ROPE is a 1948 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock based on the 1929 play by Patrick Hamilton. It is a film that achieves various feats in filmmaking. Firstly, it is the first technicolor Hitchcockian film. With this, the entire film appears to be shot in a single take in real time. Allegedly, during the shooting of one of the film’s many long takes, a cameraman broke his foot. To suppress his screaming, crew-members gagged him and took him off the set.

Beyond the intricate filmmaking methods, the film maintains a thrilling and complex narrative. The plot revolves around Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan, the hosts of a dinner party that takes place immediately after they murder David Kentley. Guests of the dinner party include David’s father, aunt, friend, and fiancée: Janet Walker. Perhaps the most notable guest though is Rupert Cadell, played by Jimmy Stewart.

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Initially, it seems as though the culprits are completely off the hook. However, as the dinner party continues into the night, deadly suspicions arise.

A still from Rope (1948)

An Unexpected Guest

Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan represent two distinct representations of the archetypal villain. Brandon perceives murder as a grand work of art, an exemplification of an individual coming into his destiny. He believes that his participation in the murder of David represents his superiority over the common man. With this, Brandon does not display any fear.

On the other hand, Phillip maintains fear throughout the entirety of the film. He fears his capability of partaking in such a heinous crime. Phillip ultimately fears the act itself.

By the conclusion of the film, when Rupert Cadell figures out what the two dinner party hosts have done, Brandon finally expresses fear. However, he does not fear his actions. Rather, he fears his impending arrest, his capture. Brandon is afraid of the law oppressing his superiority. He seemingly believes that the law misinterprets murder as a crime. Rather, he considers the act as an ascendant.

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So, Brandon seems to be a villain seeking a way to satiate his lust for power. On the other hand, Phillip motives for murder are unclear. Whatever they may have been are foiled by the act itself for at that moment, Phillip realizes he has gained nothing. All that Brandon believes to have achieved is a consequence of his personal ego for Phillip certainly does not perceive himself as a superior being. Instead, he believes his part in killing David taints him.

Behind the scenes of the filming of ROPE (1948)

A Suspicious Patron

An archetypal villain is often challenged by a hero who strives to thwart that villain’s actions. Though Rupert is the sole character even to suspect Brandon and Phillip of killing David, his initial perceptions of murder were more aligned with his dinner hosts. So, one must question whether there is a true hero in ROPE.

Of course, by the conclusion of the film, Rupert is ashamed for even agreeing with the belief that the power to destroy is one to be admired. He feels shame for he never predicted to be in a situation such as this one. He maintained his views on murder for it was an intangible concept for him. That is of course until he discovers David’s fedora in Brandon and Phillip’s wardrobe. At that moment, Rupert faces the reality of the situation.

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He comes to realize that people truly are capable of killing another human being, and the worst part is that the people responsible are companions of his. With this realization comes the understanding that Rupert is in fact vastly different from his acquaintances. This may then lead Rupert to question his associations and wonder if Brandon and Phillip are reflections of his persona since he chose to associate with them.

On the set of ROPE (1948)

A Not-So-Hidden Keepsake

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of ROPE is the awareness that there is a dead body present in the midst of all these unsuspecting dinner guests. Of course, no one would have any reason to suspect Brandon or Phillip since no one ever believed them to be capable of killing someone. Hitchcock amplifies this perception by maintaining the idea that any individual is capable of murder if they maintain the twisted convictions to sustain their capabilities.

Though the film is not classified as a horror film, it certainly addresses the horrors of humanity. As Rupert seems to represent the common individual in this situation, the film depicts his struggle in understanding Brandon and Phillip’s motives and actions.

Brandon’s apathy particularly disturbs him as well as Brandon’s indifference towards hiding in the body in the same room his guests dine. Ultimately, Rupert is disturbed by the fact that he could not distinguish Phillip and Brandon as killers despite knowing the two quite well.

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ROPE is a film about human nature. It explores the corruption of ideologies as well as the severe consequences of hubris. Because of Hitchcock’s innovative filmmaking techniques, he truly brings the audience into the claustrophobia and intimacy of that iconic apartment. Through this, Hitchcock explores the various facets an individual can embody and the abominations an individual can become.

“After all, murder is, or should be, an art.”

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