Strangers on a Train

I totally lost track of how much time I spent outside today. I went out thinking I'd just be there for a little bit while I waited for Anthony to come over, and somehow I ended up staying out there relaxing until almost 5:00pm. And I ended up looking like I might be rather sunburned, ugh. It took me longer to watch Strangers on a Train, directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951, because I had to pause it towards the end to make an emergency run to Walgreen's for some aloe. They make aloe with lidocaine in it! I had no idea of this genius invention.

Enough about me. I really liked today's movie, but I like all of the Hitchcock films that I've seen. I love his style, and I really like the tense thrillers that he directs, and this one was no different. I thought the story here was especially cool as well. It was a fun movie to watch, and even more fun to watch in the A/C, with fans blowing on my disgusting red knees and arms. :p

 The movie is about a unique plan that Bruno Anthony comes up with, a plan for murder. He theorizes that if two strangers meet and "exchange" murders, they both could get away with them because no one would suspect the totally random person. Bruno meets famous tennis player Guy Haines on a train, and proposes that he will murder Guy's wife so that Guy could be with his mistress, Anna, and in return, Guy would have to kill Bruno's father. Guy isn't interested in the plan at all, but Bruno goes ahead and murders Guy's wife. Guy has no interest in fulfilling his half of the bargain, but trouble arises when Bruno begins blackmailing Guy.

I really love Hitchcock movies, he's so great at creating tension. He creates such a strange and interesting relationship between Guy and Bruno - it's clearly full of sexual tension. Bruno stalks Guy constantly, but there is a weird undertone to it all. He's seductive when he talks to Guy, and almost seems more interested in Guy than he does in murder. I like that Hitchcock wasn't afraid to go into this sort of territory, which would have been pretty taboo in the '50s. The creepiness just builds, as Bruno appears everywhere and slowly reveals himself as a lunatic to everyone around him. One of the more awesome scenes was when the camera scans a tennis match, and everyone's heads are following the ball - except for Bruno, dressed in a black suit. He's so slick and suave, and I love how he just sort of effortlessly lies and torments Guy. He knows that he's good, and he's just calmly going after what he wants. It's really unnerving.

My favorite part of the movie was of course, the famous scene on the carousel. The operator is shot and it starts spinning too quickly, and the music starts going minor and wonky. People crowd around it screaming as Bruno and Guy fight amongst the rapidly moving horses. A carnival worker starts to crawl slowly under the carousel to stop it as the fight rages on above him. The whole scene created so many excellent shots and angles - close ups with horse hooves inches from Guy's face, shots where we could see the crazy spinning lights of the world outside the carousel, things like that. It was really stunning and exciting to watch. It even had some weird dark humor mixed in - a woman's son is trapped on the ride, but laughing because he gets to go so fast and watch some men fight. He gets so excited he begins punching Bruno to help out, until Bruno cruelly shoves him off the horse and Guy must go rescue him. In his essay, Ebert writes that the scene was actually real - "This shot was famously unfaked, and the stunt man could have been killed; Hitchcock said he would never take such a chance again" (Great Movies II, 429). It just makes the whole scene even more tense and scary to watch to know that.

Ebert knows so much about Hitchcock's visual style - it was like being in film class all over again to read it! He goes over a lot of the classic elements of his style (villains always on the left side of the frame), and if you want to learn more about Hitchcock's style, I'd really recommend reading it.  He also writes a lot about the history of making this movie and it's casting, which is really an interesting story. I hate to just paraphrase, so go read it!

For me, I loved seeing all the classic Hitchcock tension and visual style that I adore, but with a new story. I mean, it was new to me since I never saw it (hurf durf), but I never really heard of an idea like the "murder exchange" before. I thought it was so engrossing because it was so different and unique. I loved the characters, and the acting just seemed perfect. Robert Walker was so awesome as Bruno - so creepy but strangely alluring. Farley Granger was the perfect guy to struggle evade him, as well. They just seemed very well matched, and although I know from Ebert's essay that they were not Hitchcock's first choices, they were great! I thought this was just an all-around fantastic movie, and I had a great time watching it. I liked it enough to buy it - Amazon seems to show that it will be on Blu-ray in the future, and I'll have to grab it right away!

Have any thoughts on Strangers on a Train? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Strangers on a Train
Buy or rent it on Amazon (also you can rent it on Youtube)