Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan are the main antagonists of Rope, a 1948 American thriller film - which was based upon a much older play of the same name which was said to be inspired by the real-life murder of 14-year-old Bobby Franks in 1924 by University of Chicago students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb.
Two brilliant young aesthetes, Brandon Shaw (Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Granger), perpetrate murder: they strangle to death a former classmate, David Kentley (Dick Hogan), in their apartment. They commit the crime as an intellectual exercise; they want to prove their superiority by committing the "perfect murder".
After hiding the body in a large antique wooden chest, Brandon and Phillip host a dinner party at the apartment which has a panoramic view of Manhattan's skyline. The guests, unaware of what has happened, include the victim's father Mr. Kentley (Cedric Hardwicke) and aunt Mrs. Atwater (Constance Collier); his mother is not able to attend. Also there is his fiancee, Janet Walker (Joan Chandler) and her former lover Kenneth Lawrence (Douglas Dick), who was once David's close friend.
James Stewart in the film's trailer
In a subtle move, Brandon uses the chest containing the body as a buffet for the food, just before their maid, Mrs. Wilson (Edith Evanson) arrives to help with the party. "Now the fun begins," Brandon says when the first guests arrive.
Brandon and Phillip's idea for the murder was inspired years earlier by conversations with their erstwhile prep-school housemaster, publisher Rupert Cadell (Stewart). While at school, Rupert had discussed with them, in an apparently approving way, the intellectual concepts of Nietzsche's Übermensch and the art of murder, a means of showing one's superiority over others. He too is among the guests at the party, since Brandon in particular feels that he would very likely approve of their "work of art".
Brandon's subtle hints about David's absence indirectly lead to a discussion on the art of murder. Brandon appears calm and in control, although when he first speaks to Rupert he is nervously excited and stammering. Phillip, on the other hand, is visibly upset and morose. He does not conceal it well and starts to drink too much. When David's aunt, Mrs. Atwater, who fancies herself as a fortune-teller, tells him that his hands will bring him great fame, she is referring to his skill at the piano, but he appears to think that the "fame" will in fact be the notoriety gained from being caught.
Much of the conversation, however, focuses on David and his strange absence, which worries the guests. A suspicious Rupert quizzes a fidgety Phillip about this and about some of the inconsistencies that have been raised in conversation. For example, Phillip had vehemently denied ever strangling a chicken at the Shaws’ farm, but Rupert has personally seen Phillip strangle several. Phillip later complains to Brandon about having had a "rotten evening", not because of David's murder, but over Rupert's questioning.
Emotions run high. David's father and fiancée are disturbed, wondering why he has neither arrived nor phoned. Brandon increases the tension by playing matchmaker between Janet and Kenneth.
Mrs. Kentley calls, overwrought because she has not heard from David, and Mr. Kentley decides to leave. He takes with him some books Brandon has given him, tied together with the rope Brandon and Phillip used to strangle his son.
While leaving Rupert is handed the wrong hat, which has the monogram "D.K." inside it. Rupert returns to the apartment a short while after everyone else has departed, pretending that he has absentmindedly left his cigarette case behind. He secretes the case, asks for a drink and then stays to theorize about the disappearance of David. He is encouraged by Brandon, who seems eager to have Rupert discover the crime. A tipsy Phillip is unable to take it any more; he throws a glass and says, "Cat and mouse, cat and mouse. But which is the cat and which is the mouse?"
Rupert lifts the lid of the chest and finds the body inside. He is horrified but also deeply ashamed, realizing that they used his own rhetoric to rationalize murder. Rupert seizes Brandon's gun and fires several shots into the night in order to attract attention. The film segues to the end titles with the sound of approaching police sirens.
- In the original play, they were named Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo.<null>
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