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One would have expected Hitchcock's return to major studio filmmaking to err
on the side of chastened caution. Surely few expected his most riotous,
unrestrained film, a gleeful melange of vicious black comedy, exciting
suspense, mocking manipulation, and astonishing flights of fancy. But that
is precisely what they got: STRANGERS ON A TRAIN.
What is remarkable is how much Bruno's transgression disrupts the world of the film. Much has been made of the masterly crosscutting motif, but its immediate effect is to completely obstruct the straight line of progress Guy is making of his life, and hence the society he represents or is eager to join. Guy is the archetypal American, the working-class boy made good, moving in influential circles, athletic, successful, handsome. Bruno is his destructive opposite, gay, decadent, 'European' (he lives off his father, in a Big House, and just lounges about dreaming of murder). Bruno's life is one of repetition, circularity, whereas Guy moves straight ahead. It is Bruno's achievement to move Guy into his realm (represented by the merry-go-round) and force HIM to transgress (break the law, hope for murder (Bruno's)).
Bruno is quite literally fighting patriarchy. All the authority figures in the film are criticised - Bruno's father, a man whose brutality we get a glimpse of, but the true horror of which is constantly alluded to in the film (especially in Aunt Clara's paintings - that incredibly intense negative energy must come from somewhere); Anna's incredibly Machiavellian, self-serving father; the insensitive judge who thinks nothing of lunching after an execution; the tennis commentator whose smugly authorative comments are always mistaken. Far from being the mother-hater of legend, Hitch, as Robin Wood perceived, is deeply hostile to fathers and patriarchy.
Bruno's transgression turns the world topsy-turvy. This is Hitch's most surreal film. Whenever Guy is in his plot, he is filmed straight, with conventionally romantic music. But whenever Bruno intrudes, the atmosphere becomes carnivalesque, bizarre, much more fun. This is Hitch's first truly American film, revelling in the primitive detritus of Americana. Grown men puncture little boys' balloons, or try to throw them off merry-go-rounds. Distinguished professors of mathematics sing about goats on trains. Elderly society matrons are strangled at elegant soirees. Washington is filmed like a series of spare lines in a vast desert under a huge sky, like a haunting Dali painting. There is one of the greatest, and funniest, scenes in all cinema when we see a motionless, smiling Bruno in a sea of turning heads at a tennis match, an image worthy of Magritte. Just look at any scene with Bruno in it, and watch it derail into the bizarre.
Phalluses abound in the most ridiculous permutations - check all those balloons (Hitch had obviously just seen THE THIRD MAN) - as well as in more staid environs: Washington will never look the same again. STRANGERS is also, VERTIGO notwithstanding, Hitch's most overtly sexual film - as well as the phalluses, there is the sustained homoeroticism, the remarkable play with 'riding' horses; the gobsmacking fellatio joke when Hitch's daughter spills powder over the policeman.
And yet Hitch doesn't stint on good old suspense. In the very proper endeavour to show what a great artist he was, critics tend to overlook what made him famous in the first place. Much has been made of Bruno as a prototype of Norman Bates, and Hitch plays merry havoc on audience identification, willing Bruno into murder. There is a hilariously painful sequence where Bruno loses the lighter with which he intends to frame Guy down a drain. The gasps of tension and sighs of relief on the part of the audience I was a part of in support of an insane murderer is inherently funny, slightly disturbing, and highly revealing about our true reactions to conformity and success. And Hitch milks it with callous glee - listen to the mocking music and exagerrated compositions, and kick yourself for taking it all so seriously.
STRANGERS is one of Hitch's five best films, and therefore one of the greatest things in cinema. The dialogue is so strange and brilliant, I can't believe it wasn't written by Chandler. Patricia Hitchcock is a wonderful imp, standing in for her cheeky father as she taunts Guy. The fairground finale is a remarkable, dizzying fusion of exciting, tense set-piece, black comedy and symbolic site. If Bruno's final words condemn him to hell (according to the Catholic precepts Hitch is supposed to embody: compare with a similar ending in THE KILLERS), we applaud his integrity, infinitely preferable to Guy's debased serving of self.
Alfred Hitchcock has made many brilliant thrillers, and many of them
have gone on to be hailed as some of the greatest films of all time.
One film that tends to get somewhat lost under the Vertigo's and the
Psycho's is this film; Strangers on a Train, the most compelling film
that Hitchcock ever made. The story follows Guy Haines, a tennis player
and a man soon to be wed to the Senator's daughter, if he can get a
divorce from his current wife. One day, on the way to see his wife, he
meets the mentally unstable Bruno Anthony aboard a train and soon gets
drawn into a murder plot that he can neither stop nor stall; and one
that could ultimately cost him his life.
