Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train

A Creepy Classic with a Memorable Villain

Strangers on a Train DVD. Warner Brothers

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One of his best, Strangers on a Train revisits two of director Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite themes -an innocent man falsely accused, and a calculating criminal with an idea for the perfect murder.

Suppose two men each have someone they’d like to get rid of. Suppose one of them proposes they switch murders -- each has no motive to kill the other’s victim, and each can supply the other with an airtight alibi.

That’s the intriguing premise of Strangers on a Train, and the fun comes in watching the whole thing unravel.


The Plot

Professional tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger) meets indolent rich boy Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) on a train by chance, or at least Guy thinks so. Bruno, who seems to know an awful lot about Guy, invites him to lunch in his private compartment, and explains that he wants to get rid of his father, who’s standing between him and his inheritance. Meanwhile, Guy has a cheating wife who’s pregnant with another man’s child, and a beautiful senator’s daughter waiting for him to get a divorce. In a scene rich with threat and homoerotic subtext, Bruno suggests they switch murders, “criss-cross.” Guy thinks it’s some sort of sick joke, and leaves with a tossed off, “Whatever you say, Bruno.”

Guy promptly heads off to argue publicly and violently with his wife. This proves unfortunate when Bruno arrives later that same day to do away with her, and fulfill his half of the bargain.

Guy falls under suspicion immediately, and has to deal with both police inquiries and Bruno’s increasingly threatening and invasive demands that Guy murder his father.

Spellbinding from start to finish, Strangers on a Train contains some of the most famous scenes ever filmed. There’s a great fake-out and an insanely dangerous stunt with a spinning carnival carousel which could have killed the stunt man -- a chance Hitchcock said he would never take again.


The Cast of 'Strangers on a Train'

Walker is spectacular as Bruno, letting us see by degrees what a very sick puppy he is. Petulant, odd, and clearly mad, he is nevertheless somehow engaging. He’s especially effective in truly creepy scene with his equally disturbed mother (the wonderfully ditzy Marion Lorne), as she gives him a manicure.

Hitchcock reportedly wanted William Holden for the tennis player, but later said Granger was well cast. His Guy is just weak enough to be half-tempted, half-repelled by Bruno’s overture. He’s not the typical, strong leading man, and there’s more than a suggestion that he’s using the Senator’s daughter (Ruth Roman) to improve his lot in life, all of which adds to the film‘s depth. For an innocent hero, he’s hard to like.

In fact, there’s nobody much to cheer for in this film, unless it’s Hitchcock’s own daughter Patricia, cast as Barbara, the blunt-spoken younger daughter of the Senator. A cheerful fan of murder mysteries and the macabre, Barbara looks like the deceased Mrs. Haines, right down to her eyeglasses -- which causes a tense and revelatory scene when Bruno crashes a party at the Senator’s house. It’s a creepy bit of casting, right up Hitchcock’s alley.


The Director

“Hitch” creates his signature suspense here, and some truly stunning camera shots. Watch for a shadow play in the carnival’s tunnel of love as Bruno pursues his victim, and see him eerily reflected in her eyeglasses at the scene of the crime. There's a scene of Guy in his apartment, shot from above as though a bird of prey were watching his every move. And there's an amazing moment at the tennis match, where every head in the crowd moves rhythmically back and forth, watching the ball - except for Bruno who stares fixedly, straight ahead, at Guy. Genius.

"Strangers on a Train' -the Bottom Line

A tense and satisfying thriller from the Patricia Highsmith novel, Hitchcock demonstrated once again with Strangers on a Train that he could get the darkest of plots safely past Hollywood's blue-nosed censors and into the theaters.

A must for the Hitchcock fan, and great fun for anyone who loves a complicated, intelligent chiller.

Recommended for You

If you liked Strangers on a Train, you may like other Alfred Hitchcock films, or such film noir mysteries as The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon.

'Strangers on a Train' at a Glance:

Year: 1951, Black and white
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Running Time: 101 minutes
Studio: Warner Brothers


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