Film Spotlight: Strangers on a Train

Alfred Hitchcock hired Raymond Chandler to write the script for the 1950 book adaptation of Strangers on a Train. Considered a masterpiece by Roger Ebert (read his review here:  http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/strangers-on-a-train-1951 ), there is a lot to ooh and ahh about the film because of the skillful camera work by Hitchcock. Not everyone loved the film. Raymond Chandler criticized Hitchcock for altering his script too much and complained to Hitchcock in a letter:

“What I cannot understand is your permitting a script which after all had some life and vitality to be reduced to such a flabby mass of clichés, a group of faceless characters, and the kind of dialogue every screen writer is taught not to write—the kind that says everything twice and leaves nothing to be implied by the actor or the camera.”

Read the scathing letter in its entirety here: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/01/flabby-mass-of-cliches.html

Predictable dialogue, wooden-cartoonish characters, and absurd plot aside, perhaps these dings dent the overall composition of the film, but it doesn’t take away from the last half of the film’s suspenseful rise to the fantastic climax on the merry-go-round in an amusement park. For its flaws, it is a worthwhile cinematic experience.

Hitchcock opened with close-up shots of two sets of shoes getting on a train. Thus began the meeting of two strangers. Robert Walker played the bored, garrulous Bruno Antony, a socialite cushioned by the wealth of his New York father and batty mother. He recognized pro-tennis player Guy Haines, played by Farley Granger and pestered the celebrity about his upcoming divorce which he read about in the social column of the newspaper. An elaborate plot constructed by Bruno Antony ensues: Bruno will kill Guy’s scheming wife if Guy kills Bruno’s father.

strangers-on-a-train-family

Alfred Hitchcock and wife of 50 years, Alma Reville, had one daughter.  Pat Hitchcock played a supporting role as the young, sassy daughter, Barbara Morton, in Strangers on a Train. Barbara and sexy-even-with-those-glasses, Miriam, were my two favorite characters, easily outshining the rest of the cast.

 

Alfred Hitchcock was famous for hiring blonde bombshells as stars in his movies but not in this one. Thick rimmed glasses play a role in the film. Barbara represented smarts while Miriam represented sexuality, and their  performances were essential to the success of the film. They paralleled the two males–Guy Haines was wholesome and polite while Bruno Antony was manipulative and brash. Props played a larger role if you consider Guy Haine’s lighter found at the crime site. Hitchcock stressed the importance of these props when he shot them with long close-ups.

Two favorite scenes showcasing Hitchcock’s innovation behind the camera happened during a tennis match and at an amusement park. If you haven’t seen the film, keep a look out at the tennis match and watch how the crowd moves their head in sync to the left and right, but in the center of the stands, Guy Haines stares back at you. At the end of the film, in the amusement park, notice how the carousel plays garish music and the petrified plaster-painted animals are stuck in a nightmare. Their expressions compliment the human struggle taking place. It’s an original, perfect place to have a showdown.  Have you seen Strangers on a Train? Rent it quick for the cinematography and decide for yourself if Raymond Chandler had a legitimate gripe against Hitchcock’s script.

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