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"The good Americans usually die young on the battlefield, don't they? Well, the Davids of this world merely occupy space, which is why he was the perfect victim for the perfect murder. 'Course he, uh, he was a Harvard undergraduate. [snicker] That might make it justifiable homicide."
Brandon Shaw

A 1929 stage play by Patrick Hamilton, more famously known as the 1948 Alfred Hitchcock film that was shot in ten takes and cut to look like one.

One spring day, two elite young Manhattanites, Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger), strangle their acquaintance, David Kentley (Dick Hogan), and hide the body away inside a wooden chest at their penthouse apartment. Their reason for doing so is their desire to commit the perfect murder; to see just how perfect it is, they host a dinner party with the chest kept in plain sight as a buffet table. All the guests at the party — including David's father (Cedric Hardwicke); his aunt, Mrs. Atwater (Constance Collier); his fiancée, Janet Walker (Joan Chandler); and the killers' former prep-school teacher, Rupert Cadell (Jimmy Stewart) — grow worried at David's absence. As Brandon continues to push his luck, Phillip shows remorse and Rupert investigates his suspicions. All of which leads to a discovery...

The film is particularly known for its experimental style. Hitchcock abandoned typical shooting and editing methods in favor of long unbroken scenes. Each shot ran continuously for up to ten minutes without interruption. He would go on to use the same technique in Under Capricorn and to a lesser extent Stage Fright (1950). The homosexual subtext was also considered daring for its time. While not a major hit at the time of its release, the film has gained popularity over the following decades. Today, it is often listed among the best of the director.

This film features examples of:

