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STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (director: Alfred Hitchcock; screenwriters: Raymond Chandler/Czenzi Ormonde/Whitfield Cook/from the novel by Patricia Highsmith; cinematographer: Robert Burks; editor: William H. Ziegler; music: Dimitri Tiomkin; cast: Farley Granger (Guy Haines), Ruth Roman (Anne Morton), Robert Walker (Bruno Antony), Leo G Carroll (Senator Morton), Patricia Hitchcock (Babs Morton), Laura Elliott (Miriam), Marion Lorne (Mrs. Antony), Jonathan Hale (Mr. Antony), Howard St. John (Capt. Turley), John Brown (Professor Collins), Norma Varden (Mrs. Cunningham), Robert Gist (Hennessey), John Doucette (Hammond), Murray Alper (Boatman); Runtime: 103; Warner Bros.; 1951)
This is a Hitchcock top-of-the-line work rolling on all cylinders.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Alfred Hitchcock directs a film noir about a perfect crime that goes wrong, in a film that is not flawless but nevertheless turns out nearly perfect due to the master’s genius for details and playful way of telling a story. It is adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s first novel. Ace screenwriter Raymond Chandler couldn’t get along with Hitchcock and after he wrote the first draft which the director disliked and discarded, he might have gotten fired or else just vanished from the set. It also should be noted that co-star Robert Walker, who turned in a diabolically marvelous performance, died two months after the film opened.

Amateur tennis champion Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is on his way by train from Washington to New York to compete in a tennis match and he is button-holed into a conversation with a weird and talkative stranger, Bruno Antony (Robert Walker). Bruno recognizes the celebrity and knows from the newspaper stories that he’s unhappily married and is dating Senator Morton’s (Carroll) daughter Anne (Roman), whom he is anxious to marry. Bruno suggests that they commit the perfect murder by swapping murders. Bruno hates his strict wealthy father who wants him to get a job and psychiatric help. He therefore suggests that Guy kills him, while he kills Guy’s unfaithful wife Miriam (Elliott). The idea is that neither one they kill could be traced to them because there’s no motive.

Guy forgets his lighter in Bruno’s train compartment, a gift from Anne, when he gets off at his hometown of Metcalf to talk with his wife about a divorce, and he leaves without taking Bruno’s offer as something serious.

But the straight-forward Bruno is serious and calls to find out how things went with his wife and learns that she refuses to divorce him, and he thereby arrives that night in Metcalf. Guy is stunned when Bruno appears in Washington to tell him that he just strangled Miriam in the Tunnel of Love of an amusement park when she was on a date with two fellows, and brings him her eyeglasses as proof.

Guy becomes a suspect when his alibi that he was on a train to Washington to see Anne can’t be verified because the one he was talking with, Professor Collins, was too drunk to remember. The police treat him as a suspect and have two detectives, Hennessey and Hammond, tail him. Things turn into a nightmare for Guy when Bruno pleads with him to carry out his part of the murder and starts showing up in the social circles Guy appears. He threatens that he doesn’t like to be double-crossed when Guy refuses to kill his father, and reminds him that he’s clever and will think of a way of getting even.

Warning: spoiler in next paragraph.

Guy tells Anne the truth and she elicits her younger sister Babs to help Guy elude the police tailing him after a tennis match in Forest Hills, as he wants to get to the Metcalf amusement park in time to stop Bruno from planting his lighter at the crime scene and thereby framing him for the murder. Hitchcock keeps the pot boiling with ingenious scenes such as Guy changing his tennis style to speed up the game so he can end the match early and get to Metcalf in time to stop Bruno. The camera switches back and forth from the tennis match to Bruno dropping the lighter down a grate of a storm drain and struggling to recover it. There’s also the breathtaking runaway merry-go-round ride in the finale, where the operator is shot and the ride keeps going as frantic parents scream and the children hold onto the horses for dear life while Bruno and Guy are having a fistfight for survival.

Many might be more sympathetic with the sick Bruno over the obnoxious Guy.

This theme of guilt by association, causes the not so perfectly innocent man to arouse suspicion. Though Guy never agreed to Bruno’s maniacal proposal, he also never said no to it in a way that Bruno could not mistake his intentions. The handsome Guy comes across as an ambitious young man, who is oily enough to want his wife murdered so he can advance his budding career with a politically motivated marriage. There are also some very amusing scenes with Bruno’s dotty mother (Lorne) refusing to recognize how insane her son really is.

This is a Hitchcock top-of-the-line work rolling on all cylinders.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”