Retro Review: Strangers on a Train

By: Emily Kellas

Rating: 7 out of 10

Alfred Hitchcock has the innate ability to make anything frightening. Remember when you use to be able to take a shower without glaring wide-eyed at the curtain waiting for an ominous shadow? Or perhaps you were a fan of our feathered friends until you saw The Birds? Well I hope you don’t love a good ride on a Merry-Go-Round because after watching his 1951 film Strangers on a Train, your ride will be anything but merry. Staring Farley Granger and Robert Walker, Strangers on a Train examines what exactly hatred can do to the human psyche.

Guy Haines (Farley Granger), an up-and-coming tennis star, and Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) are simple strangers when they meet briefly on a routine train ride. After striking up conversation with Guy, Bruno unleashes an idea he has been mulling over. Since the men were strangers, they could swap murders (Bruno’s father, Guy’s wife), and with no motive for the killings, both parties would walk away free men. Although he wants his cheating and manipulative wife out of the picture, Guy wants nothing to do with it. Where Bruno’s desire to get rid of his abusive father is too overwhelming to resist. As the plot unfolds, a murder is committed, and lives are turned upside down.

Truly a great thriller, Strangers on a Train keeps you guessing throughout. The film is littered with telltale Hitchcock signs including, the Bernard Herrmann score, the addition of his daughter Patty Hitchcock as Barbara Morton, the sequence of stellar shots in the final fight scene, and of course, his own brief appearance. The choice to shoot the film in black and white, always a deliberate action by Hitchcock, gave it a certain film noir attitude. With many of the scenes taking place at night, stalking about in the shadows, the audience is transported into an unfamiliar, and certainly unsafe environment.

Hitchcock elements aside the story and plot itself add interest. Robert Walker as the demented Bruno plays the psychosis part to a tee. Equal parts pathetic, and morbid Bruno is placed among the list of complicated Hitchcock characters. It is Farley Granger as Guy that doesn’t thrill me. I didn’t feel as sympathetic towards him as I felt I should. His playboy good looks seemed to play against him. The character of Guy, in order to be deemed likable by audiences, needs to be able overcome the fact that he too has cheated on his wife, while simultaneously proving his helplessness in the situation Bruno has forced him into. Farley Granger, for me, doesn’t do that.

What is impressive about the film is, of course, the final fight scene. Now I won’t give it all away but lets just say, If Merry-Go-Rounds went this fast when I was a kid I would have some amount of brain damage. With a sequence of quick cuts, and a variety of angles and point of views, the scene does exactly what Hitchcock, I’m sure, wanted, confuse and disorient. Those prone to motion sickness beware.

I could go on about anything and everything Hitchcock, but I’ll refrain, for today anyway. Although not noted as one of his best, Strangers on a Train is certainly an entertaining addition to the Hitchcock filmography. If anything it is a film your mother would appreciate, as her overbearing advice rings eerily true, “never talk to strangers.”

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