I love Alfred Hitchcock, but there are holes in my knowledge of Hitchcock movies so I decided to fill one of those holes today with Strangers on a Train.
Now, I knew of the storyline for years, since it came up on an episode of Castle with Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic. Two strangers meet on a train and they decide to swap the murders of the troublesome people in their lives so there would be no motive for the murders.
Well, that was not quite the way it went in the classic movie. In Hitchcock’s film, tennis pro Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is on a train and he is approached by Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker). Bruno was clearly setting up Guy for his plan, being very manipulative and tricky. The whole idea about swapping murders was made to come off as nothing more than a flippant conversation. Guy never gave it a second thought, but clearly Bruno had done his research.
Bruno followed Guy’s wife (whom Guy wanted to divorce, but she refused to accept one) on a date to the carnival where he strangled her to death. Soon, he approached Guy with the news of the murder and he hoped to plan what he wanted to do with his father, the intended victim Bruno wanted Guy to kill.
Guy was shocked and angry and threatened to go to the police, but Bruno said that the police would believe that they planned this together and that would make Guy an accessory.
I enjoyed this movie, but there were some glaring problems that I had with the narrative, starting with, if I were Guy, I would have gone to the police immediately and trusted that I could convince them that I was not the murderer. The fact that Guy does not do that immediately tells us more about the weakness of his character than anything else. He also does not “come clean” with his fiance Anne (Ruth Roman) until she figures him out. She believed him fairly quickly after catching him in the lie which showed how much she loved him.
There were some weird scenes when Bruno tried to insinuate himself into Guy’s life, showing the skills of a stalker, more than anything else. The strangest of all of the situations was when Bruno lost control and almost accidentally strangled a socialite at a party because he was demonstrating how to murder someone and caught a glance at Anne’s sister Barbara (Patricia Hitchcock) who had a passing resemblance to the woman he murdered. That was a strange addition to the story and really felt out of place. Perhaps it was just to demonstrate how crazy Bruno was.
There was a lot of tension and suspense built through the film, as the scenes flashed back between Bruno on his way to the carnival and Guy playing tennis. It may not sound like it should have worked, but it was very effective. And the final fight on the out-of-control merry-go-round was actually very solid, even though the chances that it could actually happen would be inconceivable.
Strangers on a Train is full of anxiety and tension and, because of that, it is a lot of fun. The performances are solid even if there are some narrative scenes that make you roll your eyes at the plausibility of them.