Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Strangers On A Train (1951) review

Alfred Hitchcock is a filmmaker that I have studied; both is personal life and biography along with his films. Last year I recieved a box set of Alfred Hitchcock films that contained five of his masterpieces: Rear Window, Vertigo, North By Northwest, Psycho and The Birds. I watched all of the films and enjoyed four of the five (I didn't like Vertigo) and I wrote reviews of the films on this site. After watching those I just assumed that those were Hitchcock's best films and didn't bother to watch any of the other ones. I had read about and studied his other films but I never really cared to watch them. Until I picked up a book that had the greatest movies of all time ranked and Strangers On A Train was listed at #31. I was intrigued and I bought it at a store. I didn't watch it ever but the other day I watched it and I was blown away. This film is better than three of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpieces and definitely deserves recognition.

Strangers On A Train is the story of Guy Haines (Farley Granger), a tennis player who boards a train to go back to his hometown to finalize divorce papers with his wife so that he can marry the daughter of a senator, Anne Morton (Ruth Roman). On the train, he meets a man named Bruno Antony (Robert Walker). He complains to Bruno about Anne and Bruno proposes a murder swap. He would murder his wife, if Guy murdered his father. Guy laughs at the idea and doesn't really respond to him. He dismisses Bruno but Bruno really thinks that they have a deal. Bruno kills his wife and expects the favor in return. Guy doesn't want to do it but also is being tracked because he looks guilty in the case of his murdered wife. What happens next is a caroussel of action and suspense. I'm telling you, I could really write these summaries; if you've seen the movie you get the joke.

Of course, the directing is fantastic. Hitchcock was a master of film and the way he manipulates audiences and does different camera angles is apparent here. Hitchcock is at the top of his game. The acting is solid with one spectacular exception. Farley Granger is solid as Haines but a little wooden. Roman is also decent as Anne and is one of the only relatable and good characters in the film. Patricia Hitchcock is also a standout as the critical, biting sister of Anne. But the real standout is Robert Walker as Bruno Antony. Bruno is a really despicable character who is insane and violent but somehow draws people in and is friendly. All this is thanks to Walker's performance. I think that out of all the Hitchcock films that I have seen, Bruno is the most intriguing and most interesting. I think that he is well worth discussing and honestly the first serial killer character in film that I have seen.

One of the things that I found interesting is the way that Bruno manipulates people and turns them into monsters. There is a scene at a dinner party where Bruno is talking with some older women, sane and normal and asks them: "Have you ever thought of killing your husband?" At first, they reject the thought but as Bruno keeps talking, they are soon drawn into his mindset and start conversing about all the ways that they could kill them and why certain ways wouldn't work. It is a fascinating scene and one that I think draws straight from Hitchcock's life and mindset. I went to see Sacha Gervasi's Hitchcock today and while I'm not sure it is entirely accurate, Hitchcock was in some ways obsessed by murder and thought that he was susceptible to commiting the acts of violence depicted in his films. So I wonder now, after seeing that film if Hitchcock put a little bit of himself into Bruno. Not much, but a little.

There are also two masterful sequences in the film, both taking place at a carnival. The scene where Guy's wife is killed by Bruno is drawn out over a suspensful ten minutes and ends with a brutal strangling. The final scene of the film is also fantastic. It takes place on a caroussel spinning out of control and is something that feels like it would belong more in an action movie from 2012 than a classic film. The film's last thirty minutes are some of the most fun I've had watching a movie in a while.

Strangers On A Train is a film you will enjoy even if you are not a fan of Hitchcock. It is just a fun film to watch and despite a bit of pacing issues in the middle, it is a masterpiece and a must-watch for all film fans. An underappreciated masterpiece.

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