Strangers on a Train
While on the train one day, professional tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger) meets Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker). Bruno appears to be an avid fan of Guy’s and slowly begins to win his trust, which eventually allows him to pry into Guy’s personal life. Over the course of their discussion, Bruno reveals that he has come up with the perfect crime involving two strangers exchanging murders. Bruno would kill Guy’s wife, Miriam (Kasey Rogers), who refuses to give him a divorce, and Guy would kill Bruno’s father. Guy assumes that the conversation is just mindless banter. That is until Bruno shows up at his door with news of Miriam’s death. Bruno pressures Guy to hold up his end of a bargain that he never agreed to. Unable to go to the cops, and fearful ruining his relationship with current girlfriend Anne (Ruth Roman), Guy must find a way to stop the deranged Bruno.
What makes Strangers on a Train standout is the brilliant, and creepy, performance of Robert Walker. From the minute Walker’s Bruno is introduced you feel uneasy. Bruno is a compelling character because he represents that dark facet that can be found in all of us. He even points out in one scene that everyone has a moment of anger in which they wished someone else harm.
The fact that Bruno has the ability to instantly charm whoever he meets makes him even more dangerous. Guy can sense there is something a little off with Bruno when they meet on the train but he never is uncomfortable enough to leave the compartment. Bruno always makes a point to put Guy’s mind at ease. Bruno is such a smooth talker that he not only gets two socialites to reveal how they would commit a murder, but is able to convince one of the ladies, who has never met him before, to participate in a mock strangulation exercise. An exercise that nearly has fatal consequences.
Walker’s stellar performance only enhances the tension that fills Alfred Hitchcock’s film. Many of the chills in Strangers on a Train are a result Hitchcock placing Bruno in the background of many scenes. Whether it is at a Washington landmark or in the crowd observing tennis practice, Bruno is always present intently focused on his subject. This is best exemplified in the build up to the death of Guy’s wife. Miriam assumes that Bruno is merely a handsome man who is interested in her romantically, so she engages in an unspoken form of flirting. Yet Hitchcock clearly shows that Bruno has alternative motives. Using carnival rides, such as the merry-go-round and the tunnel of love boats, Hitchcock is able to set the stage for chase that only Bruno is aware they are a part of. Hitchcock smartly intercuts Miriam’s screams of glee when being tickled by friends, with the larger than life image of Bruno’s shadow on the cave wall in the next boat. Watching the stalker and prey game that Bruno plays with Guy’s wife is riveting.
Strangers on a Train is everything most modern day thrillers hope to be. It has a great premise, strong performances and it manages to maintain the tension after numerous viewings. Alfred Hitchcock has given the cinema world many gems over the course of his career but, for me, Strangers on a Train shines brightest.
*Alfred Hitchcock is the subject for this month’s LAMBs in the Director Chair series over at The LAMB website*