Rope is a 1929 British play by Patrick Hamilton. In formal terms, it is a well-made play with a three-act dramatic structure that adheres to the classical unities. Its action is continuous, punctuated only by the curtain fall at the end of each act. It may also be considered a thriller. Samuel French published the play in 1929.
Plot and setting
The play is set on the first floor of a house in Mayfair, London in 1929. The story, thought to be based loosely on the Leopold and Loeb murder case in 1924, concerns two young university students, Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo (whom Brandon calls “Granno”), who have murdered fellow student Ronald Kentley as an expression of their supposed intellectual superiority. At the beginning of the play, they hide Kentley’s body in a chest. They proceed to host a party for his friends and family at which the locked chest containing his corpse is used to serve a buffet. Suspicion arises among the guests as to the content of the chest. After the party, one guest, a former professor of the murderers, returns and contrives to open the chest. He is shocked and ashamed that they have acted in response to his own declarations of amorality. The play ends with this quandary unresolved.
Film and TV adaptations
The play was first broadcast on experimental live television by the BBC, on 8 March 1939. It was adapted by Hamilton, produced by Dallas Bower, and used long takes. Director Alfred Hitchcock later said he saw (or heard about) the long takes of this television production and was inspired to attempt a feature film version. Another version was broadcast on the British commercial network ITV in 1957. In different roles, Dennis Price appeared in both versions. A version was made for Australian television in 1959, and aired as part of the Shell Presents series. A different version for Australian television aired in 1957.
In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film version, Rope, Hitchcock, Hume Cronyn, and Arthur Laurents made some changes to the original stage play. The setting is relocated to 1940s New York City and the names of all of the characters, with the exception of Rupert Cadell, are altered. Quiet Mrs. Debenham became cheerful Mrs. Atwater. The murder victim is renamed David Kentley. In the original play, Rupert Cadell is a 29-year-old First World War veteran, who walks with a stick. He was a teacher of Brandon and Granillo when they were at school. In the film, Cadell is played by James Stewart, who was forty at the time. In this version, Cadell had been the teacher of Brandon Shaw, Philip Morgan, Kenneth Lawrence, and David Kentley, and is currently a publisher. Hitchcock’s is the only feature film version of the play to-date.
In 1983, Rope was dramatised as a BBC Radio 4 Drama for Saturday Night Theatre starring Alan Rickman as Cadell.