In 1951, Alfred Hitchcock began an incredible ride of creativity in Hollywood earning without any equal the true title (still held by him) ‘the master of suspense’ that started truly with this psychological thriller. All trickery and manipulation from a simple idle conservation to suggestive reasoning, working to lull the audience into a trance, all as the train rumbles down the tracks, and shakes slowly back and forth as a baby in a cradle. Hitchcock’s stellar film even 68-years later still a teaching tool for understanding characters and those seeking the simplicity of creating genuine powerful tension with a company of fluid camera positioning and movement. Basing his film off a novel by Patricia Highsmith, purchasing the rights for $7,500 anonymously reducing the cost, a concept he later used and fine-tuned for his film Psycho (1960). Then writer Whitfield Cook worked the book into an adaption for writing the script, at which point an unknown writer Czenzi Ormonde and crime writer Raymond Chandler constructed a beautiful screenplay. Although initially upon the release of Strangers on a Train which had a budget of then $1.2 million (approximately the cost in today’s market of $11.6 million) the film had mixed reviews and but slowly the movie garnished and earned a nice profit margin, and since has become a classic piece of cinema. Since 1951 Highsmith’s well-layered novel and rich characters earned a radio play, and theater performance, as Hitchcock’s film remade in 1996 as television movie called Once You Meet a Stranger.

The first encounter between the leading men starts very innocently almost a jovial manner, Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) recognizes a local tennis playing celebrity, Guy Haines (Farley Granger, who starred in Hitchcock’s Rope [1948]), on an East Coast train, and he seems to know everything about him, particularly thanks to the nasty tabloids. Bruno fully aware that Guy trapped in a marriage to the cold-hearted, known adulterer Miriam (Laura Elliott) and in a relationship with Anne Morton (Ruth Roman (Day of the Animals [1977]), who comes from a respected rich political connected family which could help in Guy’s future prospects. Bruno suggests to Guy, hypothetically, they do “crisscross murders” since they don’t know each other, they would never be suspects.  This line of thought clearly and yet opens for dark humor, another Hitchcock trademark. Guy patronizingly agrees with Bruno who acts on signal to proceed with the plan, as he excuses himself, from the oddly turning conversation, unknown the deadly puzzle pieces already aligning themselves. 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, a solution to all his problems entered willing and unwelcome, instilling the silence in the golden rule. Bruno locates and begins to track down Miriam carefully stalking from a distance, on the prowl to an amusement park, eventually strangling her in a Tunnel of Love ride. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is how easy it is for this stranger easy attaches himself to his victim, a version of the venus flytrap but why not as far as she knows there is no reason for him to kill her. This type of silent violence proves more shocking, it all has the very real possibility of happening in reality and that is truly real and alarming. After the death, Guy has no alibi, and a slow noose begins to tighten, with Bruno tugging the rope, and threatening to leave evidence, begins to stalk Guy, demanding that he owes him to kill his father. Guy becomes more and more cornered all it also pressuring problems for Anne’s father Senator Morton (Leo G. Carroll, who starred in two Hitchcock’s films Spellbound (1945) and North By Northwest [1959]).  From here the tensions spin for both men and the audience cannot leave the train, during the film, emotions carryover for both men to succeed in different manners. Hitchcock and his writer also built in a bit of poking fun to the characters’ names, Guy, exact image of the upstanding American male for the 1950s clean-cut, properly mannered and plain as a mannequin. While the character of Bruno, was named after Bruno Richard Hauptmann, killer of the Lindbergh Baby. As the film continues well-paced as always, the suspense grows, as Guy must match wits against an evildoer to clear his name and spare those he loves. This all leads to perhaps one of the top five and clearly top stunt scenes in Hitchcock’s career, the out-of-control carousel scene. The operator is shot, the ride keeps going as frantic parents scream, the children hold onto the horses, crying and whining and close-ups of a man crawling under the actual merry-go-around (no trick visuals) to disable the ride before spinning off the axels. A must see stunt!

An innocent man wrongly accused is generally a reliable starting point for a thriller, and no director returned to that idea as often as Alfred Hitchcock did, only later in life have learned it reflected from his childhood. This theme served him well for his films, and created an essential starting point for the suspense to generate itself and cause turmoil to the audience every time. Sadly, shortly after the movie ended, Robert Walker died, at the age of 32, from an apparent fatal combination of alcohol and prescription drugs. Also, throughout Hitchcock’s career he encounters numerous battles with the rigid censors, more than even today’s with him and his actors creating actions to slide by them. Such as Bruno’s tightly controlled sexuality, attributed to an air of homosexuality from the gestures and mannerisms, glazing glances. Perhaps some read a tad too far into it, especially the censors of then, the references of taking risks for personal satisfaction a definite no-no hinting to disturbing sexual natures, today conceived as xtreme sport adventures. Shameful practice of the censors, but the adversary The Master, thwarted them at every turn, as a maestro his work could never change once finished. In fact, this movie is one of the most studied by aspiring filmmakers for multiple complexed angle shots including the murder done in reverse on Miriam ‘s eyeglasses on the ground looking up at her demise.

For anyone ever watching a Hitchcock movie, they must do it at least twice, the first time for the entertainment value, and then after that for repeated lessons in suggestive tones, and hints to the characters’ nature, reflecting on society, and vice versa. He used shadows and tricks of light to the yin and yang effects and with references to the word ‘pairs’ a pair of crimes, Guy’s tennis matches, two women in Guy’s life, always lightly mentioned by someone.  The influence still echoes from this film recently the comedy Horrible Bosses (2011) and the Danny Devito’s dark morbid comedy Throw Momma from the Train (1987) a remake of this film in many facets. The plot concept reference in the television show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Season 3, Episode 19 “A Night at the Movies”, all show the influence of his work transcending through the years with filmmakers harkening back to this creation.

Another wonderful entertaining film, with incredible suspense, and symbolism, everything laid out for creating a thriller, though the perfect, lies in the hands of The Master, knowing how long to show the scene, too much ruining and too little, frowns of disappointment. The film reflects on everyone hidden desire to remove that one person, the littlest annoying perceived roadblock in one’s life, and the guilt over it. This movie definitely is a must watch for cinema fans, and especially for the filmmakers, essentially the aspiring and current screenwriters regardless of your genre.

This review was celebrating its 65th anniversary at the time of publishing on Rogue Cinema’s now defunct website in June 2016 and had a view count of 2,010.

TAGLINES:

  • Now a very special Alfred Hitchcock event! A hundred and one breathless minutes of matchless suspense!
  • A girl in love with young America’s idol–and a good-looking stranger in search of sensation–that’s how it all began..! Warner Bros. bring a pounding new tempo to motion picture entertainment!
  • Excuse me.
  • Warner Bros. now bring a pounding new tempo to screen entertainment!
  • It begins with the shriek of a train whistle and ends with shrieking excitement! Young America’s idol – a good looking stranger in search of sensation – and a girl in love. These are the people around whom Alfred Hitchcock spins his wonderful new web of suspense and surprise. WARNER BROS. bring a pounding new tempo to motion picture entertainment.
  • A tennis star plays a match with murder!
  • You’ll be in the grip of love’s strangest trip!
  • It’s Off The Beaten Track!
  • It starts with the shriek of a train whistle… and ends with shrieking excitement!

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044079/

IMDb Rating: 8.0/10

Baron’s Rating: 9.0/10