Film Notes: Strangers on a Train (1951) directed by Alfred Hitchcock

USA / 101 minutes / bw / Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. Dir: Alfred Hitchcock Pro: Alfred Hitchcock Scr: Raymond Chandler and Czenzi Ormonde based on the 1950 novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith adapted by Whitfield Cook Cine: Robert Burks Mus: Dimitri Tiomkin Cast: Farley Granger (Guy Haines), Ruth Roman (Anne Morton), Robert Walker (Bruno Anthony), Leo G. Carroll (Senator Morton), Patricia Hitchcock (Barbara Morton), Laura Elliott (Miriam Joyce Haines), Marion Lorne (Mrs. Anthony), Jonathan Hale (Mr. Anthony), Howard St. John (Police Capt. Turley), Norma Varden (Mrs. Cunningham), John Brown (Professor Collins), Robert Gist (Detective Hennessey) Release Date: 30 Jun 1951.

large_y0Lec3HBZbzkB3b1ACSC4tVnj9n Summary plot: On a journey from Washington DC, Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) meet accidentally on a train. Bruno seems to know all the details of Guy’s personal and public life, specifically that he’s a tennis champion whose desire to marry a senator’s daughter is being thwarted by the refusal of his wife Miriam (Laura Elliott) to divorce him. The ever-resourceful Bruno proposes an exchange of murders: He will kill Guy’s wife, Miriam, if Guy will kill Bruno’s father, whom he despises. The two crimes can be accomplished swiftly and efficiently, claiming that the police will never be able to establish real motives for them. Guy rejects the outrageous proposal, but Bruno fulfills his part. At an amusement park, he strangles Miriam and then demands that Guy keep his side of the bargain. (Source: Emanuellevy)

After several disappointing films made in the U.K., Hitchcock returned to the U.S. to make at Warners  Strangers on a Train, a film that reestablished his reputation among critics. One of Hitchcock’s most fascinating and yet accessible films, Strangers is also one of the most analyzed films due to its narrative complexity and visual brilliance. (Source: Emanuellevy)

Hitchcock was above all the master of great visual set pieces, and there are several famous sequences in “Strangers on a Train.” Best known is the one where Guy scans the crowd at a tennis match and observes that all of the heads are swiveling back and forth to follow the game — except for one head, Bruno’s, which is looking straight ahead at Guy. (The same technique was used in Hitchcock’s “Foreign Correspondent,” where all the windmills rotate in the same direction — except one.) Another effective scene shows Guy floating in a little boat through the Tunnel of Love at a carnival; Miriam and two boyfriends are in the boat ahead, and shadows on the wall make it appear Bruno has overtaken them. In a scene where Guy goes upstairs in the dark in Bruno’s house, Hitchcock told Truffaut, he hit on the inspiration of a very large dog to distract the audience from what he would probably find at the top. Then there’s the famous sequence involving a runaway merry-go-round, on which Guy and Bruno struggle as a carnival worker crawls on his stomach under the revolving ride to get to the controls. (This shot was famously unfaked, and the stunt man could have been killed; Hitchcock said he would never take such a chance again.) Another great shot shows Bruno’s face in the shadow of his hat brim, only the whites of his eyes showing. (Source: Strangers on a Train (1951) Movie Review by Roger Ebert)

For my part, Strangers on a Train is one of my favourite films and I believe it should be included among the ten best films by Alfred Hitchcock.

American Film Institute

Strangers on a Train Movie Review by Robert Ebert

See also other interesting facts and the differences from the novel at Wikipedia

The movie script is available here (PDF)

13 thoughts on “Film Notes: Strangers on a Train (1951) directed by Alfred Hitchcock”

  1. Oh, I think this is an absolute classic, José Ignacio! I’m very glad you reminded me of it. Time to watch it again, I think…

  2. I re-watched this just the other night – I agree, one of Hitch’s best! I love the younger sister – she adds that touch of humour that I always think improves a film or book.

    1. The book will also be one of my 1950 books, Rich. Have also ordered The Drowning Pool but am afraid it might not arrived on time, still looking for another 1950 title.

  3. I completely agree with your high opinion regarding this movie. It was definitely one of Hitchcock’s best and many scenes will stay engraved in the mind of anyone who ever saw this film. And Chandler was responsible for the screenplay – what an amazing co-operation between masters of their respective crafts!

    1. Thanks for your post and for your visit. Just one observation to your comment, my understanding is that Chandler due to differences with Hitchcock did not really participate in the final script and his name was included due to pressures from Warner Bros. Actually Czenzi Ormonde wrote the script.

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