(Z To A is an ongoing series: cumulative reviews of my DVD collection in reverse alphabetical order.)
Plot Synopsis: A psychotic socialite confronts a pro tennis star with a theory on how two complete strangers can get away with murder…a theory that he plans to implement.
– From IMDB page
After a visit to a Santa Rosa Big Lots! I came home with the two-disc special edition of Strangers On A Train, my favorite Hitchcock movie. The special features were quite impressive, boasting a documentary, several featurettes and the most thorough audio commentary I had ever heard. The only minus to the set was an interview with M. Night Shyamalan, or as my friends and I refer to him, “M. Night Shamalanadingdong.”
The first time I heard of Train was when it was referenced in Danny DeVito’s directorial debut, Throw Momma From The Train (1987). Scenes were included within the movie (the famous “criss-cross” line, for example) and it mirrored and parodied Hitchcock’s plotting and style. It took a while before this film-within-the-film caught my attention and it was years later when I saw the actual thing.
What made the biggest impression on me was Robert Walker as the antagonist, Bruno Anthony. I could have sworn I had seen Walker before, but a quick internet search proved me wrong. Instead I found out that Walker had been born in Salt Lake City, Utah, which wasn’t far from where I had been born and raised. He then went on to lead a bittersweet, tumultuous and tragic life before dying at the age of thirty-two. The circumstances surrounding his death are… well, weird.
However, in this film Walker is very much alive and I think it’s safe to say that Train features some of his best work (yes, I did check out his other films). Bruno is a coddled, spoiled playboy whose mother is oblivious to how psychotic he is and a father he resents for- apparently- no goddamn reason. He is charismatic but his social skills are poor. Also, there’s a scene where he pops a child’s balloon with a cigar, which is pretty hilarious.
Walker isn’t the only reason why I loved the film, though. It’s the supporting characters that give it that extra push, and in this case they are the women. Laura Elliott as Miriam, Guy Haines’ (Farley Granger) duplicitous wife is absolutely deplorable, and of course Elliott relishes the role from beginning to end. Why? Because villains are more fun. She is manipulative, calculating and an all around awful human being. She seems to be origin of the term “total bitch,” and for the 1950s her sexual appetites must have been shocking. One sequence presents her at a local fair- a married woman pregnant with another man’s baby- on a date with two other men and eyeing a third.
I know. Wow.
Other notable performances are Marion Lorne as Bruno’s mother, a woman so drowned in denial it borders on comedy. The other scene stealer is Patricia Hitchcock, who plays the younger sister of Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), Guy’s clandestine girlfriend. As the spirited Barbara she is whip-smart, calls it like it is and often gets the best lines. Her interactions with Walker’s Bruno- whom she suspects of something- are probably the most important in the film. She is the only character who makes him vulnerable, which is a pretty remarkable feat.
The interesting thing about Train‘s legacy is that some believe there is something homoerotic about Guy and Bruno’s relationship. There are supposedly two cuts of the film, one of which contains more of these insinuations, but after watching both I didn’t see any difference. It was a case of viewers reading into things too much and my research on the matter confirms that. The only difference between the U.S. release and the alternate “British” version are the endings and a few missing lines about food.
But sure, it’s obvious that Bruno’s fixation on Guy is unhealthy. I just never got the feeling it was sexual. Creepy, yes-
– but Bruno doesn’t seem to be taking it to that level. He’s obsessed with carrying out his “plan,” not with getting into Guy’s pants. But then again, that’s just the way I see it.
Train was what Hitchcock considered his “first” American film, and as every cinephile knows it was the beginning of a beautiful (and profitable) friendship with the studio system. Along with The 39 Steps I would say it’s the Hitchcock film I’ve enjoyed the most and love sharing with people. Nevertheless, it’s one of the director’s lesser-known works, and overall it was moderately successful when it was released.
Still, it has made its impact on pop culture, first with Throw Momma From The Train and other films, then rumors of a remake and this absolutely wonderful recreation in Vanity Fair.
Man, usually I don’t care for remakes but that photo actually made me want this to happen for real.
But for now the original film will do. And that’s just what Strangers On A Train is. I’m glad I have it.