The conversation aboard the train between Bruno and Guy is one of the cinema's most intriguing and thought provoking of all time. What if two people "swapped" murders, thus resolving themselves of all suspicion of the crime, and rendering their motive irrelevant? Could this truly be the perfect murder? What makes this film all the more frightening is that the events that Guy is lead into could happen to any, normal everyday person. Everyone has someone they'd like to get rid of, so what if you met an insane man aboard a train that does your murder for you and then forces you to do his? The chances of it happening are unlikely, but it's the idea that anyone could be a murderer that is central to the message of Strangers on a Train; and in this situation, anyone could.
Is there any actor on earth that could have portrayed the character of Bruno Anthony any better than Robert Walker? The man was simply born for the part. He manages to capture just the right mood for his character and absolutely commands every scene he is in. The character of Bruno is a madman, but he's not a lunatic; he's a calculating, conniving human being and Robert Walker makes the character believable. His performance is extremely malevolent, and yet understated enough to keep the character firmly within the realms of reality. Unfortunately, Robert Walker died just one year after the release of Strangers on a Train, and I believe that is a great loss to cinema. Nobody in the cast shines as much as Walker does, but worth mentioning is his co-star Farley Granger. Granger never really impresses that much, but his performance is good enough and he holds his own against Walker. Also notable about his performance is that he portrays his character as a very normal person; and that is how it should be. Ruth Roman is Guy's wife to be. She isn't really in the film enough to make a lasting impression, but she makes the best of what she has. Alfred Hitchcock's daughter, Patricia, takes the final role of the four central roles as Barbara, the sister of Guy's fiancé. She is suitably lovely in this role, and she tends to steal a lot of the scenes that she is in.
Alfred Hitchcock's direction is always sublime, and it is very much so in this film. There is one shot in particular, that sees the murder of the film being committed in the reflection of a pair of sunglasses. This is an absolutely brilliant shot, and one that creates a great atmosphere for the scene. Hitchcock's direction is moody throughout, and very much complies with the film noir style. The climax to the film is both spectacular and exciting, and I don't think that anyone but Hitchcock could have pulled it off to the great effect that it was shown in this film. It's truly overblown, and out of turn from the rest of the movie; but it works. There is a reason that Hitchcock is often cited as the greatest director of all time, and the reason for that is that he doesn't only use the script to tell the film's story, but he also uses to camera to do so as well. Strangers on a Train is one of the greatest thrillers ever made. Its story is both intriguing and thought provoking, and is sure to delight any fan of cinema. A masterpiece.
This is a little known Hitchcock movie but I think it is one of his best. I
like how he inserts humor into this crime drama. For example the small boy
pointing a gun at the Bruno character at the carnival and the Bruno
character popping his balloon with a lit cigarette. And there is the comic
scene at the tennis courts where the audience in unison moves there heads
back and forth following the ball except for Bruno who glances straight away
at the tennis player.
Hitchcock plays suspense masterfully as in the tunnel of love sequence early in the film. We know that Bruno plans to murder the woman and we 'see' that is why he is following her into the tunnel. We hear a scream and think the deed is done when voila! the girl comes sailing out with her two admirers. Then there is one of the finest scenes in all movie history: the final scene on the carousel. Hitchcock manages suspense on many non-stop levels: the two protagonists fighting each other, a small boy who nearly falls from the ride as it whirls at tremendous speed, and the elderly man who crawls beneath the carousel to try and get at the brakes. Although I think the end of the scene was a bit over the top it was masterful to that point and I will never forget it.
I was surprised to see Ruth Roman in the lead. Usually Hitchcock has blondes for his leads, but the commentator on the TMC channel told us Hitch had to use her because she was under contract to the studio where he filmed it.
I highly recommend this obscure Hitchcock masterpiece and give 9.99 out of 10.
"Strangers on a Train" was one of those film classics I had always
heard about but somehow never gotten around to actually seeing. I
finally watched it a few weeks ago and, as always with any Hitchcock
movie, it not only stood up to the test of time, it far surpassed most
thrillers being made today. You can see the inspiration for future
action movies here - the climactic ending with the out-of-control
merry-go-round and the two villains dueling each other reminded me of
the big action sequence at the end of Jan de Bont's "Speed." Of course,
"Strangers" is over forty years older than "Speed" and contains no
modern special effects, but the visceral thrill is there - Hitchcock
was a true genius.
