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Review of Strangers on a Train (1951)

Two strangers meet on a train. What destines to become a small, unmemorable conversation, turns into a chilling, calculating plan about murders and private matters. With the theme of double-crossing in action, Strangers may very well be Alfred Hitchcock's most silently subtle and ambiguous film. The film's antagonist, Bruno S. Anthony, a shirker and a psychopath, meets, in what we assume as a chance upon, his favourite tennis player the protagonist, Guy Haines. Bruno, apparently read a lot about him, at first unsettles the celebrity, but kinda comforts him down by his smooth talks. The meeting is so smooth, so devoid of stuttering and awkward moments that one thinks Bruno had planned everything out, as noticed by his behaviour when he invites Guy to his private compartment. Though the theme of double-crossing is foremost, a hidden theme - undertone - simultaneously runs throughout, like two trains at a crossroads - homosexuality. Bruno gives us jabs at this theme when he sits too close to Guy, and when he stretches out when they're in his compartment. Also, when he kills Miriam - Guy's ex-wife - he doesn't do it just because he had made a deal with a reluctant Guy, but due to his affection and attraction to Guy. In short, Bruno killed her for him.

Unlike Hitchcock's other films, say Vertigo, Rear Window and Psycho, all of which require a peek into the sub-conscious and heavy rewinding, the metaphors / symbolism in this film is right out in the open, but because they're minimalistic in nature, one often misses it easily. The two most important being the opening shot of the railroad tracks - they criss-cross each other, foreshadowing the main theme of the film and of Bruno's devious plan. The other is the logo of the two crossed tennis rackets on Guy's cigarette lighter. Throughout the film, Bruno represents Guy's psyche. He's the personification of Guy's inner sub-conscious personality, although this not to be taken literally.

Strangers is loaded to the brim with legendary moments. When Bruno pursues after Miriam, the name on his boat reads Pluto - the god of the underworld in Greek mythology. Once Miriam and her boyfriends and Bruno enter the cave, Bruno's shadow seemingly 'eats' her alive; foreshadowing her death. Scary in its brilliance, mesmerizing in its execution. But perhaps the single most greatest moment is when Bruno strangles Miriam to death. The murder is reflected in her eye-glasses, which had fallen off in the strangulation. Also symbolic is the method of execution. Minutes prior to Miriam's death, Guy angrily shouts that he would love to strangle her. The very next shot sees Bruno's hands, a sign as to show that somehow these two men are seemingly connected; or at least one is.

The next most memorable moment, even for the day, is when the protagonist and the antagonist have a climatic showdown on a carousel that spins wildly out of control - a fitting metaphor for the two mens' "relationship". It is indeed one of the most tense, nail-biting sequences I've ever seen. One of the carnival workers manages to shut it down, and the carousel breaks down, resulting in the death of Bruno and the freedom of Guy.

From the performances, I'd initially found Farley Granger's acting rather questionable. I deduced his performance as reluctant, due to his simultaneous displaying of both fear and relief on his face. It was only when I read several analysis's over the internet did I realize I had read him wrong. In retrospect, I now think it is easily one of the best performances in an Alfred Hitchcock film, although still a long shot away from Cary Grant and James Stewart. He had in him human, slightly homosexual features, and I guess that was the whole point. Though somewhat mysterious at times, Granger was far away from being dark, and that was a good thing. Honestly speaking, he reminded me of Dorian Gray. On the other hand is Robert Walker as the former's doppelganger, Bruno S. Anthony. The acting can be said as a shadow version of Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter. Walker wasn't at all slow neither was he too attention-grabbing; he marched to his own pace, a master of his own screen-time. He had the confidence of a person who had everything planned out in his head.

In conclusion, Strangers on a Train is a brilliant film. Calling it any less would be a sure-fire insult. It's a must-watch.

Added by Happy Vader
5 years ago on 21 June 2013 15:33