  • Adaptational Sexuality: Brandon and Philip being gay was a lot clearer in the original play, but is reduced to subtext in the film (mostly due to Hays Code censorship of the time), and Brandon is implied to be bisexual. Hitchcock claimed Rupert was written as being gay, too, and had even had an affair with Brandon.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Every character except Rupert has their name changed from stage to screen. Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo become Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan. The victim's name changes from Ronald to David, and his father and aunt change from Sir Johnstone Kentley and Mrs Debenham to Mr Henry Kentley and Mrs Atwater. Leila Arden and Kenneth Raglan become Janet Walker and Kenneth Lawrence. Sabot, Brandon and Granillo's French manservant, becomes Mrs Wilson the housekeeper.
  • Adaptation Personality Change: Most of the supporting characters. Rupert gets a significant one also, from a young, effete, and bitchy World War I veteran and poet to a more middle-aged, staid, conventional Jimmy Stewart type. The film's Rupert is also more of an explicit mentor and authority figure to Brandon and Phillip, being their former teacher, while the play's version appears to be an older childhood friend who underestimated his influence.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Brandon and Phillip in the movie thanks to the Hays Code.
  • Amicable Exes: Kenneth and Janet develop into this. Brandon's attempts to play matchmaker without David around causes them to not only realize he is being an asshole to them, but also lets them come to terms with the end of their engagement, as Kenneth apologizes for dumping Janet and she confesses to truly being in love with David.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    Janet: Well, now, you don't really approve of murder, Rupert? If I may?
    Rupert: You may... and I do. Think of the problems it would solve: unemployment, poverty, standing in line for theatre tickets...
  • Astrologer: Mrs. Atwater is one, or at least professes to be.
  • Back Blocking: Hitchcock often ends a shot by panning to a character's back blocking the entire screen, then begins the next shot by panning away or when they move aside to give the illusion of a single, unbroken take.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Rupert figures out what Brandon and Philip have done and alerts the authorities, but it's clear that by now he is a broken shell of a man. And you can imagine what effect David's murder will have on his parents.
  • Break the Haughty: Brandon, the less remorseful of the two killers, gets his comeuppance when Rupert gives him a big "The Reason You Suck" Speech before alerting the police to the murder.
  • Building of Adventure: The entire film takes place inside one apartment.
  • Camp Gay: Rupert Cadell in the play is a poet, described in stage directions as 'a little foppish' and so 'enormously affected' in his manner that it 'almost verges on effeminacy'. The film version, not so much.
  • Complexity Addiction: Brandon's insistence on style is the reason they get caught almost instantly.
  • Creator Cameo: Two of them, in fact. Hitchcock is seen as a sidewalk pedestrian during the opening credits, and later a red neon sign of his famous self-portrait silhouette is visible outside the apartment window once the sun goes down.
  • Dead Man's Chest: Brandon and Phillip hide David's body in a chest, which they then use to serve supper on.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Rupert, at times.
    Rupert: (meeting Janet) Brandon's spoken of you.
    Janet: Did he do me justice?
    Rupert: Do you deserve justice?
  • Depraved Bisexual: Brandon is implied to be this, as there is obvious subtext that he and Phillip are involved and he also refers to a past relationship with Janet.
  • Desecrating the Dead: Played with. Brandon decides to have the party's dinner served on the very chest where David's body is hidden. The cruelty of it is that the morbid meal is served to David's father, aunt, friend, and girlfriend, none of whom suspect that he is right under their noses.
  • Dramatic Irony: Any time the other guests wonder why David is late to the party. The audience knows he isn't late at all (at least, not in that way) and was actually early to the party.
    • Brandon is a fan of invoking this actively, making quips that only the audience realizes are subtle brags and references to his crime, such as when Kenneth asks if it's someone's birthday that he's forgotten, and Brandon responds that it's "almost the opposite".
    • Janet saying that Brandon's sense of humor is "a little too malicious", when the extent of said maliciousness is lost on her but not on the viewer.
  • Dull Surprise: James Stewart as Rupert Cadell.
  • Everybody Has Standards: The one reason that Brandon didn't get away with murdering David was because Rupert (the one man he wanted to figure out) was not impressed with the murder like he anticipated. In fact, despite his belief in "superiority" and "inferiority", he does not like the idea of his beliefs being used as an excuse to take a life.
    • Even though he went through with the whole murder "experiment", Phillip isn't very comfortable with the idea of serving the party's dinner on top of the furniture that hides David's body.
  • Exact Words: "You're going to die!" Rupert tells Phillip and Brandon this whilst he brandishes a gun, but they don't die the way they expect to. Instead, he fires off the gun merely to get the attention of everybody outside, which will no doubt set off a domino effect of the police getting involved. The die has been cast, and it's only a matter of time before Phillip and Brandon are tried, convicted, and executed.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The events take place over the course of a single evening, and actually unfold even faster than Real Time.
  • Fatal Flaw: Brandon's is Pride. He and Phillip probably could have gotten away with the murder (at least for a while) if Brandon hadn't been taking risks and dropping subtle hints that aroused Rupert's suspicion, all because he had to have an audience at whom to flaunt his "perfect crime".
  • Faux Affably Evil: Brandon. He loses whatever "charm" he has very fast.
  • Firing in the Air a Lot: Rupert does this at the end to call the authorities.
  • For the Evulz: Brandon's motivation is to act on his theory that as a "superior", he should prove it by committing The Perfect Crime against one of the "inferior" ones. Which he does out of amusement, enjoying more than anything the idea of getting away with killing someone.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The play is explicit about the homosexual relationship between Phillip and Brandon, but production codes of the time required Hitchcock to demote the relationship to an obvious but still implicit subtext in the film. It's already unusual for two men of their age and social class to be living together in the 50's, but it can also be inferred that they share a bedroom.note  Hitchhock knowingly cast gay (or bisexual, in the case of Farley Granger) actors for the characters and expressed approval over the chemistry they brought to the film. It's not a great surprise that the radar blipped in a few American cities, where their implied homosexuality got the movie banned from theaters.
    • David's murder is also portrayed surprisingly sexually, with David looking like he's orgasming as he's strangled, Brandon smoking after committing the murder, and opening a bottle of champagne in a rather suggestive way.
  • A Glass in the Hand: On arriving at the apartment, Mrs. Atwater sees Kenneth and mistakes him for David, promoting her to call out David's name... and Phillip immediately breaks the champagne glass he's holding, cutting his hand.
  • Godwin's Law: A discussion of Nietzsche and Brandon believing in the concept of supermen prompts the response "so did Hitler" from David's father.
  • Grande Dame: Mr. Kentley's sister-in-law, Mrs. Atwater.
  • Guilt-Ridden Accomplice: Phillip.
  • Gun Struggle: Between Rupert and Phillip.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Although, given the homosexual subtext, this may be intentional.
