I’ve been continuing my Hitchcock viewing for Readers Imbibing Peril, and I’m still enjoying the Master of Suspense. I had a bit of a Hitchcock phase in college (the library had lots of his movies available) and most of the movies I haven’t seen since then. I’ve been having a good time now rewatching favorites I haven’t seen in years–like Strangers on a Train.
This is a very direct and accurate title: two strangers meet on a train, tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and the wealthy and idle Bruno Antony (Robert Walker). Bruno has all sorts of wild theories, and he proposes one to Guy: a criss-cross murder. Guy wants to get rid of his philandering, divorce-refusing wife, Miriam; Bruno wants to get rid of his father. Neither can commit the murder because the motive makes them the obvious suspect–so why not commit each other’s murder? Guy laughs the idea off…until Bruno shows up at his door to tell him that Miriam is dead, and now he expects Guy to fulfill his half of the agreement.
I didn’t plan it, but this turned out to be a fascinating one to watch right after Rope (review here). It was made a few years later, and I can see some of the same themes. Also, if you remember weak-willed and murderous Philip from Rope, the same actor played the very different Guy Haines. I was impressed, actually, because Philip and Guy look exactly the same, and yet they felt like very different people. I think it was a difference that was on the level of mannerisms, bearing, speech patterns and so on. Guy has his foolish and weak-willed moments, but on the whole he’s confident and morally-upright…although, like Philip, he winds up manipulated by a seriously deranged man.
Hitchcock does wonderful things with Bruno. He’s not a moustache-twirling villain or a big hulking monster. He’s smiling, affable, pleasant-spoken and even charming…but with a little edge of weirdness. To quote Mr. Shakespeare, “you can smile and smile and be a villain,” and Hitchcock takes this smiling psychopath and presents him as a terrifying specter, haunting first Miriam and then Guy.
We follow Bruno as he follows Miriam to an amusement park, and it becomes a long tense scene set against a backdrop of revelry, because we know what has to be coming. One of my favorite moments is when Miriam and two “friends” take a boat into the Tunnel of Love. Bruno follows in another boat, and for a space we only see their silhouettes as shadows against the wall–and from their separate boats, Bruno’s shadow stalks and overtakes Miriam’s. Bruno’s amusement park boat, by the way, is named Pluto, the God of the Underworld. Those little touches are why I love Hitchcock so much.
As Bruno gets more intent on his demands of Guy, there are other lovely moments that are so simple but so creepy. At one point, Guy is sitting on the sidelines of a tennis match, and we see the crowd–every head turning in unison with the progress of the match, except right in the center there’s Bruno, eyes locked on Guy.
I mentioned some of the themes seemed to be carrying over from Rope, and I was especially thinking of the contrast between murder in theory and murder in actuality. Guy’s new girlfriend has a younger sister who is lovely and sweet and fascinated by grisly murders. We again have a character who thinks murder is quite thrilling in theory–but is horrified when confronted with the reality. The insane characters, the Brunos and the Brandons, are the ones who make no distinction–who don’t draw a line between saying you could strangle someone, and actually doing it.
My one criticism of the movie is that it ends too quickly (a Hitchcock trademark) and more importantly, too easily. I like happy endings, but I don’t quite believe that it all would have worked out so neatly and so simply…
Still, it was another excellent walk through the shadows with the Master of Suspense.
Buy it here: Strangers on a Train