If you haven’t seen it:
Strangers on a Train is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s early masterpieces, and one of his best-known films.
If you have seen it:
Scroll down for more.
SPOILER ALERT: The plot summary and comments below contain details that might spoil your enjoyment of the movie if you have not already seen it.
Two strangers, Bruno and Guy, find themselves sitting next to each other on a train journey. Guy, a successful tennis player, is a minor celebrity, and Bruno recognises him. They strike up a conversation, which quickly to turns to the subject of Guy’s marriage; Bruno is aware that Guy’s estranged wife Miriam is causing him problems. Bruno tells Guy that he himself is having problems in his life, caused by his father. He comes up with a suggestion for “the perfect murder” – if they both carry out each other’s murders, then they would both get away with it, because both would have alibis for their own enemy’s murders, and neither would be suspected for the murder they actually did carry out. Guy is horrified by the suggestion, but out of embarrassment and politeness, jokingly agrees it is a good idea, before disembarking the train.
Bruno however, takes the agreement at face value. He tracks down Miriam, and strangles her at an amusement park, then approaches Guy and tells him he now expects him to murder his father. Guy protests, but Bruno tells him that unless he goes through with it, he will frame him for Miriam’s murder, by planting Guy’s cigarette lighter (which Bruno acquired at their first meeting) at the scene of the crime.
Guy, with the help of his girlfriend Anne, tries to outmanoeuvre Bruno, but Bruno is always one step ahead. Eventually Bruno decides to make good on his threat, and returns to the amusement park. Guy races to intercept him, and (despite being delayed by having to play a tennis match that agonisingly goes to five sets) gets to the park in time to stop Bruno, and the two men fight on a carousel. The police, who have been following Guy, intervene, but cause mayhem when one of them accidentally shoots the carousel operator, and the carousel spins dangerously fast until eventually collapsing, killing Bruno.
At first the police are convinced Guy murdered his wife, and they will not believe his story about Bruno, the murder-swap, and the lighter. However, he is cleared when a witness to the murder recognises Bruno and places him at the scene of the crime, and also because the police find Guy’s lighter in Bruno’s hand, confirming Guy’s story.
Steve Sunday Says:
This is a great little movie with some interesting characters and an intriguing story.
One thing that struck me while I was watching it is that Bruno’s plan was actually not a bad one, and might have worked under different circumstances. Suppose the famous sportsman he had bumped into on the train had not been Guy Haines but OJ Simpson (I was going to say Oscar Pretorious, but I think it is too soon)? Maybe things would have worked out differently?
Although I loved the story, the characters, and the overall feel of the movie, I have to say that the climax in the amusement park left me scratching my head a little. The first peculiarity is where the movie implies that 1950’s cops were allowed to fire their weapons at amusement park rides full of children if a suspected criminal was in the vicinity – I cannot imagine even Dirty Harry doing something like that (Judge Dredd, possibly). The second thing that puzzled me was the carousel crash; I know that health and safety has come a long way in the past six decades, but surely even in 1951 it was unlikely that a carousel manufacturer would design the ride with a top speed that was dangerously fast? So fast that it would actually cause the ride to (somehow) explode?
The thing that gave me the most amusement though, was the pleasure I felt once I noticed how much notice Farley’s voice sounded like Cameron’s telephone impersonation of Sloane’s father in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!
Trivia Trish Says:
- This was Hitchcock’s first big box office success.
- An early version of the script, written by Raymond Chandler, ended with Bruno being arrested and institutionalized. The final scene was him writhing in a straightjacket.
- The final scene in the finished movie, on board the train, was not in Hitchcock’s original cut – he wanted to end at the amusement park, but the studio forced him to add the final comical scene. Some people refer to the original cut as “The British Version” but in fact that version was never actually released anywhere.
- Hitchcock had a reputation for bullying on set, and often singled out an actress to give her a hard time. On this movie, his victim was Ruth Roman, who played Anne. The director had not wanted her in the role – she was forced on him by the studio. Hitchcock said that she lacked sex appeal.
- The man who crawls under the carousel at the end was not an actor, but a carnival worker. There was no trick photography, and Hitchcock said it was the most dangerous stunt he ever directed.
- Anne’s sister, Barbara, is played by Patricia Hitchcock, the director’s daughter.
- Robert Walker died less than a year after making Strangers on a Train, he suffered a reaction to some medicine he had taken. Farley Grainger however, survived until 2011, working mainly in television for the rest of his career.
- The concept of the murder-swap, along with many references to Strangers on a Train, was used in the 1980s Billy Crystal / Danny DeVito comedy Throw Momma From the Train.
Top Ten Crimes we would Like to Swap:
The more I think about it, the more I like Bruno’s plan. It is such a good plan that I did think I might adopt it – I could use this website as a platform to offer to exchange murders with like-minded readers. However, luckily, at the last moment I remembered that I am not a psychopathic killer, and my natural aversion to murder and my fear of being arrested for conspiracy (these websites are traceable you know) won through. So, instead, I am offering my readers a “petty crime swap” instead.
Here’s how it works. Commit any crime from the list below, then call me and tell me what crime you would like me to commit in return.
- Go round your nearest DVD retailer and correct the missing apostrophe on every copy of Two Weeks Notice in permanent marker pen.
- Break into a live “spiritualist” event wearing a bedsheet, and run around shouting “Woooo! I’m a ghost … I’m trying to contact my wife or possibly daughter … her name probably begins with B.”
- Become an identity thief. Go into a bank with a replica firearm and demand they hand over all the identities.
- Kidnap Joss Whedon’s pets and refuse to release them until he promises to make another series of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”.
- Hack into the Wikipedia page on ‘Homeopathy’ and replace all instances of the word “advocate” with “nutter”.
- Persuade Russell Brand that he has an STD and that he has to contact all his former sexual partners to warn them.
- Go round to my neighbour’s house (the one with the dogs) and bark outside their window when they are trying to sleep. See how they like it.
- Find out the address of the council official responsible for fixing pot-holes in Gloucester, and dig a hole in his driveway.
- Falsely accuse Barney the purple dinosaur of something terrible in the hope that he will be banned from working with children.
- Get them to stop making The X Factor. I don’t care how you do it.
My telephone number is 911 if you live in the USA, or 999 in the UK. Please explain to the person who answers the phone exactly what you have done, leave your full name and address, and someone will be in touch shortly.
Chris the Critic says:
The movie begins with us just watching the feet of the two protagonists – Guy with conservative shoes and anxious footwork, Bruno with flambouyant black and white spectator shoes and confident gait. By the time we see their faces for the first time, we already have a fair idea of the personalities of these two men.
Hitchcock said in interviews about the film that the two stars brought their characters to life so well, that the audiences understood them instantly, and that “a reel of storytelling time” was saved as a result of not having to spell out the motivations in drawn-out backstory.
So what of Bruno’s motivation? His attempt to win Guy over plays out rather like an attempted seduction – is the film an allegory for the temptation of sexual experimentation? Guy does at first seem drawn to Bruno’s flamboyance, but the attraction does not last long, and both sides are left frustrated.
Walker does steal the movie with his memorably over-the-top performance. At times Strangers is almost a black comedy, but it is also a gripping and accomplished film, one of Hitchcock’s best.
Main Cast and Crew:
Farley Granger as Guy Haines
Ruth Roman as Anne Morton
Robert Walker as Bruno Anthony
Director – Alfred Hitchcock