Yesterday was Alfred Hitchcock’s birthday. To celebrate, I submit this post to the blogosphere.
A couple of fellows meet accidentally, like you and me. No connection between them at all. Never saw each other before. Each of them has somebody he’d like to get rid of, but he can’t murder the person he wants to get rid of. He’ll get caught. So they swap murders. – Bruno Antony
I chose Strangers on a Train because I think it could use a little more attention. It was well-received when it was released and it’s certainly not unheard of but it doesn’t get as much attention as some of Hitchcock’s other films. To be fair, there’s reasons why some of his other films get more attention but this one should get its share of the spotlight too…
As the title suggests, two strangers meet on a train by cooincidence. However, one is a madman…so, you know this is going somewhere delightfully devious.
Guy…yes, his name really is Guy and it fits him. He’s good looking and knows prominent people but he’s a fairly average guy. He’s a semi-famous tennis player who has ambitions to get into politics, is seeing a senators daughter but…he also happens to be married to a two-timing woman who doesn’t love him and is pregnant with another man’s baby. Still with me? Ok…the bottom line is – he doesn’t like his wife but he’s a decent guy. As Guy takes his seat on the train, his foot accidentally grazes Bruno Antony’s…
Bruno…he’s the mad man. It’s pretty clear from the start that this guy is a little weird. He strikes up a conversation with Guy and seems to know everything about him from newspaper articles. He knows who he is, that he’s dating a senator’s daughter and that he has an estranged wife. It’s creepy right off the bat. Bruno comes from money and hates his father because his father wants him to get a job…Bruno would rather just live off his dad’s money. We learn he has been kicked out of several colleges and that he basically does nothing but come up with wild theories about life and here’s the kicker – he’s planned how two people could get away with murder.
Guy listens politely and some people interpret his side of things a little differently but I think he doesn’t really take Bruno’s insane rantings too seriously. Bruno proposes a hypothetical plan that he and Guy should swap murders – so no motive could be tied to the killings. Since they’re complete strangers, they wouldn’t be connected. Bruno says he could kill Guy’s wife and Guy could kill his father while they each have alibies. They pull into another station and Guy needs to switch trains. As he leaves Bruno asks if Guy likes his idea. Guy says, “sure Bruno” but he says it as if he’s just patronizing Bruno and finds him harmless. But as we can guess…Bruno’s not harmless. He’s a total whack-job….but he’s also a charasmatic and charming whack-job so he’s enjoyable to watch.
As you’ve probably guessed, Bruno keeps his end of the bargain and kills Guy’s wife and shows up at Guy’s house like a cat trying to show off that he killed a mouse…He’s proud of himself and wants Guy to be proud of him too. I should probably mention now that Bruno is likely gay – he’s trying to please Guy so Guy will like him. Guy is surprised but doesn’t exactly seem to care that his wife is dead. As they’re standing across the street from Guy’s house, a police car arrives to deliver the news to Guy. Now this is where Guy becomes an idiot. Rather than telling the police that Bruno killed his wife, he hides in a shadow until the police leave. The rest of the film is kind of like a game of cat and mouse. Guy just wants everything to blow over and for Bruno to go away.
That’s just not going to happen though…
The police suspect Guy because his aliby is shakey and Bruno becomes more and more insistant that Guy keep up his end of the bargain…all the while the police have round the clock surveillance on Guy. As usual, I won’t give away what Guy does or what happens in the end — you’ll have to see it! :)
The major motif of the film is pairs or dopplegangers. Just about everything in this film has a pair or an opposite to go with it. The most obvious pair is Guy and Bruno. While Guy is not totally innocent – Bruno can be considered to be his dark side that acts out what Guy only thinks about.
Next is the pairing of Guy’s wife, Miriam and Barbara – the senator’s younger daughter. They look alike and when Bruno meets Barbara, he goes into a kind of trance, remembering his killing of Miriam.
And all throughout the film you’ll see or hear other smaller examples of doubles. For example, when Bruno and Guy first meet, Bruno orders two ‘double’ drinks. Also, Guy’s lighter has two tennis rackets crossing each other.
As with any Hitchcock film, there several very artistic shots. When Guy murders Miriam is the most famous: we see the murder in the reflection of her glasses that have fallen off. Also it’s a Hitchcock touch to show us that evil can happen anywhere – since Miriam’s murder takes place at a small town’s carnival. At the carnival, Bruno stalks Miriam like a cat, never taking his eyes off of her. She even notices that he’s watching her but it seems her vanity makes her assume that he finds her attractive. Miriam and her friends take a boat ride through the “Tunnel of Love” – and Bruno’s in the boat right behind them. Look closely at his boat – it’s called Pluto. In Roman mythology, Pluto is the god of the underworld.
This movie is not only entertaining – it is rich in artistry and symbolism. It’s the kind of movie that you can see a few times and notice something new each time. Bruno in particular is a great character – he’s a bad guy but you’ll get the impression that he doesn’t realize he’s bad. This is not my absolute favorite Hitchcock movie but it’s in my top 10 and definitely worth checking out if you like his films.