Two upper class intellectuals plan the “perfect” murder of an old school friend for the sheer thrill of it and hold a dinner party for his friends and family with the corpse hidden within the room.
Rope is most famous for its “one continuous shot” conceit as the story takes place entirely within the same room, Hitchcock concealing – albeit somewhat clumsily – the cuts between reels. I feel however that is the least interesting aspect of the film as the ideas expressed within, the sharp dialogue and Hitchcock’s usual ability to crank up the tension are the true reasons why it works so well. Hitchcock plays with the audience, placing us in the room with characters, they and their conversations even being demoted to off-screen from time to time as he constantly reminds us of the foul deed that could be discovered at any moment. When recreating the murder, he uses nothing as crude as flashbacks; he entices the audience to relive it through vicarious imagination. The story is told entirely through the verbal sparring of the party guests, James Stewart being the perfect casting choice as their old schoolmaster who begins to suspect something is afoot, his image as Frank Capra’s morally upstanding man of the people is given a different spin within this macabre situation. Here, he is the cynical misanthropist shown the logical conclusion of his contempt for “inferior” humanity and the concluding speech when faced with his grim discovery is electrifying. Hitchcock made a few anti-Nazi propaganda pieces for the war effort, and this contempt for intellectual arrogance and self-superiority and its inferred fascistic overtones echoes the sentiment of those films.
This strong moral message and taut story telling make for a gripping thriller that although a little stagy, still packs a thought provoking punch.