At the end of his illustrious career, Alfred Hitchcock, had directed over 50 feature films. It’s truly an astonishing achievement that began in the silent film era and concluded in the mid 1970s with his last directorial effort Family Plot. In that time “the master of suspense” would stamp his authority on filmmaking with his own idiosyncratic vision and style. Hitchcock was also a man that took risks to bring his visions to the screen. Whether it was funding his own projects like Psycho or using real birds to attack Tippi Hedren for The Birds attic scene, or even allowing a crazy volunteer to carry out a precarious stunt underneath a seemingly out of control merry-go-around in Strangers On A Train, Hitchcock knew exactly what he wanted.
As a major force in cinema, one of the films that is always mentioned amongst Hitchcock’s best is Stranger On A Train based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name. Famously, after Hitchcock bought the rights to the book, he tasked celebrated novelist and screenwriter Raymond Chandler to write the script. Unfortunately, Hitchcock was disappointed with its treatment and elected Czenzi Ormonde to rewrite it. The bold move paid off and Strangers On A Train would become one of the best film suspense thrillers of the 1950s.
To refresh your memory Strangers On A Train is a story of two men who bump into each other on board a train and an absurd idea is hatched to exchange murders of someone close to them that they detest. While Guy, a successful tennis pro (played by Farley Granger) laughs off the proposition, the sociopathic Bruno (played by Robert Walker) is deadly serious and goes ahead with the plan by killing Guy’s wife. With Guy’s wife dead, Bruno expects Guy to reciprocated the favour by killing his domineering father. But when Guy refuses to have anything to do with it, Bruno sets in motion his payback by trying to frame Guy for her murder.
With an eye for detail, there is arguably no way Hitchcock could have pulled off this film without firstly, its riveting script and secondly, its two leading men in Farley Granger and Robert Walker. The latter in particular is breathtakingly brilliant as the sinister and toxic Bruno. (I would put Bruno somewhere just behind Norman Bates in Psycho as Hitchcock’s best ever villain.) Equally breathtaking are many of the films set-pieces. Worthy of a mention is the tennis match in which Guy is desperately trying to finish before Bruno plants a crucial piece of evidence that would incriminate him in his wife’s murder. Interestingly, talking of murder, the way that Bruno slowly strangling Guy’s wife played out against the reflection of her glasses is a brilliant yet chilling piece of cinematography. Last but not least, the film’s mesmerising finale upon a dizzy out of control merry-go-around is simply epic and still one of the most talked about scenes in film history. Check out my brief analysis of it HERE.
The success of Strangers On A Train would see Hitchcock’s timely return to form as a master filmmaker, especially after the financial disappointment of his previous last two films – Under Capricorn (1949) and Stage Fright (1950). In short, it allowed Hitchcock to extend his association with Warner Bros. for a little while longer, culminating with Dial M for Murder (1954). Unfortunately for Warner Bros., Hitchcock would move on to Paramount Pictures after Dial M for Murder to direct Rear Window (1954) thus pretty much ending their association together.