#263 Strangers On A Train

(1951, Alfred Hitchcock)
“My theory is that everyone is a potential murderer”

Hello I am a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies and this is often considered one of his best. Therefore today I am going to replace my normal review with a single sentence that says “it’s a Hitchcock movie, so yes”.

That’s a copout? Dammit. Fine, I’ll write a proper review. But only if you murder someone for me.

No, not really. But that is the plot of Strangers On A Train. Tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is looking to divorce his cheating wife Miriam (Laura Elliot) so that he can marry the more elegant Anne Morton (Ruth Roman). On a train journey, he meets a man named Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker), and the two get talking. In the process, Bruno suggests the perfect murder – Bruno murders Miriam, Guy murders Bruno’s father, and neither will ever be suspected. Guy is naturally reluctant, but Bruno goes ahead and executes his part of the “deal”, and now expects Guy to uphold his end of the bargain.

When I first heard about the movie, the concept seemed incredibly implausible – who in their right mind would agree to commit murder with a random person on a train? But once I started watching, it made sense. One man is crazy and openly admitting to psychopathic tendencies and the other is reluctant and doesn’t know what to do about him, getting himself unwittingly involved in a murder without knowing.

The concept even manages to address its single plot hole – why doesn’t Guy just go to the police after some random man starts talking to him about murder? Granger’s performance makes it pretty clear that Guy is the kind of man who’d simply prefer to pretend it never happened, and that he was too awkward to approach the police. The fact this can be picked up rather subtly is a testament to the performances here.

Aside from Granger, who is an excellent everyman and hugely sympathetic for the bizarre situation he’s found himself in, Walker is also utterly terrifying as Bruno. He’s alarmingly polite and charming with an unmistakeable sinister edge, and he’s creepy as hell.

There are times, however, when he’s a little too over-the-top. There’s a scene at a party that Guy is attending and Bruno decides to crash where the latter skulks about being noticeably odd (which is commented on by other attendees) and even attempts to strangle a woman, but still escapes scot-free. It’s bizarre.

Then again, the conversation with the women that led to the strangling was hugely weird anyway. Casually discussing murder as if it’s some jolly romp and then allowing a random man to demonstrate strangling techniques on you is some strange form of ignorance that could only possibly exist in an alien civilisation that has no concept of murder or, I don’t know, the issues of letting a stranger put his hands on your neck!

Oddly enough, though, that scene was my only complaint. As is typical with Hitchcock movies, Strangers On A Train is tense and mysterious, drawing suspense not from a whodunit, but from wondering exactly what will happen to Guy if he doesn’t hold his end of the supposed deal. Will he do it? Will he try and escape? Where will this dangerous game lead?

And it all builds up to an incredibly dramatic climax involving a thrilling fight on an out-of-control carousel. It’s a little silly, but Hitchcock made it work within the film’s universe. The ending was also immensely satisfying and the final scene was another fine example of Hitchcock’s dark humour, and I loved it.

That said, it wasn’t as good as The Birds, Psycho, Rear Window or even Frenzy, but it certainly felt more tightly-woven together than Vertigo or Spellbound. It’s definitely somewhere in the middle, and it’s another example of why Hitchcock was one of the greatest directors of all time.

Starring Farley Granger, Ruth Roman & Robert Walker
Written by Patricia Highsmith (novel) and Whitfield Cooke, Czenzi Ormonde & Raymond Chandler
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock
Music by Dimitri Tomikin
Cinematography by Robert Burks
Edited by William H. Ziegler

Favourite Scene: When Guy appears to agree to hold up his end of the “bargain”, the movie is just dripping in tension and gluing me to the screen.
Scene That Bugged Me: That damn strangling scene! No, not the actual murder, the other scene!

Watch it if: You like Hitchcock, obviously
Avoid it if: You, for some reason, don’t like murder thrillers (what’s wrong with you?)

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Posted on March 6, 2014, in 1950s, Crime, Thriller and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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