Filmic Space and Real Time in "Rope"

By Dellolio, Peter J. | The Midwest Quarterly, Autumn 2008 | Go to article overview

Filmic Space and Real Time in "Rope"

Dellolio, Peter J., The Midwest Quarterly

"Brandon, how did you feel?"     "When?"    "During it?"    Philip Morgan to Brandon Shaw  

LIKE ROBERT BRESSON'S L'Argent (1983) and Vittorio DeSica's Bicycle Thief (1949), Rope is possibly one of the most disconcerting films ever made. As Thomas A. Bauso suggests in Hitchcock's Re-Released Films, "[Hitchcock's] central achievement in viewer disorientation is his simultaneous provoking of his audience to regard the crime with horror and his implicating of that audience in the performance of the crime. More than anything else, this complex process accounts for the unpleasant sensations that Rope seems to produce in many of its viewers" (232; italics mine). The film contains elements of irrationality and causes a degree of viewer alienation that was quite rare for the American screen in 1948. In later films greater permissiveness in Hollywood allowed Hitchcock to vividly portray the destruction of an innocent (Psycho, The Birds, Topaz, Frenzy), something that, with the exception of Rope, was almost impossible to introduce in his films from the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Moreover, the murder of David Kentley (Dick Hogan) in Rope, in spite of his nonexistence as a character, unlike Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in Psycho, is particularly heinous because of its utter meaninglessness and cruelty. David's death is made that much more unsettling for the viewer not from knowing him as a character but from being exposed to those in his life who loved him. The screenplay was adapted from the 1929 British play by Patrick Hamilton, produced in the United States as Rope's End, which bears many similarities to the real-life Leopold and Loeb murder case of 1924.

What makes Rope compelling is the double-sided manner in which the story unfolds. On the one hand, the viewer experiences the inside jokes and black humor along with Brandon and Philip because it knows about the murder from the beginning of the film. On the other hand, the viewer is subjected to little shocks and traps that Hitchcock introduces, such as when we laugh at Rupert's discussion about "Strangulation Day" or "Cut a Throat Week" only to notice Mr. Kentley looking out the window because he is worried about his absent son. This duality is part of the film's fundamental structure: as the real time of the events unfolds ostensibly without any cuts or filmic compression of time, the camera movements weave in and out and back and forth, creating a seamless continuity that often deepens these traps for the viewer. When we hear Mr. Kentley say off-screen that he is a very fortunate man today, because of the books Brandon has offered him, the camera has moved to a close-up of Philip looking distraught, having been told by Mrs. Atwater that his hands will bring him great fame. In a discussion of these and other examples below, we will see that this kind of double-edged tension between visual and dramatic information puts more and more of an ambiguous moral strain upon the viewer.

Two affluent, homosexual lovers, Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Philip Morgan (Farley Granger), murder a former prep school companion, David Kentley. Hitchcock was keenly aware of how far a verbal or dramatic nuance could go to suggest a homosexual alliance between characters. In Rope the homosexual sub-text is thematically linked to elitism and perversity. Brandon's espousal of a Nietzschean doctrine of intellectual superiority is more than superficially linked to the Nazi doctrine of ethnic superiority. Brandon and Philip believe they possess a Nietzsehean superiority that places their actions above the judgment of conventional law. During a conversation with Mr. Kentley (Cedrick Hardwicke) that is initiated by Rupert's (James Stewart) tongue-in-cheek discussion of murder as an art ("Not one of the seven lively, perhaps, but an art nevertheless," says Rupert), Brandon asserts his position that those who are entitled to commit murder "are those men who are of such intellectual and cultural superiority that they are above the traditional moral concepts. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Filmic Space and Real Time in "Rope"


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.