Strangers on a Train (1951)

Sir Alfred Hitchcock is such an important figure in cinema that people forget that during his long career he had dry spells.  This wasn't always due to the quality of his movies, although not everything he touched was gold.  One of his failures in the late 1940s was Rope, now considered one of his best films. 

By 1951 Hitchcock was feeling the pressure to produce another box office hit.  To that end he acquired the rights to the Patricia Highsmith novel Strangers on a Train and hired Raymond Chandler to write the script.  Things didn't go well with Chandler, resulting in Czenzi Ormonde writing the bulk of what we see on the screen, but his name stayed in the credits.  There was also some pressure from Warner Bros. who pushed Ruth Roman on him as the lead actress in the movie, leading to one of Hitchcock's famous patterns of abuse and harassment when he didn't get his way.

Despite all this Strangers on a Train did what he and the studio hoped and brought him back in a big way.  Using elements of black comedy as well as an outright sinister performance from Robert Walker Sir Alfred managed to turn what could have been a somewhat silly potboiler into a tense thriller.

Professional tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is on his way to the city of Metcalf ahead of an upcoming tournament.  By chance he runs into a man named Bruno Antony (Walker) who declares himself a fan.  Antony begins to get a bit too familiar, prying into Guy's romance with Anne Morton (Roman), the daughter of a U.S. senator (Leo G. Carroll), and Haines's upcoming divorce from his current wife Miriam (Kasey Rogers).  Antony voices sympathy for Miriam being in Guy's way, much as Antony's father is in his, and makes a proposal: Bruno will kill Miriam if Guy will kill his father, thus giving both airtight alibis.

Guy dismisses the idea as fantasy but begins to think on it when Miriam decides she is not going to grant the divorce in order to drive a wedge between him and Anne.  Whatever Guy's intent Antony decides to go ahead with things on his end, strangling Miriam at an amusement park.  This puts Guy immediately under suspicion, with the police tailing him hoping that he will slip up.  Meanwhile, believing they have an agreement, Bruno becomes more and more insistent that Guy handle his end of the bargain. 

That the police are on Guy almost at once proves that Bruno is not as clever as he may think he is.  Things do get changed from the novel as Guy, though Hitchcock keeps it vague on his intentions toward killing his wife, has to remain a titular hero while Antony must get his comeuppance as the villain.  The downer ending of the book would not have got by the Hays Code, although Hitchcock and Walker were able to get several hints about Antony being a homosexual past the censors.

It should be no surprise that this movie restored Hitchcock as a blockbuster director.  The initial conversation on the train, the tension toward the end of Guy needing to finish a tennis match in a certain amount of time to try to keep Bruno from framing him and the whole sequence with the merry-go-round are legendary.  The plot of the movie has been the inspiration for several knockoffs and parodies over the years.  Even after all that the fun of seeing the original is still there.  Although Granger is great, this is Walker's movie, as he lurks in the background and makes Guy's life a living hell throughout.  Ruth Roman is okay, but she is a bit upstaged by Patricia Hitchcock, who plays her younger sister. 

Strangers on a Train may be an older film but it is one of many that have aged well.  One of the things I have always loved about Hitchcock is his tendency to film on location whenever possible, so it allows us to see what our past looked like in a way that comes alive rather than as a set of fading old pictures.  It just helps that Hitchcock also made sure to hire the right people to help him, which has helped make his movies outlast many others that were made at the time.  

Strangers on a Train (1951)
Time: 101 minutes
Starring: Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman, Patricia Hitchcock
Director: Alfred Hitchcock



  1. I think I only saw clips of this during "Throw Momma From a Train."


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