Written by Arthur Laurents

An ongoing question in academia is on the subject of whether Rope is film or a play. It’s still a motion picture, as that’s the medium. A performance of classical theatre performed on the West End beaming into nationwide cinemas is also a motion picture for those not watching on the West End or Broadway. But the difference there is that a live-screening isn’t considered to constitute a “film” in the industry, despite it being shown at least once on a wide release.

But there is one fundamental difference between film and theatre – the medium of film is telling a story with images, but theatre is about the art and potential of what can be created, conjured and told within a proscenium arch. Unless the performance is using a thrust stage, which allows room for the actors and audience to come close together. Rope is trying to be film as theatre, (whereas a live-screening would be theatre as film), but theatre had already been adapted into television using live editing with multiple cameras and a mixing desk. That Rope attempts to tell the story in an unbroken, moving take is undeniably an experiment, even to its harshest critics.

Rope‘s found a way to combine the two mediums and the result is something which is deceptive in its intrigue. The premise – two students of the Nietzsche theory strangling another and inviting his associates to dinner around the chest where his body’s being hidden – might be carried-over from the original play the film adapts, but is still an idea worthy of film adaptation – as Hitchcock proves, by attempting to find the happy medium between them; the camera constantly hanging-over the characters is the tension present throughout, like their own guilt following them, and makes the single intentional cut all the more effective. And by setting Rope in one room, the film relies on the actors to make it work. Modern film acting doesn’t demand as high standards as it did during Rope‘s day, partially because it’s much easier to skip stage acting and cut straight to a film career.

It’s not a coincidence that actors cast from stage are often much more convincing than those that aren’t. And Rope is full of them, the best being without a doubt James “Jimmy” Stewart. Not only does he know how to exploit his wobbly accent to mask his characters’ motives, but his delivery is the most naturalistic of any actor that I must have ever seen. He takes just the right amount of pauses of just the right length, and manipulates the intensity of his voice to create – in any role – the most believable character in any of his films.

And here, we see a fearful curiosity and and an outraged fear develop through the course of Rope, and sometimes interchangeably. Which is not to say that John Dall and Farley Granger as Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan aren’t also highlights – they are, and combined with Stewart are maybe the most electric film trio ever to grace the silver screen. And that’s what Rope has going for it – yes, the transitions are obvious, and the editing is noticeable when it shouldn’t be, but all of that becomes just a technique when the actors have the capacity to act professionally and effortlessly regardless. This is not a film for cinematography, nor is it a film for story.

But it is a film for acting. Only on this occasion, Rope – with a stellar cast, particularly Stewart – makes that excusable.

More reviews

BBC features – Friday 2nd to Sunday 4th January 2015

Friday 2nd January 2015

20:00 StreetDance 2 (Jane English)

Drama sequel. A streetdancer travels the world to assemble a crew of the world’s best dancers following a humiliating defeat, hoping to win at a competition in Paris.


00:05 Rope (Arthur Laurents)

Two young men kill a weak school friend merely for the intellectual thrill of it and then invite the dead boy’s father and fiancee for a party in the room where the corpse is hidden. Based on the true story of the Leopold-Loeb murder case, the film is famous for the fact that it appears as one continuous shot of 80 minutes.


01:20 Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Simon Beaufoy)

When Dr Alfred Jones, an advisor at the Department of Fisheries, receives an unsolicited e-mail from Harriet Chetwode-Talbot regarding the aspirations of her very wealthy Yemeni client to create a salmon fishing paradise in his home country, he replies immediately, pointing out the obvious improbability of success. However, when the unlikely project is given the green light from Government, the pair have to find a way of making the impossible possible.


Saturday 3rd January 2015

06:30 Hue and Cry (TEB Clarke)

His imagination fired by adventure stories, young Joe believes he has stumbled on a criminal conspiracy in post-war London – but the police will not listen, and even his gang of friends wonder whether to take him seriously. Classic Ealing comedy.


07:50 The Titfield Thunderbolt (TEB Clarke)

Ealing comedy about a group of villagers and their battle to preserve the local railway line by running it themselves, an enterprise that goes well until they are sabotaged in a midnight raid by the rival bus company. Undaunted, they wheel out the Thunderbolt, an ancient exhibit in the village museum. Now all that remains is to put on a satisfactory run for the stickler of a government inspector.


13:35 Viva Las Vegas (Sally Benson)

Hip-swivelling high-speed fun as Elvis rolls into Las Vegas looking to compete in the Grand Prix. Racing driver Lucky Jackson needs a new engine in his car before he can challenge his arch-rival at the track in the West Coast gaming paradise. So he takes a job as a waiter at a casino to fuel his race fund and spends his spare time trying to win the heart of swimming instructor Rusty.


21:00 Albert Nobbs (John Banville/Glenn Close/Gabriella Pekop)

To be able to lead an independent and free life, industrious but introverted Albert hides a secret from the world, especially his fellow staff at a Dublin hotel.


21:00 Puss in Boots (Tom Wheeler/Will Davies/Brian Lynch)

Puss in Boots gets his own animated adventure film in this Shrek spin-off. Puss teams up with a fellow thieving feline and his old friend Humpty Dumpty to embark on an exciting quest. The trio plan to find magic beans in order to steal the goose that lays the golden eggs, but all does not go according to plan. Featuring the voices of Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Zach Galifianakis.


Sunday 4th January 2015

00:00 Lesbian Vampire Killers (Stewart Williams/Paul Hupfield)

Gory Hammer Horror spoof. No-hopers Fletch and Jimmy stumble across a village while out hiking in the English countryside. What they don’t find out until too late is that all the women in the village turn into lesbian vampires on their 18th birthday. Lured to an old cottage by the villagers, they have to become ‘lesbian vampire killers’ if they are to survive the night.


22:00 A Royal Affair (Bodil Steensen-Leth/Rasmus Heisterberg)

At the tender age of 15, Caroline Matilda, the youngest sister of George III, is betrothed to her cousin Christian VII, King of Denmark. Almost immediately aware of her young husband’s mental illness, she falls under the charismatic spell of Christian’s new doctor, Johann Struensee, a German with dangerously liberal views which soon make him enemies at a court unused to having its authority challenged. In Danish with English subtitles.