Strangers on a Train – Film Review

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writers: Raymond Chandler, Whitfield Cook, and Czenzi Ormonde

Starring: Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker, and Leo G. Carroll

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 film Strangers on a Train is an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s first novel of the same name. Even though the film is now considered an all time classic, at the time it received a more mixed reception. Before you even get to the film, the production was also filled with drama from the start. After Hitchcock had a treatment for the story written by Whitfield Cook, but he couldn’t find a writer to turn it into a script. Legendary detective writer Raymond Chandler was eventually brought on board, but he didn’t get on with Hitchcock at all and was eventually replaced by Czenzi Ormonde. Not wanting to lose Chandler’s name the studio insisted that he still received credit, even though the script was reworked from scratch again by Ormonde and both Chandler and Hitchcock agreed he shouldn’t be credited.

The plot revolves around Guy Haines (Farley Granger) who meets Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) while on a train and ends up stuck in a conversation with him that starts to destroy his life. Bruno points out that they both have someone they want to get rid of, he wants to be rid of his father, while Guy wants out of his marriage. He proposes that they kill the other person’s person. He will kill Guy’s wife and in return Guy will kill his father. Guy doesn’t take him seriously and goes about his life, not thinking anything of it. Bruno has other ideas and kills Guy’s wife, Miriam, and expects Guy to fulfil his side of the so-called agreement.

The two lead roles are perfectly cast, which makes the film brilliant. Robert Walker, who sadly died shortly after the film finished production, is phenomenal as Bruno Antony. He’s a complete psychopath who worms his way into a conversation with Guy. Likewise, Farley Granger makes Guy feel real and completely believable that he’s too polite not to just tell Bruno to leave when the he first starts speaking to him. You can tell that he’s uncomfortable but Bruno has control of the situation, he won’t let him leave the conversation and pressures him until he draws him into his plan and the plot is in motion. There’s a really interesting power dynamic between the two characters, and that’s completely what makes the film work. As the story progresses the scales start to balance themselves out until Bruno isn’t completely in control.

Even over seventy years after the film was first released, it’s still one of the most visually stunning films ever. The film is the first collaboration between Hitchcock and cinematographer Robert Burks. Later the pair would work together on twelve films. Burks style complements Hitchcock’s stories perfectly. Straight from the opening scene, showing Guy and Bruno walking to get the train, the camera focusing on their shoes until they meet, is a brilliant opening that instantly gets your attention.

Everything about Miriam’s murder is brilliantly shot. There’s such a great build up to it that really shows how much of a psycho Bruno is, as he pops a child’s balloon and follows Miriam around. He follows her through the amusement park, and then when he finally confronts her the camera is focused on her face as he lights it up with the lighter that will become so important later in the plot. The murder itself is shot through the reflection from the lens of Miriam’s glasses that had been knocked to the floor. It’s a unique way to show the killing and makes it incredibly memorable.

Like most Hitchcock films, Strangers on a Train is a classic. It’s stood the test of time and is still brilliant to watch now. There’s some great performances and brilliant tension that builds all the way through to a great finale.  

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About ashleymanningwriter

Young Adult Fiction writer. Horror and fantasy blended together.
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