The not-so-subtle gay side of Bruno (Robert Walker in an amazing performance) has taken form in many other psycho-stalker-figures in future movies. Consider him a male version of Jennifer Jason Leigh in "Single White Female." He knows about Guy before he even meets him on the train - we almost get the feeling their contact isn't incidental - and is soon entirely obsessed with him.
Hitchcock loved the Oedipial elements in his movies (also see "Psycho" for more blatant undertones) and there's a lot of that here. Bruno hates his father and wants him to die so he can be with his mother. His effeminate ways and obvious homosexuality must have just slipped by the censors in 1951, when gays were not "allowed" to be portrayed on the screen - yet Hitchcock gets the message through effectively when we see Bruno in the lounge on the telephone wearing a very non-masculine robe, flirting with Guy and responding to his mother.
The deep layers of this movie make it a fast-paced thriller than you can return to again and again - unfortunately it's being remade as a big-budget Hollywood production, but after seeing the original I honestly can't imagine anything surpassing the sheer white-knuckle thrills of this movie.
"Strangers on a Train" is a brilliant example of what Hitchcock could
do best, continually develop his plot and characters in an atmosphere
both creepy and humorous. The film has great dialogue, superb
characters, good acting, and naturally superb direction from the master
of suspense who is truly at his best here. Robert Walker's Bruno
Anthony is a character few will forget; he is creepy, psychopathic, and
as M. Night Shyamalan says on one of the DVD's special features it is
the fact that he has moral standards, however unconventional and
disturbed they may be, that makes him such a dangerous man.
Strangers is a truly involving film, one that takes you on a ride you won't forget anytime soon, it has one of the best examples of buildup you could find on film, and as soon as it ends the film takes you on a journey that entertains and terrifies and even makes you laugh. This is a truly brilliant example of film-making, every shot is drenched in suspense, every cut is masterful, every detail important, every second exciting, it never lets go till the very end, and what an ending that is, a delicious bit of humor that is perfectly in tone with the rest of this delightful masterpiece.
Some have criticized Farley Granger's performance as Guy Haines, but it really is quite perfect; he delivered all his lines well and makes us feel honestly sympathetic towards him. Robert Walker is simply genius as Bruno Anthony, a great character that wouldn't have been nearly as memorable without Robert Walker's devilishly evil portrayal of him. The supporting cast are good, Ruth Roman, Leo G. Carroll, Kasey Rogers, Howard St. John and Patricia Hitchcock all deliver good performances that enhance what was already a good film and make it a great film. Alfred Hitchcock's direction is, as always, sublime.
What makes "Strangers" so good is the simple plot. It isn't a complicated story, two strangers meet on a train, and one comes up with a crazy plot: "You do my murder, I do yours." One takes it as a joke and shrugs it off, but the other takes himself seriously and goes on to commit the murder he offered to, getting the 'good guy' into huge trouble. The script is adapted superbly well by Whitfield Cook from a novel by Patricia Highsmith.
This is really one of Hitchcock's most interesting films from a technical perspective while also providing more than enough laughs, suspense, and thrills to keep just about anybody engaged.
Usually, it is the other way around, but in this case, the movie is a major
improvement over the original book.
I had seen this wonderful movie at least a dozen times, before I managed to find a copy of the book it was taken from....the book has the same title and was written by Patricia Highsmith.
I scoured the used bookstores for years, before I finally found a copy, and because the movie was SO good, I could not wait to begin reading the story in its original version.
I was never so disappointed!
Not because the book is unreadable...but because Hitchcock made such vast improvements over the book that the book simply does not come close to measuring up to the movie version.
That said, let me now comment on Robert Walker's amazing performance as Bruno Antony.
This was Robert Walker's last completed performance...he died while shooting his final film, "My Son John," in August, 1951.
This role as Bruno was the performance of his career!
Perfect in every way.
The movie has been around now for nearly half a century. I see it every time it is shown on television, and I also watch the tape I have of it occasionally.
Robert Walker's performance only seems to improve with each new viewing.
I can not recommend this movie highly enough.
