WARNER BROS. (1951)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman
Strangers on a Train. A literal title, two strangers meet on a train and one cooks up a devious plan for the two of them, that's your gist. Guy (Granger) is a tennis player in a tumultuous relationship and Bruno is a carefree opportunist. Pairing the two together along with the fine story, Hitchcock has created a thrilling picture of suspense, deceit and, importantly, intelligence.
At no real point during the film did I believe the plot became unnatural, with all of the potential escapes for the unfortunate Guy being covered by the wily Bruno’s cunning foresight – his plan was so tight Guy simply couldn’t just call the police or even make flight, Bruno would find him.
In one of his final roles before his untimely passing, Robert Walker excels as the psychopath Bruno Anthony. He is always on hand to charm his way into Guy’s head, attempting to force murder onto him in a flippant manner, Walker portrays the villain of the piece as sympathetic and not entirely corrupt, even if his intention are
Walker has the ability to shoot an unnerving, cold stare at whoever is unfortunate enough to be his subject, and throughout the duration, this was utilized to great effect. On the flipside, he seemed equally as comfortable displaying Bruno’s lighter side, regaling party guests dressed in showy clothing, proudly displaying the characters homoerotic undertones. It is a brilliant portrayal of a chilling villain.
As the softer of the two, Farley Granger gives a great performance of a man completely entrenched in a scheme he has no want to be involved with, attempting to slip away from Bruno’s advances throughout. Guy's resolve is tested throughout, and Granger depicts this tension throughout with a tired determination. As the dashing playboy, it would be easy to dislike the idea of the character, however Granger gives a congenial, believable performance which leaves the viewer rooting for him towards the end.
Ruth Roman smoulders as Anne, the senator’s daughter and Guy’s lover/bit on the side. Far from being portrayed as the hapless damsel, it is Anne who shows Guy the way and sets up the transition from second act to final act. Roman was not Hitchcock’s choice, he believed her to be “too attractive and distracting” for the role, however the studio prevailed, and Hitchcock made it abundantly clear whilst filming that she was not his choice. This doesn’t come across in her fine performance thankfully.
The idea of ”criss-crossing” and doubles is prevalent throughout, from the opening shots of the two men’s shoes, to the overlapping train tracks, the double drinks order, doubles tennis mentions, two men with Miriam at the carnival – the list is long, not including the actual mentions of criss-crossing by Bruno. The theme is layered throughout the movie, performing an almost subtle role in drawing the viewer further in.
Alfred Hitchcock was always a maestro of creating superb visual shots, and in Strangers on a Train this is especially true. The intense shot on the secluded Island of Love, reflected through Miriam’s discarded glasses is a beautifully shot scene, utilising trickery of the times to create a chilling visual and allowing the glasses to become a bigger plot device. As Bruno is later loitering outside of Guy’s house, his shadowy appearance is impaired by the thick iron bars before him, as Guy is facing him across the street bathed in light – but as the police turn up, they both end up hiding behind the bars in a skilful visual sequence. For me, the standout shot of the movie was something much simpler. As Guy is courtside at a tennis match, his eyes move to the crowd, and every head is following the game from left to right, left to right – except one, as Bruno is staring straight at Guy, motionless and chilling.
The conclusion is a frantic dash to the scene of the crime, as both men attempt to reach the island first, with Guy having to outflank his police supervision also. Set on a breakneck carousel, the action comes to a head in exhilarating fashion. The direction of the scene is great and the editing spot on, capturing the frenetic nature of the events with great additional background character shots spliced into the main sequences.
One point, imagine a policeman firing a gun through a crowded carousel, full of children, nowadays?
Strangers on a Train takes a good novel and creates a great film, with compelling characters, an intriguing narrative, layers of depth and details and one that grips the viewer throughout. Hitchcock returned to form with this movie, and I, for one, am very grateful that he did.
A masterpiece in thrilling storytelling.
August 24th 2016