After watching Alfred Hitchcock's 1951 film Strangers on a Train I realized I had only ever seen one of his other films, Torn Curtain (1966). I have seen parts of Veritgo (1958), North by Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960). For the longest time my only knowledge of Strangers on a Train was from an episode of CSI on television! The film is based on a 1950 novel by Patricia Highsmith, who also wrote the novel The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955). The film stars Robert Walker and Farley Granger as two men who meet on a train and concoct a wild plan to commit murders for each other. The opening scene of the films features two pairs of feet entering the train station from opposite directions. Strangers on a Train is well known for its use of doubles, which highlights the central theme of crisscrossing. Strangers on a Train is an intelligent thriller with two wonderful lead actors and Hitchcock's expect understanding of scene and detail, which he uses to maintain the tension throughout the film up to its infamous climax.
Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is an amateur tennis star who wants to divorce his wife Miriam (Kasey Rogers) so he can marry Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), the beautiful and rich daughter of a senator. On the train he meets Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker), a who approaches Guy and claims to be a fan. Bruno tells Guy that he has heard about his marital problems in the gossip columns and then tells Guy about his plan for a perfect murder. Guy would kill Bruno's father and Bruno would kill Miriam, and since the two men are strangers neither will be suspected of the crime. Guy visits his wife and is expecting to meet a divorce lawyer and instead Miriam takes his money and refuses to grant him a divorce, adding that no one will approve of a senator's daughter having an affair with a married man. Bruno eventually murders Miriam and Guy is unable to provide a solid alibi. Guy, angry and upset that Bruno assumed that he had agreed to the plan, refuses to perform his end of the bargain. Bruno then makes a series of intrusive appearances in Guy's life, putting Anne and her family at risk.
It is unclear at the beginning whether or not Bruno is mentally unstable, though by the end it is perfectly clear that he is a psychopath. You cannot help but envision yourself in the same situation and wonder whether you would follow through with your end of the murder. There are some marvelous scenes in the film: while Guy is playing a tennis match the spectators heads move back and forth with the flow of the game, except for Bruno, whose eyes remain fixed on Guy. It is that minute detail that makes Hitchcock's film a terrific thriller and makes you even more aware of Bruno's increasing instability. The film's climax, set at the fairground where Bruno murdered Miriam, includes a runaway merry-go-round which did not use special effects and could have killed the stunt man. Roger Ebert argues in his review that there is an unstated sexual tension between Bruno and Guy. I am not positive that I agree, but it is makes me want to watch the film again and pay more attention to Bruno. I agree that Bruno may be gay, and that the reason he wants to kill his father is because of his objections to his lifestyle. Strangers on a Train may not be as good as my favourite classic thriller, Wait Until Dark (1967), but it is an expert thriller from a director that understands every aspect of a film.
My rating: 4 stars out of 4.