Strangers on a Train (1951)

"Strangers on a Train" always gets left out...for no good reason, either. It's the movie that's either forgotten completely or tacked onto the end of a sentence when talking about Hitchcock. This is easy to understand when the man made such works as "Rear Window", "Psycho", "Vertigo", "Notorious", "North by Northwest", "The Birds" and "Rope"...oh, that's right, and "Strangers on a Train".
The reason why "Strangers on a Train" deserves to be mentioned near the top of any Hitchcock list is because it shows how the director was feeling a decade before he became popular for it.
"Strangers on a Train" is nastier than "Vertigo" and it precedes it by seven years. It's a monster movie where the monster is a fully realized human as it is seen in "Psycho". It's about the damaged psyche and it's more fun to watch than nearly every other one of his movies.
At the movie's opening, Guy Haines (Farley Granger of "Rope" fame) tennis pro and average man is boarding a train, returning to his home. He's been away for a tennis tournament and as he is on the train, he is recognized by an avid fan/busybody Bruno Antony (Robert Walker doing his best evil Jack Lemmon impersonation). Bruno strikes up a conversation and the viewer is immediately granted the insight into his character. He is more defined than any stage persona in a theater...he's playfully insane.
There is a certain aura of Agatha Christie to the piece and Bruno's Mousetrap-esque ramblings only help to solidify that.
While on the train, with Bruno's mouth traveling faster than the engine, the two men are forced into having lunch together because of a full dining cart. Guy tolerates Bruno's presence; but he doesn't enjoy it.
Bruno's constant talking helps glide over the fact that he's a stalker. He knows everything about Guy's personal life, including a divorce that was meant to be secret and a relationship with a senator's daughter.
This is the deal: Guy's wife was cheating on him and got pregnant, she wants a divorce. While they were separated, Guy began seeing another woman and fell in love.
Now he's returning home to finalize his divorce so he can marry this senator's daughter...and Bruno has figured it all out. He's so proud of himself and pries deeper into Guy's life, salivating for the juicy details.
Before the beans have had a chance to spill, Bruno launches into his own personal problems. He has a rich father who is withholding of his wealth. He thinks that Bruno should have to work for a living...nobody puts Bruno in a corner.
Then comes a plan—Bruno believes that he has found the blueprint for the perfect murder. He hypothesizes that if two strangers were to meet, each one of them with someone to kill, they could kill each other's victim for them. He uses his father and Guy's wife as an example. The perfect murder would be for Bruno to kill Guy's wife and Guy to kill Bruno's father.
Haha, real funny, Bruno, now seriously, I've got to go.
"Strangers on a Train" predates so many thrillers including "Seconds"...the camera work is also reminiscent from that film.
Still present are the Hitchcockian classic tropes like the tangible homoeroticism, the sexual imagery, the fear of women, the wrong man, and the last minute pay-off. As opposed to "North by Northwest", this movie hesitates for not one moment before plunging its viewer into the suspense. As much as I am a fan of Granger, he is overshadowed by the deliciously evil Robert Walker.
When it reaches its climactic ending, "Strangers on a Train" could appear a little goofy, but its razor sharp writing and its psychotic nature make this picture one of Hitchcock's greatest.
It's hugely entertaining and wonderfully crazy.

Score: ★★★★

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