If Hitchcock and Robert Walker can read me, up there in heaven, let me congratulate them both on an absolutely superlative job!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Even though some unrealistic things happen at the end (i.e. a cop shooting a gun into a crowded merry-go-round where any number of innocent could be killed), this still was an intense, enjoyable thriller, one of Alfred Hitchcock's better films. Robert Walker is excellent as the chilling nutcase, really convincing giving a fascinating performance that is almost too creepy at times. His co-star in here, Farley Granger, is okay but is no match for Walker, either in acting or in the characters they play. It's the typical Hitchcock film with some strange camera angles, immoral themes, innocent man gets in trouble, etc. Unlike a lot of his other films, I thought this one was a fast-moving story with a very few dull spots. Being an ex-tennis player, I enjoyed his footage of some excellent old net matches that featured some good rallies. Hitchcock's real-life daughter Patricia has an interesting and unique minor character role in here. She didn't just get the job because of her dad; she can act. Also of note: the DVD has both the British and American versions and there were some differences in the story. This is a classic film that is still referred to in modern-day films, even comedies such as "Throw Momma Off The Train."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Robert Walker is a rich, soft spoken (and possibly homosexual) psychopath
who meets his apparent idol, a tennis player played by Farley Granger (who
looks like Bernardo from "West Side Story"), and strikes up a conversation
with him on a train. After managing lunch with him, Walker strikes up a
conversation about "criss cross" murders: two men kill people who are
enemies of the other man. Granger is dating a politician's daughter with
hope of becoming a politician himself and is divorcing his prettier but
unfaithful wife who got herself pregnant by another man. Walker proposes
possibility of killing the unfaithful wife, which Granger shrugs off as
Later, Granger tries to get his wife to sign some papers, but she reveals her evil plan to make it look like HE was cheating on HER and will try to pass off her illegitimate child as Granger's; odds are the other man left her. Granger is NOT happy. Later, the wife goes running around having a good time at a carnival with two younger men and she is stalked by Walker. After a lot of build up, black humor and creepy imagery, Walker sneaks up on the wife and strangles her to death.
Walker then goes to Granger and tells him he killed his wife. Granger wasn't exactly fond of his wife, but he's appalled to learn that she's been murdered and that Walker ow expects Granger to murder his father (who suspects Walker of his devious doings, whereas his unsuspecting mother does not) in return for the favor. Thus begins a battle of wills wherein Walker torments Granger, his girlfriend and the others in his life, while concealing that he has Granger's cigarette lighter, which could incriminate Granger in his wife's murder if he places it back at the murder scene.
Like many of Hitchcock's films, this features the usual assortment of distorted relationships between men and their mothers, badly portrayed authority figures, creepy imagery, black humor, flawed but essentially innocent men, and lots of observations about the darker side of human nature. An interesting film, but there are some lulls. Not that Hitchcock was perfect, but this one has more lulls than some of his other films, which, when combined with the lack of star power/big name actors that this film had starring in it, may attribute to why it is largely forgotten in light of films like "Rear Window", "To Catch A Thief", "North By Northwest", "Notorious", "The Man Who Knew Too Much", "Vertigo", "Psycho" and what not.
Still, Walker is memorable as the film's killer, with his fey voice and intense gaze. At the time, he actually had the potential for a big career (he turned in some other less threatening performances in other films), but alas, fate was not on his side. One memorable image includes the murder being reflected in the wife's glasses. The climax on the merry go round is overkill though.
One of my favorite quotes from the film comes between the girlfriend's sister and their father. Upon hearing of the wife's murder, the sister (played by Hitchcock's real life daughter) calls the wife "a tramp" (which may have been true) and the father reprimands her with "She was a human being. Even the lowest of us are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The daughter retorts "She pursued it in five different directions."
Looking back at the career of Alfred Hitchcock, it never fails to be
surprising how such a brilliant and visionary man could be denied
sufficient recognition for how revolutionary he was for the film
industry. It is likely a sign of how ahead of his time Hitchcock was,
always attempting to push the envelope, and never coasting along with a
film made simply for the purpose of being entertaining, but always with
a deeper, more poignant motive on his mind. Strangers on a Train, one
of Hitchcock's first and more underrated hits, is a perfect example of
these traits - an entertaining and suspenseful story, even when viewed
over 50 years later, yes, but so carefully and intelligently
constructed it stands today as a masterpiece in film technique.