    • Discussing her reaction to Kenneth having dumped her, Janet explains, "I just couldn't be the gay girl anymore."
    • When Janet offers Brandon some chicken, he says he never eats it, prompting her to reply, "How queer!"
  • Heel–Face Turn: Rupert does one at the end. Although... Jimmy Stewart could never really be a heel, anyhow. (He hadn't been in Vertigo yet...)
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The chest containing David's body.
  • High on Homicide: Brandon states he found a sense of euphoria from killing David.
    Phillip: How did it feel... during it?
    Brandon: I don't remember feeling very much of anything... until his body went limp and I knew it was over. I felt tremendously exhilarated. How did you feel?
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Several characters, most notably Phillip after the party guests have left. Brandon’s final act before the credits roll is to wordlessly pour himself one last drink as he, Phillip and Rupert await the police’s arrival.
  • Inspired by…: See Ripped from the Headlines below.
  • Instant Emergency Response: At the end, Rupert alerts the police by shooting the gun out the window. Sirens are immediately heard, signaling they're coming. It's possible some had just been near already, though multiple patrol cars are unlikely.
  • Insufferable Genius: Brandon. He puts on as elaborate a display as he can of the murder, as part of a joke only he'll enjoy. Phillip calls him out on this, accusing him of secretly wanting to get caught just so he can boast about how cleverly he committed the act.
  • Ironic Echo: When a devastated Rupert wonders why the murder of David was committed, Brandon rationalizes that he was only living by Rupert's earlier words about "superior and inferior beings". The same one that justified that a superior few were privileged to take the lives of the inferior.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: David was attending Harvard prior to his death. Janet and Kenneth went there as well, as did (presumably) Brandon and Phillip.
  • Kick the Dog: When discussing why it was wrong to invite David's friend and her ex-boyfriend to the party, Janet justifies herself to Brandon that she chose David because he's nicer. To this, Brandon also snidely inquires if the reason he left her previous boyfriends (himself included) is because David is the richest out of them all.
  • MacGuffin: It's Hitch, so it's pretty much required. In this case, it's David's body.
  • Machiavelli Was Wrong: Played with. This is a rare variety where the proverbial "Machiavelli" himself admits he was wrong. Rupert has always felt distant toward his other people, and has tried to cope with it through rhetoric about how murder is an art form that only the few should be allowed to practice. But when he finds that his own student was pointlessly murdered by his two other students inspired by that rhetoric, it turns his stomach and proves to him that no one has the right to decide who lives and who dies.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Rupert can almost be seen as a Karma Houdini if one ignores that unlike Brandon, he is not sociopathic enough to be able to live well with the knowledge of what he unwittingly and at least partially contributed to.
  • Never My Fault: Rupert explicitly tells his students that the world would be better if the smartest people were allowed to murder their "inferiors" from time to time. Yet, when he finds out Brandon actually did it, he accuses Brandon of "twisting his words" and insists that he never meant to endorse murder.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Our two "heroes" decide that David's "inferiority" justifies his death. Rupert Cadell also counts, considering the murder was inspired by his rhetoric, but he renounces his way of thinking once he realizes what happened.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: When David's aunt predicts Phillip's future using his zodiac (Cancer), she cheerily predicts that "[his] hands will make [him] famous", unaware those same hands which had strangled her nephew to death. This leaves Phillip speechless as he looks at his hands with guilt, as well as fear of being caught.
  • The Oner: Hitchcock wanted to make the film one long, continuous shot. Sadly, this wasn't feasible with the technology of the time: film would run out after about ten minutes. But he tried to get as close to this as he could. The finished film consists of ten long shots, ranging from four to ten minutes in length, joined together mostly by Body Wipes (the camera zooms in on some person or something, and zooms out when it cuts). But because film reels need to be changed every twenty minutes in cinema screenings, Hitchcock still had to put four "hard cuts" in the film. But, given that the average film has hundreds of hard cuts, that's still impressive. But, to accomplish all of that, Hitchcock needed to limit Rope's running time to a mere 1 hour and 20 minutes, far and away his shortest film after he relocated to Hollywood in 1940.
  • Original Position Fallacy: Rupert previously had no qualms about simply saying everyone (or at least the privileged few) should have the right to kill others. If anything, he only said it because he imagined it happening to complete strangers. But when his student David is the victim of Brandon and Phillip's twisted game, it hits too close to home for Rupert, shaking his faith in his rhetoric. It's even by his own admission that he regrets ever supporting his own idea.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: David provokes an alert by his mere absence, since he was known as The Reliable One and would never be late for an engagement without telling anyone. Janet suspects trickery on Brandon's part, but only Rupert realizes just how right she is.
  • The Perfect Crime: Brandon brags that it is "the perfect murder", which leads to him being extremely cocky about it.
  • Posthumous Character: David.
  • Real Time: Hitchcock crafted the movie to give off the appearance of real-time, though it is, in reality, slightly sped up: the film is 80 minutes long, and approximately 100 minutes pass in-universe.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Rupert gives a big one to Brandon (and partially himself) when the latter tries to justify David's murder with Rupert's rhetoric.
  • Reverse Whodunnit: We know the two are guilty; the only question is if they can get away with it.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The stage play from which the movie was adapted was inspired by the infamous Leopold and Loeb murder case from 1924. Another fictionalized version would come about a decade later with Richard Fleischer's Compulsion.
  • Self-Deprecation: Janet is constantly making little offhand remarks about what a mess she thinks she is.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Sissy Villain: Brandon and Phillip.
  • Smug Snake: Brandon. Brandon. And Brandon.
  • Spanner in the Works: Rupert Cadell. Ironically, this was the point: Brandon wanted someone who might catch on in order to entertain himself.
    • Mrs. Wilson ends up mixing up Rupert and David's hats, giving him the final piece of proof he needs to fully suspect what Brandon and Phillip has done.
  • Spotting the Thread: Rupert cottons on to something being off with Phillip's behavior early during the party until he eventually unravels the whole thing.
    • Earlier, Janet and Kenneth start to suspect something's up when they realize that Brandon did know they broke up, but dismiss it as one of his crude pranks.
  • Villain Opening Scene: The opening scene is a shot of an apartment during a normal, busy day... which is then interrupted by a scream of someone who is strangled to death. A censor requested this scene be removed but was refused, and thus the film was banned in Atlanta.
  • Villain Protagonist: Brandon and Phillip allow no time (or doubt) for the audience to get to know them first. They commit the murder during the first seconds of the film. The rest of it is based around Brandon's sick games with the victim's familiar ones and Phillip's nervous breakdown.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Rupert is disgusted to learn that his musings on inferior humans, which to him were purely rhetorical, were the inspiration (or perhaps just the excuse) for David's murder.