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American Cinematographer (1985) - Rope - Something Different




Many movies have been criticized as being "the same old stuff." Such a complaint could never be leveled at Rope, which was produced by Alfred Hitchcock 37 years ago. Rope was one of a kind.

In 1946, Hitchcock and his old friend, Sidney L. Bernstein, a theater magnate, formed a producing company called Transatlantic Pictures Corp. While dining at Bernstein's London home, Hitchcock was intrigued by an idea proposed by Bernstein that stage plays should be photographed during performances for research purposes.

Hitchcock mentioned a 1929 play by Patrick Hamilton, Rope's End, which he believed would be ideal for such a treatment. He proposed to shoot the play, which has no time lapses and takes place in one set in an hour‑and‑a‑half, as continuous action. "The camera never stops," he explained. But the picture should not be made on a theater stage but under sound stage conditions. The partners decided to buy the play and film it as the first Transatlantic production. Hitchcock soon debarked to America to direct the last picture required by his contract with David O. Selznick, The Paradine case.

Star names were necessary to carry a picture in those days. Transatlantic decided to get one boxoffice star, James Stewart, and assign the other roles to dependable ‑ but less expensive ‑ players with stage experience. Stewart's fee ‑ $300,000 ‑ was a large disbursement for an independent company. The other players: John DaIl, Parley Granger, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Constance Collier, Joan Chandler, Douglas Dick, Edith Evanson and Dick Hogan. Rope was the first of four pictures Stewart made for Hitchcock.

The director acquaints the cast with the script long before actual production begins. Around table (clockwise) are Douglas Dick, John DaII, Joan Chandler, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Charlsie Bryant (continuity clerk), Alfred Hitchcock, Parley Granger, James Stewart, Constance Collier and Edith Evanson.

Technicolor was another sure‑fire selling point. Hitchcock decided that Rope would be his first color picture.

The concept of shooting a picture in "real time" was not, in itself, unique. For several years following the introduction of motion pictures in 1894, short films dealing with simple situations were filmed with locked down cameras from a single vantage point. As productions grew longer, individual shots became shorter‑but only gradually. After 1910, the value of editing a picture from many shots of varying lengths and angles became standard procedure, and by 1910 the average feature contained about 600 shots. The a...

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