STRANGERS ON A TRAIN
Strangers on a Train is adapted from a 1950 novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith, best known elsewhere for the series of novels that became The Talented Mr Ripley (1999), while the script is co-written by Raymond Chandler, author of classic pulp detective novels such as The Big Sleep (1939), Farewell, My Lovely (1940) and The Long Goodbye (1953), as well as the screenplays for Double Indemnity (1944) and The Blue Dahlia (1946). (Apparently, Chandler disliked Hitchcock so much for the seeming marriage of two of the great thriller names of the era).
In any more pedestrian a thriller, the set-up would be little more than a business-exchange but under Hitchcock it is twisted into something darkly psychological. Robert Walkers performance is rather cocky but Hitchcock lingers on his obsessiveness, leavening it with humour in a way that is unnerving. In one charming scene that hardly anybody else but a Hitchcock could play with such drollness, Walker sits describing the delights of murder to two old dowagers at a cocktail party, making a series of ever-so-charming eye rolls of disgust at the impractical suggestions they offer as to means of killing. (Part of you cannot help but wonder if in these scenes Robert Walker is a direct stand-in for Hitchcock himself who loved nothing more than to contrast the business of murder with the banality of polite society).
There is always one set-up that everyone remembers in a Hitchcock film here it is the shot that closes across a tennis court filled with faces turning back and forward in unison following the ball, all except for one in the midst of the crowd that of Robert Walker staring into frame. Walkers pursuit of Laura Elliott through the fairground comes filled with flashy peripheral jumps as he creeps up on her from unexpected directions or menacingly steps out in front of her to offer to light a cigarette, while Hitchcock shows off when it comes to showing the strangling stylishly reflected off her fallen glasses. Before such a thing became a cliche, Hitchcock sets up a good many shots of Robert Walker just standing sinisterly watching from across the street or at the top of the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. That said, even someone as masterful as a Hitchcock finds it hard to drum up much suspense from a tennis match that slows proceedings down about three-quarters of the way through. Nevertheless, Hitchcock brings everything together for a spectacular and exciting climax with Farley Granger and Robert Walker pursuing one another around a runaway fairground carousel.
Robert Walker is all brash insouciance, rather effectively switching to play baby-faced innocent when it comes to acting deadly and psychopathic. On the other hand, Farley Granger plays everything at a nervous intensity and proves so cluelessly wet it is difficult to feel sympathy for him even at the end, he is still begging Robert Walker to just tell the police what he did and set everything alright. Hitchcocks own daughter Patricia plays Ruth Romans younger sister where Hitchcock feeds her some of the most deliciously dry lines. It is a great surprise that she never went onto do much else in the way of acting.
Strangers on a Train was directly remade as the tv movie Once You Meet a Stranger (1996), albeit with a change of the sexes where Farley Granger was replaced by Jacqueline Bissett and Robert Walker by Theresa Russell. The basic premise has been copied in other films such as Once You Kiss a Stranger (1969), Throw Momma from the Train (1987) and Bad Influence (1990) and parodied in episodes of The Simpsons (1989 ).
Alfred Hitchcocks other films of genre interest are: The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926), Elstree Calling (1930), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Rope (1948), Vertigo (1958), The Birds (1963) and Frenzy (1972). Hitchcock also produced, introduced and occasionally directed the anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-62). Hitchcocks life is depicted in the films The Girl (2012) and Hitchcock (2012).