Thursday, 11 May 2017

Strangers on a Train (1951)

Fig 1 - Strangers on a Train Poster
Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, based on the 1950 novel by Patricia Highsmith, tells the story of a fortuitous meeting between two individuals who become entwined in a murder plot. Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) recognises Guy Haines (Farley Granger) from media coverage of him as a small-time tennis player, appearing to know plenty about his much publicised private affairs. Bruno is clearly a charismatic character and persuades Guy to join him for lunch in his private compartment. Having discussed Guy's wishes to divorce his promiscuous wife and Bruno's disdain for his own father, Bruno proposes the two of them should 'take care' of one another's problem. With no connection between the two, he suggests that it would be the perfect crime. However, Guy is reluctant to take him seriously and, having parted ways, Bruno takes it upon himself to carry out the murder anyway. Now it is up to Bruno to convince Guy to do the same for him, or else face much graver consequences.

The film would stand as Robert Walker's final big-screen success before dying tragically at the age of thirty-two in the year of it's release. Walker's ludicrously droll performance absolutely steals the show here, with bourgeois mother's-boy Bruno Anthony dominating every second of screen-time. His underlying creepiness and overuse of Guy's name reminded me to some extent of Kathy Bates' character in Misery (1990), another story in which an obsessive fan manages to entrap a famous person. In addition, he is responsible for some of the film's most gripping scenes. One of which has Bruno schmooze his way into a party in order to distress Guy with his presence, culminating in a discussion about murder with two other guests. In demonstrating how strangulation can prevent oneself from screaming, Bruno is triggered by a guest who bares a striking resemblance to his victim earlier in the film. Moments later, he is seen genuinely strangling the woman as his gaze becomes withdrawn, bringing much attention to himself. This scene primarily highlights the opposing sides of Bruno's personality and turned a charming conversation into something very uncomfortable to watch, which I wasn't adverse to in the slightest.

Fig 2 - Strangers on a Train - Guy and Bruno meet
Furthermore, the film contains some fantastic visuals by Hitchcock in conjunction with cinematographer Robert Burks. The director was meticulous in outlining his films through story-boards long before production began, which was then brought to life by Burks when it came to shooting. There are many parallels to the notion of 'crossing paths', with shots of train lines diverging, right down to the colliding tennis rackets on Guy's coveted lighter. The use of reflection in the central victim's glasses is also taken advantage of throughout. We only witness the initial murder through reflection and subsequently, Bruno is haunted by his offering of a lighter in the glasses of the resembling party guest. It is small notions like these that cement Hitchcock's vision in cinematic history, particularly since they would have been much more problematic to achieve during this period.

Overall, I thought Strangers on a Train was excellently performed and masterfully adapted. It has some genuine laughs backed up by moments of intensity and moves with a fluidity that I yearn for when settling into a film. For my money, it is one of the better Hitchcock productions to grace his filmography and still proves itself to be a classic nearly seventy years later.


Fig. 1 Strangers on a Train Poster (1951) From: Strangers on a Train - Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Fig. 2 Strangers on a Train Screenshot (1951) From: Strangers on a Train - Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

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