Monday, May 31, 2010

Maybe this is why your mom told you,
'Never talk to strangers'?

Strangers on a Train (1951)
Starring: Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman, Laura Elliot (aka Casey Rogers) and Patricia Hitchcock
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Rating: Ten of Ten Stars

A professional tennis player (Granger) has what he believes is an idle conversation with a very strange fan (Walker) while traveling by train. The fan proposes that he kill the athlete's slutty, unfaithful wife (Elliot), who is denying him a divorce, white the tennis player kills his domineering father. It's the perfect murder, as neither of them have a motive to kill their victim and no one knows they know each other. Although the athlete refuses to take part in the scheme, his wife turns up murdered, and the man from the train appears on his doorstep and demands that he follow through with his part of the arrangement.



"Strangers on a Train" is one of Hitchcock's finest movies. The performances from all the actors are top-notch, with Farley Granger playing his part so effectively that even when it's obvious that he repulsed at the idea of committing murder when it his proposed to him--escially the murder of someone he doesn't even know--there is still just intrigued enough that he might give into the temptation to be rid of his nasty wife.

Co-star Robert Walker is equally excellent as the psychopath who is intent on forcing Granger to be his partner in murder. From his first appearance, the audience can tell that there's something queer about Walker's character--and I'm using that word in any sense you choose to apply it--even if he he initially seems nice enough, if just a bit socially awkward. As the film unfolds, and we become fully aware of just how deranged and evil this man is, Walker becomes the main source of tension in the film... a threat greater to Granger and those he cares about than even the possibility of being arrested for a murder he didn't commit.

Aside from the great acting "Strangers on a Train" is also a showcase for perfection in film editing; if it's not being used in film studies classes, it should be. There is not a wasted second anywhere in its running-time, and the third act is nail-biter it thanks primarily to the editing. The sequence where Granger has to finish and WIN a tennis competition in record time so he can stop Walker from planting incriminating evidence framing Granger once and for all at the murder scene is absolutely spectacular. The same is true of the way we follow Walker on his trip back to the scene of the crime with the damning evidence in hand. Finally, there is the rightfully celebrated climactic and deadly confrontation between Granger and Walker on a out-of-control carousel, a symbolic fight pushed to the height of suspense by artful use of cinematic tricks.

If you have watched and liked any Hitchcock films, I believe you absolutely must see this movie. That goes double if you are an aspiring writer or filmmaker yourself. Few movies are a better one-stop showcase for how to do this right than "Strangers on a Train."




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