DVD Reviews · Events · Film · Norwich

DVD Review: Strangers on a Train (1951)

strangers on a trainNorwich is going noir, as it’s time for the Noirwich Crime Writing Festival again! Check out the website here for more information. From the 17th to the 20th of September, the Writer’s Centre will be holding events, including conversations with top crime writers including Lee Child and lectures about crime fiction.

In celebration, we’ve been catching up on some classic crime cinema, including Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller, Strangers on a Train. Based on a novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith, Strangers on a Train is a tense tale of murder most foul.

Tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) has a conversation with a rather strange fellow traveller on a train, the charming and intense Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker). This stranger seems to know rather a lot about Haines, including his well-publicised split from his wife Miriam (Laura Elliott), and his affection for a Senator’s daughter, Anne Morton (Ruth Roman). Anthony makes a strange proposal, a perfect murder: two strangers meet on a train and ‘take care of’ each other’s problems. He suggests that he murder Haines’ estranged wife and Haines in return murder Anthony’s overbearing mother. Haines is horrified at the suggestion, but when Miriam reveals that she isn’t planning on divorcing Haines, meaning he won’t be free to marry the woman he loves, he begins to reveal a more violent side to his character. When the news arrives that Miriam has been murdered, he knows who the culprit must be, but the finger of suspicion is pointing strongly to him, and if Anthony is caught, Haines may be arrested as an accessory to murder. The only thing, it seems, is to go through with his side of the bargain and kill Anthony’s mother, but can he do it? And will Anthony ever stop now he has a taste for killing?

A fateful meeting… (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Strangers on a Train is a classic for a reason, with the kind of striking visuals Hitchcock is so well known for. Less intense than some of his other films like Psycho and Rear Window, it still manages to keep the audience hooked. The suspense ramps up until the tennis match Haines must win to successfully catch up with Anthony without arousing suspicion becomes nail-biting. Anthony, the charming psychopath, and Haines, the man who seems to have it all but has some distinctly unpleasant sides to his character, are classic Highsmith characters not unlike her other famous psychopath and victim, Tom Ripley and Dickie Greenleaf, but Hitchcock changed Anthony into a playboy who could effortlessly ingratiate himself into society, with a similar set of hangups about his mother to those of his other famous mama’s boy, Norman Bates, in Psycho.

There’s so much to say about Strangers on a Train, with dramatic shots that are still studied on film courses today and a masterful use of music and pacing. All of the actors are fantastic, particularly Patricia Hitchcock, who plays Anne Morton’s sister Barbara, and was Alfred Hitchcock’s daughter. If you want to see a master at work (and spend a tense couple of hours), watch Strangers on a Train.


If you liked Strangers on a Train…

Learn more about crime fiction with A Short History of Crime Fiction in 9 Books, our feature post from last year’s Noirwich Festival.

Check out another of Highsmith’s great thrillers, The Talented Mr Ripley, either in the book or the film adaptation by Anthony Minghella (both at NORFOLK HOUSE 823.91). We’ve reviewed the book here.

We have a great collection of Hitchcock films, including one of my favourites, another train-based mystery called The Lady Vanishes, a comic thriller about a woman who meets a kind older lady on a train, who then disappears (DVD LOBBY 791.43).


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