Arguably one of the pioneering "suspense thrillers", Strangers on a Train may come across as slightly dated in certain aspects, but it retains every bit of superbly crafted tension as it did back in 1951 (if perhaps slightly less shocking). The brilliant use of cinematography and lighting as well as quick, careful editing are what really make the film stand out, drawing out every possible iota of tension and retaining the audience's focus even in slower scenes. If there was ever any doubt of what a simply masterful filmmaker Hitchcock was, simply watching five minutes of Strangers on a Train should be enough to disavow such sentiments; every shot is so carefully chosen and constructed, all serving to drive the storyline ahead in a particularly innovative fashion. Sadly enough, there are certain moments in the story which are screechingly out of place enough to jar our focus away from the superb cinematography and editing - Bruno being able to reach down to the bottom of a sewer grate is simply unbelievable, and the figure of a stereotypical old man crawling under a wildly out of control carousel provides unintentional comedic relief in what is meant to be the film's most tense and engaging scene. These are only brief moments, but they are enough to stand out as painfully weak in an otherwise stellar film.
But what really makes Strangers on a Train stand out is the story premise. As Hollywood films of late run the risk of descending inescapably further and further into the vat of turgid clichée after clichée, it's wonderfully refreshing to see a 50 year old film with a premise which actually comes across as smart and original. Sure it's fairly straightforward, but the concept of "swapping murders" is simply one that would not fly in films of today's day and age, which makes it all the more entertaining to watch; the film's brilliant screenplay keeps the action flowing at a swift pace while providing us with some wonderfully memorable lines all the while. One can't help but notice the deeper themes Hitchcock is alluding to throughout as well, especially the concept of "darkness in humanity's heart", demonstrated by elderly ladies being fascinated and exhilarated by the prospect of murder, as well as Bruno's own cavalier attitude towards death. Hitch also works in many moments of dark humour (Bruno popping a child's balloon with his cigarette is priceless), and irony, shooting suspenseful scenes in happy, easy-going environments, such as the iconic carnival scenes, to create an even more eerie atmosphere. This may be a suspense thriller, yes, but to overlook the brain concealed beneath it would be simply inexcusable.
The antagonistic figure of Bruno (essayed to perverse perfection by Robert Walker, sadly in his last film role, but easily stealing the film from his admittably very talented fellow cast members) is without a doubt what makes Strangers on a Train so memorable, as the character is a marvel to behold. Here we have a simply superbly crafted villainous figure, all the more intriguing by how ordinary and unassuming he seems. Rather than cackling madly and thwarting the hero at every possible moment, Bruno is a calm, controlled, psychotic mess. He speaks of murder in such an offhand tone, yet retains a passionate glint in his eye when discussing different fashions of killing people. Bruno could seem to represent the "Id", as Freud would put it, the inner, darker and uninhibited aspects of mankind. It makes an interesting contrast to the hero figure, Guy Haines, and how bland and uninteresting he seems, almost as if to drive home the prospect of evil being much more interesting and appealing than constantly striving to do the right thing.
Yet despite this implied message, Hitch still twists our emotions enough that we root for Guy at every turn, and cheer at each new obstacle he is forced to overcome. It's a testament to actor Farley Granger's talent that despite Robert Walker's villain easily stealing the show, Granger's hero still comes across as sympathetic, still commanding our support even when falling prey to being a far less compelling character. Superb support is given by Ruth Roman, who manages to overcome the clichée and be a more innovative and complex romantic interest figure, Kasey Rogers giving a stunning performance as Guy's horrifyingly manipulative and hedonistic first wife, and Patricia Hitchcock, proving that she is far more talented than being simply "the director's daughter" would imply. The superb cast (headed by a simply wonderful Walker) really bring the film to life, adding so much more merit to the film than simply Hitchcock's breathtaking stylistics.
All in all, Strangers on a Train may still come across as slightly too dated for certain viewers, but it's still a shock how modern and appealing to contemporary audiences seems, considering it was released half a century ago. Once again, Hitchcock proves his unparalleled mastery of tension and film technique, and the film's surprisingly original and enjoyable premise is alone worth a viewing. Highly recommended to anyone wishing to undertake a brilliantly made but superbly entertaining film experience!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Robert Walker admirably goes all out as a psychotic daddy-hater who befriends tennis pro Farley Granger and discovers the rather naive young man hates his estranged wife; Walker suggests swapping murders. Lots of intricate plotting in the set-up, but this Alfred Hitchcock thriller is relieved of tension by its banalities, such as the vapid dialogue, an overlong tennis sequence near the finale, and silly situations like the one where Walker "cleverly" winds up in his father's bed when Granger arrives. The frenzied finale plays well, but with some afterthought you may notice how emotionally hollow it is, what with an innocent, elderly carnival worker getting shot dead by the police (!) and nobody seems to care. Flamboyant, if over-the-top, performances, a great deal of style in the usual Alfred Hitchcock fashion, but not much substance. **1/2 from ****
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