:34||Unmasked cut, CU Rupert||Blackout on Brandon's back|
|6||07:33||00:44:21||Black, pan off Brandon's back||Three shot|
|7||07:46||00:51:56||Unmasked cut, Mrs. Wilson: "Excuse me, sir."||Blackout on Brandon|
|8||10:06||00:59:44||Black, pan off Brandon||CU Brandon's hand in gun pocket|
|9||04:37||01:09:51||Unmasked cut, CU Rupert||Blackout on lid of chest|
|10||05:38||01:14:35||Black, pan up from lid of chest||End of film|
Hitchcock told François Truffaut in the book-length Hitchcock/Truffaut (Simon & Schuster, 1967) that he ended up re-shooting the last four or five segments because he was dissatisfied with the color of the sunset.
Hitchcock used this long-take approach again to a lesser extent on his next film, Under Capricorn (1949) and in a very limited way in his film Stage Fright (1950).
Alfred Hitchcock's cameo is a signature occurrence in most of his films. In this film, Hitchcock is considered to make two appearances, according to Arthur Laurents in the documentary Rope Unleashed, available on the DVD and Blu-ray. Laurents says that Hitchcock is a man walking down a Manhattan street in the opening scene, immediately after the title sequence.
At 55:19 into the film, a red neon sign in the far background showing Hitchcock's profile with "Reduco", the fictitious weight loss product used in his Lifeboat (1944) cameo, starts blinking; as the guests are escorted to the door actors Joan Chandler and Douglas Dick stop to have a few words, the sign appears and disappears in the background several times, right between their visages, right under the eyes of the spectators.