“Strangers on a Train”
Is a Hitchcock Horror Film
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
We constantly watch Tropic Cinema’s marquee for new films, but sometimes overlook the Monday Night Classic Film Series that flickers weekly on its screens. My fellow movie reviewer Craig Wanous is host of this series, introducing these memorable movies and sharing anecdotes that add to the experience.
Tomorrow night, for example, is Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train.” Sure, you can catch it on Turner Classic Movies or download it from Netflix … but that’s not the same as watching this 1951 psychological thriller in a theater.
You remember the “crisscross” plot: two strangers meet up on a train, get to chatting, and agree that it would be a perfect murder if man-about-town Bruno (Robert Walker) killed tennis ace Guy’s unfaithful wife so he can marry elegant Anne (Ruth Roman), and if Guy (Farley Granger) returned the favor by killing Bruno’s overbearing father. Who would connect them to the murders, since they don’t know each other?
Turns out, Bruno is serious about this murder plot, but Guy isn’t. And things begin to fall apart for Guy when the other fellow follows through, killing his wife at an amusement park, then begins to harangue Guy to live up to his end of the bargain.
Nobody can wring suspense out of a plot like this better than Hitchcock.
“Strangers on a Train” was based on Patricia Highsmith’s first novel. Hitch bought the rights anonymously and Highsmith was irked to discover she’d sold the rights so cheaply to a famous director.
Guy and Bruno have been described as doppelgängers, two sides of the same personality. The theme of doubles is “the key element in the film’s structure,” explain Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto. When discussing the structure of the film, Hitchcock said “Isn’t it a fascinating design? One could study it forever.”
One scene in the film is studied in film schools, the strangulation that’s viewed through the victim’s discarded eyeglasses. It’s considered “one of the most memorable single shots in the Hitchcock canon” -- a graceful ballet of murder that Spoto called “the aestheticizing of the horror.”
“Psycho” -- the subject of the recent “Hitchcock” film that recently played at the Tropic -- is considered his horror film, but I’d argue that “Strangers on a Train” is also a horror film and that mama’s boy Bruno in his own way is just as crazy as mama’s boy Norman Bates.
A recent study titled “The Psychology of Alfred Hitchcock” opines, “Freud would have concluded that Hitchcock’s attitude towards women, and his obsession with strong mother figures, is probably due to Hitchcock’s experiences of his own mother, who sometimes made the young Hitchcock stand at the foot of her bed for several hours as a punishment….”
As Hitchcock once said, “The way to get rid of my fears is to make films about them.”
BTW, Hitchcock’s trademark cameo occurs 11 minutes into the film, when alert viewers will spot him boarding the train carrying a big bass fiddle case.