Strangers on a Train (1951)

“Everyone has somebody that they want to put out of the way. Oh now surely, Madam, you’re not going to tell me that there hasn’t been a time that you didn’t want to dispose of someone. Your husband, for instance?”

‘Strangers on a Train’, directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951, is an American thriller based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith.  Farley Granger plays a tennis star called Guy Haines. Haines is keen to divorce his wife so he can marry his lover. Whilst on a train, Haines bumps into a man called Bruno Anthony, played by Robert Walker. Anthony comes up with a scheme: he will murder Haines’ wife and in return Haines will kill Anthony’s father. This would mean that neither could be suspected of their murders. Haines believes Anthony is joking, until his former passenger carries out his crime. It’s a taught thriller with all the characteristic Hitchcock flourishes: tense moments, drama extended to an excruciating degree, and a series of inventive and unusual framings. A large portion of the film is shot around an amusement park, and Hitchcock exploits that setting for all its fantastical, and paradoxically horrific, iconography. He turns everything into a threat from the innocent but lethal carousel to the ‘journey to hell’ love boat ride. Highlights of the film include the two central performances, almost a love affair between Haines and Anthony.  The climactic scene set on the carousel, as the fairground ride runs ever out of control is suitably dramatic and effective. The best moment, for me, is the scene in which Anthony, racing to plant incriminating evidence, drops a lighter down a drain and slowly gropes for it. It’s Hitchcock’s main skill, to tease drama and almost unbearable tension out of small moments and seemingly innocent events.

Would I recommend it? Yes – like the later Highsmith adaptation ‘The American Friend’, this movie plays on the idea of a twisted friendship that is almost like a love affair, so I’d suggest that as a double bill.

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