by guest writer
Strangers on a Train (1951) was developed during a period of decline for Alfred Hitchcock in the late 40’s, when Under Capricorn (1949) and Stage Fright (1950) didn’t do so well with the audiences. What Hitch did was focus his attention on what mattered to him, and that meant suspense. Beginning to adapt Patricia Highsmith’s novel, the director faced a lot of challenges, especially from writer Raymond Chandler. He ended up hiring Ben Hecht’s assitant, Czenzi Ormonde, to finish the screenplay.
I find the opening one of the best in the history of cinema: the footsteps of Guy (Farley Granger) and Bruno (Robert Walker, one of the best villains in Hitchcock’s films), the two main characters, are seen walking towards each other in juxtaposition by mean of cross-cutting. The visuals bear Hitchcock’s trademark and we only get to see the faces of the two when their feet stumble by mistake on the train. The director chooses to emphasize their different personalities by simply showing their shoes and by associating an image of separating rails. It’s very interesting to observe how, throughout the film, the good guy, Guy, is shown to be less likeable than the bad guy, Bruno, an element Hitchcock will also use three years later in Dial M for Murder, when we, the viewers, seem more inclined to sympathise with Ray Milland, the bad guy, than with Robert Cummings. Over lunch in the train, Bruno begins to talk about and suggests “the perfect crime” by switching murders and that’s the starting point of this first rate crime thriller.
The tension plays out through the entire movie in a very constructive manner, whereas plausible situations become unknown facts when events occur in real time. Diversion is another Hitchcockian vehicle of ‘deceit’ that really pays off. Hitchcock proves once again that he is a technical master, trick shots are present everywhere and there are several sequences which have remained famous in cinema, like the scene reflected in the broken glasses. Robert Burks’ cinematography is at its usual high and Dimitri Tiomkin’s music only completes the picture.
photo: still from the film | Warner Brothers