Strangers On A Train: The Christian Hipster’s Summer Guide to Hitchcock

What do Christian Hipsters love more than a good discussion on postmodernism and morality? And what better cultural reference than Hitch’s brilliantly premised and shot tale of a botched non-bargain and an out of control carousel ride?

Stranglers on a train. Yes, that too.

Stranglers on a train. Yes, that too.

 

Strangers On A Train (1951) with Robert Walker, Farley Granger, Ruth Roman and Patricia Hitchcock. Also, Leo G. Carroll and Kasey Rogers (credited as Laura Elliot). Script by Raymond Chandler and Czenzi Ormonde. Based on a story by Patricia Highsmith.

Reasons Hipsters Will Like This Movie:

  • Postmodern shifting moral quagmire.

Bruno meets Guy (Farley Granger) on train. Bruno learns Guy is unhappily married. Bruno offers to kill Guy’s wife if Guy will kill his father (“You do my murder, I do yours, criss-cross.”). Guy doesn’t agree. Bruno kills wife anyway. But the brilliancy lies in the casting because:

  • Robert Walker’s performance as Bruno Antony.

Walker was best known for playing the shy naieve guy in romantic comedies (like the WWII era soldier-in-New York-for-a-day gets married in 24 hours to a cute office working girl story The Clock, with Judy Garland). He immediately illicits audience sympathy. He’s a stalker, a killer, and a pretty disturbed person. But he has those kind eyes, you know?

  • Eerie connections with real life.

This was Walker’s last film. He died 8 months later of a bad drug interaction.

  • Cinematography that is to die for.

There are a host of unforgettable shots in the film, including the imagesmurder of Miriam (Kasey Rogers), which the audience sees in a reflection on her glasses, laying in the grass;

Bruno standing on the steps of the strangers2monument_zpsd2c10ad0Jefferson Memorial as Guy rides past (at this point, Bruno keeps appearing in Guy’s life, usually in alarming ways);

and Guy’s tennis practice, as he sees Bruno staring at him from cap023the crowd (Bruno’s is the only face not moving back and forth to watch the match, he eerily stares right at the camera).

 

 

  • Patricia Hitckcock’s performance as the love interest’s younger comic relief sister.

And comic relief she is, with the best lines in the script, including:

Bess: “Oh daddy doesn’t mind a little scandal, he’s a senator.”

Ann (Ruth Roman) [referring to the now deceased Miriam]:”Poor unfortunate child”
Bess: “She was a tramp.”
Senator Morton (Leo G. Carroll):”She was a human being.”

Senator Morton: “One doesn’t always have to say what one thinks.”
Bess: “Father, I am not a politician.”

Bess [to Ann, regarding Guy]: “I still think it would be wonderful to have a man love you so much he’d kill for you.”

Pat’s performance is delightful. She also appeared in her father’s films Stage Fright and Psycho (As well as numerous episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents) and directed her father’s cameo for Strangers.

Nice Thematic and Camera Work that Hipsters Love to Discuss Over Coffee:

  • Motion.

As the title implies, this is one of several Hitchcock films involving train travel. Travel is a biggie in all Hitch films, but its reiterated in the camera work in this movie. Many shots contain motion either in the image (people moving, train tracks moving, etc.) or of the image (the camera pans, zooms, and trucks along as characters talk and observe). When this is reversed it calls our attention to the subject of the shot, sometimes in jarring ways, as in the shots of Bruno standing stoically in the steps or staring from the crowd. We notice him suddenly because everything else is moving except him.

  • Man vs. Man with camera in between.

There are lines between Guy and Bruno all the time.images-2images-4images-3

 

 

 

 

Also, we are introduced to Bruno and Guy by seeing two sets of tumblr_mcz27mbLtz1rf1jvro1_1280shoes as they get out of cabs and walk onto a train platform, then board the train. Bruno’s wingtips are black and white, a little fancy, a little loud. Guy’s are sensible black or brown (it’s a black and white film, but they don’t look as dark as the black of Guy’s shoes).

In one scene when Guy confront’s Bruno, he punches straight at the camera. Cut to: Bruno falling straight back from the camera. We are always in between them. Caught in the middle of the plot. Getting beaten up by it.

  •  Fear, control, psychosis.

You know, the usual for a Hitchcock film. And as usual, it’s embodied in the filmmaking. Two examples are the infamous glasses murder shot and its reiteration at the cocktail party tumblr_l7msb4smNB1qzzxybo1_500when Bruno “goes into a trance” after seeing Bess’s glasses (which look just like Miriam’s), and the use of the song “And the Band Played On,” which was playing when Miriam was murdered and continues to haunt Bruno.

  • Use of crosses.

Bruno and Guy “cross paths.” Train tracks converge. Guy’s 0lighter has two tennis rackets crossed. Tennis is a sport where the ball goes back and forth (and people watch, images-1crossing viewpoints).

 

 

  • Shot composition, props as trophies or weapons, and thematic montage.

Throughout the film, important objects or events are weighted in the right foreground. A lot of objects appear there, and several times Guy is positioned in the bottom right when talking to Bruno. Phones, lamps, notes, and the cigarette lighter also appear in the right foreground at important moments, including the end of the film, when the lighter plays a major plot role.

The most notable props are the lighter and Miriam’s (or Bess’s) glasses, but good use is also made of Bruno’s hands (a murder weapon) and Guy’s gun.

And the montage of the out of control carousel at the end of the film (notedly inspired by Hitch’s love of the Edgar Allen Poe Story “A Descent into the Malestrom”) is not only dizzying, it’s terrifying, out of control, hurts innocent people, makes you grip the edge of your seat, and messes with your head. The construction of the shots is fantastic, and the motion amps up suspense and pace, earning a sigh of relief and an “are we ok?”

Glad that ride is over... let's go again!

Glad that ride is over… let’s go again!

when it finally crashes to a halt. (It also contains what Hitch called his most dangerous real stunt, when a man crawls under the berzerk carousel to turn it off. Hitch vowed to never do a stunt that dangerous again.)

Other Bests for Hipsters To Look For:

  • Bruno’s best self reflexive dialog:

Mrs. Cunningham, the Judge’s wife (Norma Varden, who has a long filmography, although you might know her best as Frau Schmidt the housekeeper in The Sound of Music): “Mr Antony, you seem very interested in the subject of murder.”

Bruno: “Well no more than anyone else. No more than you, for instance.”

Mrs. C: “Me? Oh, I’m not interested in murder.”

Bruno: “Oh come now, everyone’s interested in murder. Everyone has somebody that they want to put out of the way.”

Bruno then “pretends to strangle her” (a party trick that apparently Hitch also loved to enact), goes into a trance as the band plays on when he sees Bess’s glasses and in yet another brilliant shot, sees the lighter and Miriam’s murder reflected in them, nearly really does strangle Mrs. Cunningham, and passes out cold.

  • Bruno’s startling appearance when Guy comes into the house with a gun (we think to murder the father) and tried to wake up Mr. Antony (Bruno’s oppressive father).

Click, boo! Then that disarming Robert Walker smile. Don’t worry, I may be a psychopath but I’m really just your average nice guy…

What, me a killer? Let me put my hands on your neck... Nope.

What, me a killer? Let me put my hands on your neck… Nope.

 

 

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About jenletherer

BA, Theater and Speech Communication; English:Creative Writing. Siena Heights University, 2002. MFA, Film Production. Boston University, 2005
This entry was posted in Hipster's Guide and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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