The Movie: “Strangers on a Train”
The Year: 1951
The People: Farley Granger as the supremely stressed-out tennis player, Guy Haines; Robert Walker as the slick psychopath, Bruno Anthony; Ruth Roman as Guy’s supportive, elegant girlfriend Anne Morton; and Patricia Hitchcock as Anne’s inquisitive and unrelenting sister Barbara Morton. Alfred Hitchcock, the director, shows off his knack for thrill-inducing set pieces.
The Non-Revealing Plot: Guy Haines meets Bruno Anthony on a train heading from Washington, D.C. towards New York. Bruno, ever the opportunist, recognizes Guy as a successful tennis player and approaches him. Typical for a movie psychopath, Bruno toys with the prospect of committing murder, offering to kill someone for Guy’s benefit in exchange for Guy’s promise to kill Bruno’s father. Though Guy thinks nothing much of the proposal, his joking affirmation to the idea is perceived by Bruno as a true intent to carry out the murderous plan. Soon Guy realizes his mistake and deals with the consequences of having a persistent and cunning psychopath expecting Guy to kill his father.
Unofficial Genre: The film is a thriller noir. Wikipedia says that it’s a “psychological thriller … noir.” I disagree. Using “psychological” when referring to the contents of a movie means that there’s a focus on studying or observing or just commenting on parts of the human psychology. This movies involves a psychopath, yes, but no part of the movie even slightly focuses on this complex subject.
My Opinion (Emotional): This movie did an excellent job creating a sort of fear and hatred combination for the manipulative Bruno Anthony. Once it clicked that he had sinister ambitions, I immediately felt sympathetic for Guy and fear of Bruno. Critics claim that this film portrays a situation where there’s a fine line between who’s good and who’s bad, but I completely disagree. I think it’s cut and dry that Guy’s in the right and Bruno’s in the wrong.
My Opinion (Technical): The action-based thrills weren’t all too horrifying. It was more in the moments where thrills weren’t to be expected — such as a middle-of-the-day tennis match — that I found myself feeling truly scared. The scene I’m referencing is a brilliantly crafted scene where Guy is on the court waiting to play, and he looks up into the crowd where every observer except one is moving their heads back and forth with the movement of the tennis ball. The one observer is obviously Bruno, and he’s staring directly at Guy. What makes this shot and setup so effective is that the movement of the observers’ heads is supposed to make the audience think there is uniformity, which is meant to be soothing. But once we notice that one observer is deviating from this uniform motion — which we notice after a few seconds — we’re uncomfortable both because of the break in cohesion and because this observer is evil.
Overall rating: For its impressive set pieces, unique and effective shots and scintillating characters, I would give this film an 8.6 out of 10. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more of a delving into Bruno’s backstory, and felt that that doing so would’ve elevated the story on an emotional level.
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