Old 04-08-2009, 05:24 PM
Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train

Strangers on a Train (1951)

Alfred Hitchcock is probably the most well-known director of all time. Who among us is not able to name at least half a dozen Hitchcock films at the drop of a hat? It's true that everyone has their own favorite, but it's hardly arguable to debate that the man was a genius. In "Strangers on a Train," he takes a very simple idea and delivers a bizarre story of madness and revenge.

While on a train trip, Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is approached by Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker), a strange fellow who seems to know everything about Guy. After striking up an uneasy conversation, Bruno invites Guy to dine in his cabin. After dinner, Bruno begins talking about how much he hates his father and eventually gets to the point of his discourse.

He puts forth the proposition that he will kill Guy's wife, Miriam (Kasey Rogers), who has been very unfaithful and wants a divorce, so that Guy can marry Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), but Guy must kill Mr. Anthony (Jonathan Hale), Bruno's father. They will "swap murders," as Bruno puts it, so that neither of them will be suspected. Guy thinks Bruno is joking of course and doesn't give it another thought, but when Bruno goes through with his part of the plan by killing Miriam, he anxiously awaits Guy to fulfill his part of the bargain.

Hitchcock is, and will probably be forever known as, "The Master of Suspense," and he delivers a lot of it here, though most of it is contained in the third act. It is certainly the most suspense I've seen built up during a tennis match, but this is mainly because Hitchcock intercuts the match with footage of what is happening elsewhere at the same time, all for the purpose of setting up the big finale.

It is interesting to imagine if the plan of swapping murders would have actually worked. We never do get to see if it does work for these characters because of one major flaw in the plan: Guy never actually agrees to be a part of it. This throws a rather large wrench into Bruno's plans as he was hoping that Guy would kill his father. This is where the revenge element comes into play, allowing for the suspense to begin its slow build.

This is also what led to what I found to be one of the strangest features of Bruno's character. He is the least subtle murderer that I have ever seen on film. This began with the scene in which Bruno stalks Miriam at the amusement park. He follows her rather closely; close enough for her to even notice him, but she continually shrugs it off. After the murder is done, he starts popping up around Guy quite often, drawing a lot of attention to himself as he tries to integrate himself among Guy's family and friends.

The strangest instance of his lack of subtlety comes when Bruno attends a party at which Bruno, Anne, and her family are at. Bruno begins openly discussing murder with some elderly ladies, asking them how they would go about committing one. He even goes as far as to demonstrate how to choke one of them to show them that they wouldn't be able to call out for help. This was a rather poor move because he had killed Miriam by strangling her, and when giving the demonstration, Anne's sister notices and immediately gets suspicious.

The ending was quite a wild ride, not only for the audience, but for the characters as well. The final scenes in the amusement park are really well done, not only because they are exciting, but because they are built up to really well. The suspense doesn't just happen all at once like it could have, but the slow build up from somewhere in the second act allows us to enjoy it a lot more. Aside from that, a fight on a fast-moving merry-go-round is a very unique setting for a climax.

Farley Granger and Robert Walker do a great job as Guy and Bruno. They never play their characters as over the top and always keep a firm grip on the personality of their character. Hitchcock, as he often did, has his brief cameo as a man carrying a large instrument while getting onto the train near the beginning. He took the fascinating idea of swapping murder from a book by Patricia Highsmith and turned it into a fascinating flick with plenty of suspense. If they had done something to decrease the lack of subtlety in Walker's character, I probably would have liked it a little more, but as it stands, it is still a great example of a master auteur's work. 3/4 stars.
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