Old Time Movies For Our Time People: Strangers On a Train

15 Oct

Here at Lara and the Reel Boy it is a rare occurrence for me to take part in this particular feature. That is because, I’m going to be honest, I have some prejudices against old movies. I am a spoiled girl of the twenty-first century, so I like my acting realistic, my effects special, and my films made in black-and-white only to recreate film noir. Okay, so I’ve taken it a bit far there, but I really do have a hard time taking dramas seriously when the acting is over-the-top, the backdrops look fake, and the dialogue seems so premeditated. I love old comedies and musicals, which is likely due to the fact that they are made all in good fun. It doesn’t matter if I’m distanced from a musical because musicals are already unrealistic and made for entertainment value. When I’m watching a drama, on the other hand, it’s hard for me to delve into the plot and immerse myself in it when I don’t even find the format approachable. I’m too detached from it to take it seriously.

All that said, there still are a fair few classic films that I do appreciate. And I’m working on appreciating more. Tonight I undertook the challenge of watching Strangers on a Train. I go back and forth on Hitchcock’s films: I love some (Rear Window, To Catch a Thief), I hate some (The Wrong Man, The Man Who Knew Too Much).  So watching Strangers on a Train for my first time, with the feature’s title, “Old Time Movies For Our Time People” looming over me, pressuring me to consider the film for “our time people,” was a bit of a risk. It turned out to be a risk worth taking.

Farley Granger and Robert Walker. Strangers. On a train.

Farley Granger and Robert Walker. Strangers. On a train.

Tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger) accidentally bumps legs with Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) while taking the train from Washington to New York. The two begin to share some small talk and, after a few drinks, Bruno tells Guy of his clever idea to exchange murders with a perfect stranger. Both people need someone killed, and the two could swap murders so that the murderer would be untraceable. For example, Bruno could kill Guy’s wife and Guy could kill Bruno’s father. Hilarious. Guy gets off the train thinking nothing of it (how could he with that creepy gleam in Bruno’s eye?) until his wife is found murdered in an amusement park. Bruno starts stalking Guy, telling him that it’s his turn to finish the deal, with gripping results.

I found this film to be most enjoyable. It was as thrilling as it was intended to be, enthralling me throughout the whole and not letting me down at the merry-go-round climax. Yeah, the final battle takes place on an out-of-control merry-go-round. If for no other reason, everyone should watch it for the ending.  My only complaint about the dramatic aspects of the film is that it could have been a bit more edgy. (SPOILER) When reading up on it, I found that in the novel that the film is based off of, Guy kills Bruno’s father, which would have made the character, as well as the movie, a lot more complex and interesting. If a remake of Strangers on a Train is ever made  as IMDB is rumoring, I hope that this storyline is employed. And I also hope that the two men who recreated the scene for Vanity Fair’s Hitchcock spread star in it.

Emile Hirsch and James McAvoy

Emile Hirsch and James McAvoy. Strangers. On a train.

Strangers on a Train was also really funny. And not just in the I’m-laughing-at-it-because-it’s-so-outdated kind of funny. Bruno is full of crazy person, hilarious gems, such as, “Can you imagine being able to smell a flower on the planet Mars?” and “Have you ever driven a car, blindfolded, at a hundred and fifty miles an hour? I did!” There’s a scene where Bruno talks to a pair of old, rich ladies at a social function about murder. At first they are shocked at the topic of conversation, but as they continue to converse, he somehow gets them to tell how they would commit murder, if need be. I cracked up as the diamond studded biddy jokes about how she would hit a man over the head with a hammer, drench him in gasoline, and set him on fire. I also found a few parts to be hilarious and ridiculous that were probably not done with that purpose. Which brings me to our closing.

My few quibbles:

  1. There is a scene in the Mellon Gallery that cuts back and forth between Guy and Bruno, in a squabble, and Guy’s girlfriend, Anne (Anne Morton), watching on. Guy and Bruno are in front of some pillars that are actually present, but the shots of Anne are obviously done with a backdrop. A really awful looking backdrop of a grand hall. Why couldn’t the scene take place in a real hall? Or, if Hitchcock was strapped for cash, why couldn’t she be placed in front of some more pillars? Even the same pillars! The backdrop is completely fake and awkward.
  2. Miriam (Kasey Rogers), Guy’s wife, who is murdered was pregnant. Pregnant. And yet, no one says anything about it after she dies. Guy doesn’t seem upset about it, the police make no mention of it, it’s as if once she and the baby died, that part of the story died, too. Either Hitchcock became careless with this element of the plot, or his characters are all bastards.
  3. Miriam wears glasses. Not a big deal to me, but it seems to have really impacted Bruno. After he strangles her, he picks up her glasses and gives them to Guy as proof. And from that point on, every time he sees a female with glasses he goes into a trance. He begins remembering all the events surrounding the murder and becomes completely unaware of his surroundings. It’s a good thing so few people back then wore glasses (at least by this film’s standards). I kept imagining Bruno in modern day, at some indie hipster party, falling into trances with every movement of his head. Bless him.

Imagining smelling a flower on the planet Mars,
Lara

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2 Responses to “Old Time Movies For Our Time People: Strangers On a Train”

  1. Val October 15, 2009 at 10:15 am #

    Great review! This is one of my favorite Hitchcock films, up there with Rear Window and Psycho.

    Oh, and I too hated “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” Just awful.

  2. Charlie Bucket October 15, 2009 at 10:59 am #

    great review! I’m glad you’re trying to like old dramas.

    good hitchocks-
    Notorious (with cary grant!)
    Vertigo (with Jimmy Stewart!)

    keep them coming.

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