Strangers on a Train

11/19/2018 07:17

Film: Strangers on a Train

Year: 1951

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writer: Raymond Chandler and Czenzi Ormonde

Starring: Farley Granger, Robert Walker and Ruth Roman



I originally saw this film when I had decided to check out the filmography for Alfred Hitchcock. After my original viewing, I found it interesting, but not my favorite by him. Every October, the Gateway Film Center was shows some of his films, so I decided to check this one out again. It isn’t necessarily horror, but I think after reading this, you will see why I lump it in. I’ve now given it another viewing as part of Where to Begin with Film Noir/Neo-Noir for the TPUTS Collective. The official synopsis is a psychotic socialite tries to force a professional tennis star to prove a theory that two complete strangers can get away with murder.

For this film, we start on a train as it is leaving Washington D.C. Two strangers bump their legs together. One of them is a semi-pro tennis player, Guy Haines (Farley Granger), who is keeping to himself. The other man is Bruno Antony (Robert Walker). Despite what he says, he sparks up conversation with Guy and convinces him to have lunch in his car.

It is here that we realize Bruno knows quite a bit about Guy from the newspapers. He knows that he is married, but that he is trying to get a divorce to marry the daughter of a senator. Bruno proposes killing Guy’s wife and having Guy kill his father. He thinks that this removes the motive and they both get away with it. Guy laughs it off as he gets off the train. The problem is that he leaves a lighter behind that his girlfriend gave to him.

Guy is in the town he’s from to meet with his wife, Miriam Joyce Haines (Kasey Rogers). During this interaction, we see she isn’t ready to get a divorce like she said. The movie sets up she isn’t a good person as she is pregnant with another man’s baby. She is going out on dates with multiple men. Guy is furious and tells his girlfriend, Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), how he wishes he could strangle her neck over the phone.

That is exactly what happens when Bruno goes to Guy’s hometown. He then starts to stalk Guy to get him to hold his end of the bargain. The police finger Guy as the prime suspect for the murder. We get to learn more about Bruno and that there’s something not quite right about him. He threatens Guy that if he doesn’t kill his father, he’ll frame him in as the murderer of Miriam.

That should be enough of fleshing out the story. To really understand this film, I had to try to think about the implications of the time. The first thing is that forensic evidence isn’t what is today. I did find a big plot hole that Bruno is going to leave the lighter at the scene of the crime days after it happened. I would assume that area would be canvassed extensively for evidence. There also isn’t a lot of evidence pointing to Guy aside from him wanting a divorce. I would think that they would need a little more to be that sure he was the killer. Some of this is earlier cinema and Guy is panicking a bit. Heck, the police think he was in on it so I get that angle as well.

What I will say is that this has good pacing. There is a feeling of dread that comes from how creepy Bruno is. Once he throws the idea out, we laugh it out. When we see what he does, that starts to build. There is an iconic scene at a tennis practice. Everyone is watching the ball while he is intently staring at Guy. It is part funny, but also quite creepy. I thought the ending sequence was pretty good as well. It is convenient how things play out, but I’ve seen much worse.

Going along with that, we get good as well. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Granger. He comes off as moody. I didn’t connect with him outside I didn’t want him framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Other than that, he isn’t overly likeable to me. Now his girlfriend Roman was. I like the realism that she isn’t sure about Guy until she sees the evidence. Someone who was great was Walker. I thought as the psychopath he was close to perfect. His stare is eerie and we see how unhinged he is. Seeing how far he will go builds tension as well. I love when he stares at the Anne’s younger sister, Barbara (Patricia Hitchcock), and he loses control. The reason this happens is interesting. She also adds a fascinating dimension. She is into true crime so she is constantly bringing up examples or things she’s read. I thought the rest of the cast, including Patricia, rounded out the film just fine for what they needed.

There wasn’t a lot in the way of effects for the film, but for the most part Hitchcock didn’t really need to use a lot since it was based more on the story. We get some good cinematography here. I come to expect that from Hitchcock movies, but I wanted to give it credit. The composition of the focus really has a lot of depth to them. He also selected some interesting shots. I did notice on my 4K television the use of green screen for things. It doesn’t hurt the movie for me but wanted to bring that up as a nitpick.

Now with that said, this movie is an interesting film noir. We are dealing with a man who murdered someone and then is pushing someone to commit one for them. Bruno is insane and the lengths that he goes to create a growing sense of dread. To go with that, he is driving Guy into madness. I thought the story was interesting despite some minor plot holes. I thought the acting was pretty good as was the look of the film. There weren’t much in the way of effects and the score didn’t necessarily stand out, but I won’t hold either against this film. I don’t think it is his best, but it is still an above average film.


My Rating: 7.5 out of 10