Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Strangers on a Train

1951, US, directed by Alfred Hitchcock

I watched this in preparation for David Cairns's Film Club, which he cannily amalgamated with his weekly Hitchcock update on this occasion - he's been watching all of Hitchcock's surviving features week-by-week - so this is as much a reaction to that event as to the film itself. David's done such a fine job of detailing the film's many startling moments - the shot that sticks out for me is the wonderful image where Bruno stands on the steps of the Capitol as Guy, by now thoroughly rattled, drives by in a taxi - and strong performances that I'll focus on just a few ideas.

I first saw the film fifteen years ago, and the main thing that remained with me was the frantic carnival finale, still impressively sweaty here. Watching the film again, though, I was struck by some of the correspondences with Dial M For Murder, particularly the long conversations that open - or nearly open - both films and which introduce the murders which then set the wheels in motion. That the conversation in Strangers on a Train takes place on the rails seems crucial: once Bruno (Robert Walker) gets going with his latest "theory" of perfect murder, he can't be diverted, even when Guy (Farley Granger) shows little apparent interest in the scheme. From the first moment the idea is introduced, there's a sense that Bruno's hurtling along an inevitable path, just as the feet that cross the station in the film's opening minutes seem fated to encounter one another.

There are, of course, more superficial overlaps, too: like Tony Wendice in Dial M For Murder, Guy is a tennis player, and post-playing careers are crucial for the two men, and in both cases a particular woman may complicate those off-court plans. Indeed, sport is seen as a way to forge a path into a different social class: Guy can leave behind the small-town sordidness of his soured marriage for a glittering political career in Washington.

There's also something of a precursor to Hitchcock's use of space in Dial M For Murder, through the use of a map that is supposed to assist Guy in carrying out what Bruno sees as Guy's part of their murderous "bargain." Hitchcock focuses on the document twice, the second time using it to trace a careful path through Bruno's house so that when Guy must find his way in the dark we know exactly where he is at all times. There's no map in the later story, but we're always absolutely certain where the characters are, so carefully does Hitchcock define the geography of his set.

2 comments:

Natalia said...

What? No reference to Throw Momma From the Train?

Gareth said...

Maybe in a different mood: I'd just seen a few other Hitchcocks so I was more interested in Hitchcock than what came afterwards.

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