Farley Granger and Kasey Rogers in Strangers on a Train (1951).
I didn't appreciate until yesterday, just how visually arresting this Hitchcock film is. From the murder reflected in the victim's pair broken glasses to the noirish gleam given to our nation's capitol, this is one Hitchock's most beautifully made movies. The story of an ambitious young man with political aspirations and dreams of the golden girl who is inconveniently tied to a woman he wants to be rid of, is reminiscent of A Place in the Sun which came out the same year. Ruth Roman who plays Granger's love interest even reminds me a bit of Elizabeth Taylor. While A Place in the Sun has all around superior performances from the actors, and probably a better script, Strangers on a Train is one of Hitchock's most concentrated and successful efforts at building an atmosphere of suspense. In one scene a lone figure standing on the steps of the Lincoln memorial in stark broad daylight is reminiscent of the dreamscapes from Spellbound. We see the figure from Granger's perspective, never knowing whether or not the figure is psychopath Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker).
Walker's performance is chilling in its intensity. The young actor was briefly hospitalized for a nervous breakdown before making the movie and committed suicide shortly after production finished while working on the feircly paranoid anti-communist polemic, My Son John (1952). The context of the Red Scare is part of the tense feelings in Strangers as well. Though it is a-political, the movie is set in Washington and the protagonist is a young man working in the office of a prominent Senator. The fear of scandal hangs over most of his decisions and prolong his troubles. In another scene he sits in a dark suit in a crowd full of tennis fans clad in white. As we watch their heads moving mechanically left to right with the match, Walker looks straight into the camera which moves quickly in on his face. It's one of those terrifying forward camera moves that Hitchcock would use most famously in Psycho (1960) and Vertigo (1958), but perfected in Strangers on a Train.
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