Sunday, July 20, 2008

Strangers on a Train

Strangers on a Train; Thriller, USA, 1951; D: Alfred Hitchcock, S: Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman, Leo G. Carroll, Patricia Hitchcock, Kasey Rogers

Two strangers meet on a train - Guy, a kind tennis player, and Bruno, a strange businessman. Bruno proposes him a bizarre idea of a perfect murder: he will kill Guy's dreadful wife Miriam in exchange for him killing Bruno's hateful father. That way there will be no motive for the murders and the police won't catch them. Guy dismisses the proposition quickly, but is faced with complications when his wife Miriam won't accept a divorce, even though he now loves Anne, a senator's daughter. Bruno decides to go with the plan anyway and strangles Miriam. Guy is appalled and refuses the speak to him, even though he insists on him doing his share of the bargain. After a long duel on the carousel, Bruno dies and Guy is freed of charges.

One of Alfred Hitchcock's most famous films, "Strangers on a Train" has an implausible story about a "crisscross" murder bargain, but is still surprisingly well crafted, planned, acted and executed, even inspiring DeVito to make a comedy about it with his '87 film "Throw Momma from the Train". The main ingredient that still keeps the film undated is the one about how people can be helpless and have to struggle when a complete stranger infiltrates their life and tries to manipulate it with a secret agenda, thus the story quickly becomes rather overstretched, but powerful nightmare that many can identify with. The two main actors are rather stiff, yet Hitchcock carries the film with a tight hand nonetheless, adding some surreal little details, like the murder of Miriam seen through the fish eye lens of her glasses that fell on the floor, but also his trademark humor, most notable in the tennis match scene where all the heads in the crowd are turning left-right to follow the ball, except for Bruno who's head just keeps still and quietly observes the desperate Guy. Hitchcock knew that one way to make the movie intrigue the audience is to constantly maintain a motive of struggle, some bizarreness or feeling of helplessness, just like a rock in a shoe that keeps the person aware of the feeling, in order to cause a reaction. The best role though was surprisingly delivered by Hitchcock's own daughter, Patricia, who plays the eccentric Barbara with delight, which became the role of her career.


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