Thursday, November 13, 2008

Eye Candy of the Day: Strangers on a Train

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.


kda0121 said...

Strangers on a Train ranks up there with my favorite Hitchcock movies. Robert Walker gives a tour de force performance as the psychotic Bruno. The opening shot at the train station of just legs and feet, with Bruno and Guy's (Farley Granger), paths crossing is superb. It's almost a silent movie as Hitch extraordinarily opens the story visually. This shot is a teasing prelude to the later scene in the club car of the train they are riding. Bruno suggests they exchange murders and calls it "criss-cross.

The hero and heroine of Strangers are a bit of a letdown in terms of Hitchcock's preferred casting. It has been stated that Hitch would have liked William Holden in the role of Guy, but Warner's pushed their contract player Granger on him; as was also the case of Ruth Roman. Although she registered a cool beauty prerequisite of Hitchcock heroines, alas she was no Grace Kelly. Especially good was Leo G. Carroll as Senator Morton, who was one of Hitch's stock company stalwarts and a surprisingly good turn as the younger sister, Barbara Morton, was Hitchcock's daughter, Patricia.

There are several excellent touches of Hitchcock's tense build-up of suspense, one being the stalking of Guy's ex-wife by Bruno, another being the scene of Bruno desperately trying to retrieve the cigarette lighter from the sewer drain and of course the merry-go-round sequence.

An excellent thriller and a very good example of Alfred Hitchock's cinematic style.

Jennythenipper said...

I think the lack of big stars is the reason this movie is chronically underrated. I kind of like anonymity of the actors as it really lets the visual style stand out more and I agree Patricia is really good in it. I would like to see her in more movies.

SteveQ said...

I know it's a completely different film world from the one you live in, but you might be interested in my post of Thanksgiving "Turkeys."

AbbyNormal said...

Yay! A movie I have seen and love. I hadn't really thought about the similarities with "A Place In The Sun", but I do agree with you. In fact, I agree with everything you said. I have always thought this was SUCH an underrated film. It is visually genius and just terrifying at the same time. A true masterpiece. The scene you mention of Bruno at the tennis match always gave me chill bumps. What a scray little man.

Criss-Cross. Criss-Cross.