Rope Study Guide

An early Hitchcock film, Rope is not among the Master of Suspense's best known films, but it is certainly notable, and includes many Hitchcockian innovations of horror and suspense. Rope is perhaps most memorable as a notable experimentation in cinematic technique, an attempt to make an entire movie appear as though it were shot in one single continuous take. Based on the play by Patrick Hamilton, the film was adapted by Hume Cronyn and the screenplay was written by iconic Broadway director Arthur Laurents. Given the confinement of its setting to a single New York apartment, it is what is known as one of Hitchcock's "limited setting" films. It was the first of Hitchcock's films shot in Technicolor, and he described the movie as "an experiment that didn't work out."

The story of Rope is based on the real-life murder case of Leopold and Loeb. Leopold and Loeb were two wealthy University of Chicago students who killed a 14-year-old named Robert Franks, as a way of proving their "intellectual superiority." They were inspired by their interpretations of the writings of Nietzsche, and saw themselves as "supermen."

Rope tells a loosely fictionalized version of the infamous Leopold and Loeb murder in uninterrupted and continuous shots lasting as few as four minutes and as long as ten. These shots are then edited through not-particularly-smooth in-camera editing so that they all appear to have been shot in just one take. To account for cuts, the camera often becomes absorbed by the back of a character's jacket, and the entire screen goes dark.

Filming was an elaborate process, in which set pieces were on rollers and could be moved around to change filmic perspectives. Aside from that variability, the entire movie takes place in one location, and there was a giant cyclorama—a large concave curtain or wall used as a backdrop—with models of various Manhattan skyscrapers, which changes throughout the course of the film. Actors memorized intricate walking patterns in order to account for the moving set and to allow shooting to go smoothly. The long shots and single location give the film a stagey quality that only adds to its suspense. Upon its release, many critics marveled at its ingenuity and innovations, but it has received inconsistent reception since its release in 1948.