Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock, 1951)

I dreaded finishing this movie after watching Robert Walker’s Bruno in the first 5 minutes.  He was too talky and smarmy in that early 1950s movie kind of way, and I figured the rest of the movie would have that Raymond Chandler overdrive kind of feel to it.  And then he started describing the perfect murder…introduced too quickly by the movie, I thought, but it was the way Bruno was describing it, with such genuine passion and excitement, completely absorbed in it, that made me realize that Bruno was no ordinary early 1950s talker.  This is a genuine psychopath.  It would be so easy for Hitchcock to make him a prototypical psychopathic villain whom the shy and unimposing tennis champion hero has to overcome, but Hitchcock does an absolutely brilliant thing by feeding us just a morsel or two of Bruno’s life and motivations, and nothing more…just one scene or two suggesting a spoiled heir with a very inappropriate relationship with his mother, and we’re left to merely speculate about how somebody could get this way, with really no definitive answer.  So while we see Bruno off in the distance of Washington DC’s monuments or simply staring at Guy playing tennis while everybody else watches the ball (which would be creepy in just about any movie), it’s that teensy bit of knowledge we have that something ain’t right with this guy, with a hell of a lot more speculation, that elevates him above a typical villain.  Hell, he’s even similar to Norman Bates in that we end up rooting for him at a point or two as he stalks Guy’s bitch of a wife, and just a bit of hope in we the audience that maybe, just maybe, he can get that lighter out of the storm drain, obviously not because we hope he succeeds in his outrageous plot, but because, in his sick mind, he so wants to.  Bruno’s really quite the interesting figure, then, in that he’s a malevolent force even more powerful off-screen (via mailed maps, keys, and a gun for example), but  also one whom we have just enough information about to say, and more importantly care about, “what the fuck is this guy’s problem.”

Of course Hitchcock was an artist with the camera and the art of film pacing, and in terms of all of that Strangers on a Train is flawless…in fact, a few of its setpieces may make this his most technically impressive film that I’ve seen.  Bruno’s slow stalking of Guy’s wife at the carnival, music, sudden appearances from off-camera, shadows, and all, is a brilliant build-up to what we know has to happen, and yet we have no idea.  The cross-cutting of Guy’s tennis match and Bruno’s journey to where it all began is just as brilliant…they’re both hurrying along for different reasons, yet both trying to reach the same destination…as Bruno says, there’s a murderer in all of us, and the perceived similarities between he and Guy become startling…you can’t help but wonder if there is indeed a shred of appreciation in Guy for what Bruno did.  Here’s a movie about the darkness in all of us, and where that might come from, and the degree to which we’ll show it given extraordinary circumstances, much like many other Hitchcock films.

Of course films like Vertigo, Psycho, Rear Window, and The Birds will always be considered the A-list of Hitchcock’s films and it will be those that will never be forgotten.  Vertigo will never be topped as my favorite Hitchcock, but at this very moment, I might as well look past all those others that could be named by some Ethiopian who’se never seen a movie in his life, because in my mind they’ve all been topped by Strangers on a Train.


P.S.: just about the only problem I had with it was Patty Hitchcock as the spunky sidekick…just like those 5 minutes in Psycho, girl couldn’t act to save her life.  Nepotism at its not-so-finest  😛


1 comment so far

  1. ShotgunAndy on

    Yeah, this is definately one of Hitchcock’s best.

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