Sunday, 2 October 2016

Strangers on a Train

Year of Release:  1951
Director:  Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay:  Raymond Chandler, Whitfield Cook and Czenzi Ormonde, based on the novel Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
Starring:  Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker, Leo G. Carroll, Patricia Hitchcock
Running Time:  101 minutes
Genre:  crime thriller

Guy Haines (Granger), an amateur tennis star, wants to marry senator's daughter Anne Morton (Roman), and pursue a political career.  First of all, though, he has to get a divorce from his unfaithful wife, Miriam (Laura Elliott).  On a train he chances to meet charismatic psychopath Bruno Anthony (Walker).  The two fall into conversation, and Bruno proposes that they "swap murders", he will kill Guy's wife, if Guy will kill Bruno's hated father.  His theory being that if there is no connection between the murderer and the victim, than there is much less chance of the killer being caught.   Bruno succeeds in killing Miriam, and then tries to force Guy to complete hi side of the bargain.

This film, based on the debut novel of celebrated crime author Patricia Highsmith, has an arresting premise that has been reused several times in movies and television shows.  It features one of the most memorable set pieces in Hitchcock's work, the prolonged stalking and murder of Miriam at a  fairground, the murder itself being shown as a reflection in Miriam's discarded glasses.  It also works with the cat and mouse game between Guy and Bruno, as Bruno stalks Guy and tries to convince him to fulfill his side of the deal.      It's at it's weakest in the family scenes with Guy and his girlfriend Anne, and her father (Leo G. Carroll).  Anne is kind of a dull character who is really only there as a love interest, and her father has nothing to do at all, he's kind of a sober, wet blanket who is only there to dispense sage advice.  As Anne's kid sister, Barbara, Patricia Hitchcock (the director's daughter) provides most of the humour.  Farley Granger is good as the everyman caught in a vortex of suspicion and paranoia as he becomes a murder suspect while being stalked at every turn by the implacable Bruno.  As the charming but ruthless murderer, Robert Walker brings a  touch of humour to Bruno, who is one of Hitchcock's most sinister villains.  From the very strange relationship he has with his doting mother, to his relentless pursuit of Guy, Bruno is a very ambiguous character. He is also as obviously gay as a character could be back in 1951
This is a suspenseful tale, stylishly told. If the pacing slows down towards the middle it is more than made up for with a thrilling climax.  Look out for Hitchcock's cameo as a man exiting a train carrying a double bass early in the film.

    Farley Granger and Robert Walker are Strangers on a Train

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