Strangers on a Train Reviews
Guy Haines, a tennis star, meets a fan of his named Bruno Antony while riding on a train. Bruno tells him his theory for how 2 strangers can get away with murder. He says that if 2 unrelated people swap murders and kill the person that the other wants dead, there would be no clues to connect, and both of them will be able to get away. Guy Haines doesn't take him seriously, but Bruno plans to implement his theory.
Bruno Antony served as a very memorable villain. Instead of acting hostile or impatient, he would simply stalk Guy everywhere he went, and would continue to try and get him to follow through with his end of the deal. This made for some unnerving scenes which made the viewer wonder what he would do to Guy. Bruno would constantly stalk him in public, call him, and send him supplies necessary for murdering his father. As Bruno started to talk to Guy's family, the movie continued to raise tension as the movie made the viewer wonder whether he was going to do something to his family. Also, Bruno Antony was played exceptionally well by Robert Walker. He commands every scene he's in, and he captures just the right mood for Bruno's character.
The conversation that Bruno and Guy have on the subway near the beginning of the film is very thought-provoking. It makes the viewer wonder if such a perfect murder like the one that Hitchcock described actually is possible. It seems to make sense, and if the criminal doing the crime does a few minor things to protect his identity, the crime could be executed flawlessly. The film keeps the viewer believing that this crime would work throughout the film, and he does this so well that the viewer starts to suspect that a happy ending is next to impossible. A great tactic that Hitchcock did in this movie and "Dial M for Murder" is that he created 2 crimes that seemed very believable and creative. It wasn't until the ending where he revealed a clue so minimal that the viewer likely would not have ever seen it coming no matter how much they were paying attention. What makes the film more terrifying is that the crime Bruno thought of could easily happen to any person. The chances of it happening are highly unlikely, but it's the idea that anyone could be a murderer which is central to the movie and that's what makes it work better.
Hitchcock is a master at visual set pieces, and he utilized his skill for them here. One of the scenes happens near the beginning where it shows Bruno stalking Miriam, the person who he plans to kill, at a carnival. Since she's with 2 of her boyfriends, the viewer has doubts that Bruno can overpower all of them. However, the film shows both of her boyfriends doing a "High Striker" carnival game. None of them get it to the top. However, Bruno goes up after both of them, and he gets it to the top easily. Later, it shows her and her boyfriends in a boat going through a "Tunnel of Love". Bruno is right behind them. It shows their shadows on a wall with Bruno's shadow slowly moving closer to them. The shot cuts to the opening where it shows Miriam screaming. However, they go out and it shows one of her boyfriends simply messing around with her. Hitchcock tricks the viewer in that scene.
Another great visual set piece comes at one of the film's most iconic scenes. Guy is at the tennis game waiting to play next. The camera is pointed at the crowd. Every body is turning their heads to follow the tennis ball. For a second, the viewer might smile a bit. However, the camera zooms in to show Bruno staring directly at Guy, giving the scene a sudden, serious tone. Another scene happens when Guy is quietly wandering through the darkness of Bruno's home. A dog growling at him at the top of the stairs throws the viewer off from what they think might happen, and the scene somewhat surprises the viewer.
Bruno's perfect murder theory was well-thought out. However, I never understood why Bruno told Anne about his plan of putting a lighter at the scene of the crime to frame Guy. That was a very foolish decision for him to do. Anne could've easily told her family about what he did, and they could've all attempted to stop him, ruining his plan. This isn't necessarily a gigantic plot hole, but it still bugs me as it effects the entire final act. Also, I felt like the final confrontation between Guy and Bruno being on an out-of-control merry-go-round wasn't exactly the best setting Hitchcock could've picked as it was slightly cheesy for such a serious crime film about murder.
In conclusion, this was a very great Hitchcock film. Bruno was a great villain, and great acting plus clever visual set pieces made Bruno pretty memorable. Hitchcock's thought-provoking perfect murder theory was intriguing, and it was very interesting. It may have a few minor flaws, but it has still accomplished a lot, and it was well worth my time.
Robert Walker is absolutely perfect as the sociopath who proposes this scheme to the straight-laced tennis player, played well by Farley Granger. He wants his overbearing father out of the picture, and knows that Granger wants a divorce from his wife, having done his homework. Granger politely declines, and while his motivation increases when his adulterous wife (Laura Elliot) manipulatively tells him she no longer wants to split from him in the next scene, he still wants no part of murder. However, in the very next scene Walker goes forward with his 'end of the bargain' anyway, stalking Elliot at a carnival in an outstanding sequence. She's aware of him staring at her and even flirts with him a little bit, and as he follows her through the Tunnel of Love out to 'Magic Isle' it's seriously spine-tingling. Hitchcock shows her getting strangled in a reflection from her glasses which have fallen to the ground. These first few scenes, from the train to Magic Isle, are a masterpiece.
Granger is of course horrified to hear about this, and while he intends to move on to woman he's already been seeing (Ruth Roman), he doesn't intend on committing a murder he never agreed to. Walker begins stalking him and putting pressure on him, and there are fantastic scenes at the Jefferson Memorial (him staring down a distance and high up on the stairs), as well as at a tennis match (the crowd following a volley, turning their heads back and forth; Walker staring straight ahead at Granger).
It is true that the film slows down slightly in the second half, but it's by no means 'slow' - there are several other great scenes, we feel real tension as Granger finds himself mired in a creepy lunatic's fantasy come to life (channeling Hitchcock's 'wrong man' theme), and it has a thrilling climax, but I won't spoil it any further. I have to say I loved the spunky character played by Patricia Hitchcock, the director's daughter, and it's a shame she didn't get more work as an actor. It's also a shame that Robert Walker died at age 32, shortly after the film's release. He certainly lives on in this role, and this film more than stands the test of time. Excellent.
I agree with Bosley Crowther in the New York Times when the film was originally released that "the story does not stand". Hitchcock with his scriptwriters had drastically altered Patricia Highsmith's original story so that in major ways the plot hardly bore any resemblance to hers.
Watch the English version/release which has extra final scene involving a clergyman. It helps the movie enormously.