Since the filming times were so long, everybody on the set tried their best to avoid any mistakes. At one point in the movie, the camera dolly ran over and broke a cameraman's foot, but to keep filming, he was gagged and dragged off. Another time, a woman puts her glass down but misses the table. A stagehand had to rush up and catch it before the glass hit the ground. Both parts are used in the final cut.
This was the only movie James Stewart made with Sir Alfred Hitchcock that he did not like. Stewart later admitted he felt he was miscast as the professor (he makes his first entrance twenty-eight minutes into the movie).
This movie was unavailable for three decades because its rights (together with four other movies of the same period) were bought back by Sir Alfred Hitchcock and left as part of his legacy to his daughter Patricia Hitchcock. They've been known for a long time as the infamous "five lost Hitchcocks" amongst movie buffs, and were re-released in theaters around 1984 after a thirty-year absence. The others are Rear Window (1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), The Trouble with Harry (1955), and Vertigo (1958).
The theatrical trailer features footage shot specifically for the advertisement that takes place before the beginning of the movie. David (the victim) sits on a park bench and speaks with Janet before leaving to meet Brandon and Phillip. James Stewart narrates the sequence, noting that's the last time Janet and the audience would see him alive.
This movie was filmed entirely in-studio (except for the opening credits). The clouds that you see out the window are made out of fiberglass. For the effect of a police siren coming towards the apartment building at the end, Sir Alfred Hitchcock had an ambulance come at full speed, from several blocks away, straight to the Warner Brothers studio, siren blaring all the way. The sounds were picked up by a microphone suspended from the studio gate.
This story was very loosely based on the real-life murder committed by University of Chicago students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, which was also the (fictionalized) subject of Compulsion (1959) and Swoon (1992).
This movie was shot in ten takes, ranging from four and a half minutes to just over ten minutes (the maximum amount of film that a camera magazine or projector reel could hold). At the end of the takes, the movie alternates between having the camera zoom into a dark object, totally blacking out the lens/screen, and making a conventional cut. However, the second edit, ostensibly one of the conventional ones, was clearly staged and shot to block the camera, but the all-black frames were left out of the final print. Most of the props, and even some of the apartment set's walls, were on casters, and the crew had to wheel them out of the way and back into position as the camera moved around the set.
Although this movie lasts one hour and twenty minutes, and is supposed to be in "real time", the time frame it covers is actually longer, a little more than one hour and forty minutes. This is accomplished by speeding up the action: the formal dinner lasts only twenty minutes, the sun sets too quickly, and so on. The September 2002 issue of "Scientific American" contains a complete analysis of this technique (and the effect it has on the viewers, who actually feel as if they watched a one hour and forty minute movie).
DIRECTOR CAMEO (Sir Alfred Hitchcock): appears, though barely if at all recognizable, walking down the street during the opening credits. His profile also appears on a neon sign visible through the apartment window approximately fifty-five minutes into the movie. The neon sign advertises "Reduco", the same fictional weight-loss product that Hitchcock advertised in his famous newspaper ad cameo in Lifeboat (1944).
Sir Alfred Hitchcock's inspiration for the long takes came from a BBC Television broadcast of Rope (1939). The producer, Dallas Bower, decided on the technique in order to keep the murder chest constantly in shot.
Screenwriter Arthur Laurents claimed that originally Sir Alfred Hitchcock assured him the movie wouldn't show the opening murder, therefore creating doubt as to whether the two leading characters actually committed murder, and whether the trunk had a corpse inside.
Contrary to popular belief, and Sir Alfred Hitchcock's own claims in later interviews, there are several conventional edits during the movie: when Janet arrives at the party; when Phillip shouts "That's a lie!"; when Mrs. Wilson enters the room to announce the telephone call from David's mother; and when Brandon reaches into his pocket for his gun while Rupert narrates his theory on how the murder was committed. Some add the cut from the shot of the apartment's exterior (with the opening titles superimposed over it) to its interior at the beginning, but that one does not genuinely contradict the claim that this movie was made to simulate a single continuous take any more than the cut to the end credits does.
Sir Alfred Hitchcock made an opening romantic scene in Central Park with Joan Chandler (Janet Walker) and Dick Hogan (David Kentley). The scene was used for the 1948 promotional trailer, but deleted from the movie.
This movie is very different from Patrick Hamilton's play of the same name. Sir Alfred Hitchcock made his own adaptation with Hume Cronyn, and they created new dialogue and characters for their adaptation. In the play, there is no Janet Walker, no Mrs. Wilson, no Kenneth Lawrence, and no Mrs. Atwater. The play takes place in England. Brandon Shaw is Wyndham Brandon, and Philip Morgan is Charles Granillo in the play. In the play, Rupert Cadell is only twenty-nine-years-old and he is the current teacher of only Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo. In this movie, Rupert looks like he is at least around the age of mid forties. Rupert had been the teacher of Brandon Shaw, Philip Morgan, Kenneth Lawrence, and David Kentley. In this movie, Rupert is currently a publisher.
The Zodiac signs that Mrs. Atwater states for the movie actors and actresses she discusses are in each case correct: James Mason really was a Taurus, Cary Grant a Capricorn, and Ingrid Bergman a Virgo. Mrs. Atwater also identifies Phillip as a Cancer (Moon Child), which Farley Granger was in real-life.
The play, originally titled "Rope" when it premiered in London, was re-titled "Rope's End" when it went to Broadway. The Broadway play "Rope's End" opened on September 19, 1929 at the Theatre Masque (now called the John Golden Theatre) and ran for one hundred performances.
Although this movie was based on the play by Patrick Hamilton, it may have been also based on an incident that happened in Sir Alfred Hitchcock's life. There was an assassination scene in Foreign Correspondent (1940). Hitchock heard that this assassination scene was copied in real-life to kill someone at a place called Tarahan. This incident was mentioned by Hitchcock in Tomorrow Coast to Coast (1973).
With James Stewart, Sir Alfred Hitchcock made a very different Rupert Cadell for this movie. In the play, Cadell is only twenty-nine-years-old. In the play, Rupert had an affair with one of his students. Rupert is the teacher of only Wyndham Brandon (Brandon Shaw in the movie) and Charles Granillo (Philip Morgan in the movie) in the play. In the movie, Rupert was the "past" teacher of Brandon Shaw, Philip Morgan, Kenneth Lawrence, and David Kentley. In the movie, Rupert looks like he is at least in his mid forties. In the movie, Rupert is currently a publisher, has a romantic relationship with Mrs. Wilson, and has plans of marrying her in the future. In the play, there is no Mrs. Wilson. Instead of Mrs. Wilson, there is a thirty-five-year-old French servant named Mr. Sabot.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
At the end of the movie, Rupert tells Brandon how Brandon gave his words a meaning that he never dreamed of, and how Brandon tried to twist them into a cold, logical excuse for his ugly murder. Rupert goes on to say that there must have been something deep inside Brandon from the very start that let him do this thing, but there's always been something deep inside Rupert that would never let him do it. This is interesting to note, because when Rupert tells that he is going to open the chest, Brandon tells Rupert "This has nothing to do with you." Brandon also knew that Rupert often picked words for sound rather than meaning. When Rupert was drinking alcohol while sitting on the chair, Brandon tells him "You often pick words for sound rather than meaning."