Sunday, April 17, 2011

Strangers on a Train

Title: Strangers on a Train
Year: 1951
Studio: Warner Brothers
Screenplay: Raymond Chandler and Czenzi Ormande (adaptation by Whitfield Cook)
Source Material: The novel by Patricia Highsmith
Running Time: 96 minutes
A black & white picture

Sunday 17th April, 1:30pm
I had planned on being on a honeymoon today. The plan was this:
I go to see the Scottish comedian, Danny Bhoy, last night... he'd spy me in the crowd, fall madly in love with me and we'd elope over night and end up somewhere like Hawaii by lunchtime today.
Sadly, he had to spoil it all by a) not spying me and b) not being gay.
So, instead, I spent the day in my PJs doing laundry and watching DVDs. Thankfully, part of the day was taken up watching one of my all-time favourite movies; Strangers on a Train...

Guy Haines - Farley Granger
Anne Morton - Ruth Roman
Bruno Antony - Robert Walker
Senator Morton - Leo G Carroll
Barbara Morton - Patricia Hitchcock
Miriam Joyce Haines - Laura Elliott
Mrs Antony - Marion Lorne
Mr Antony - Jonathan Hale
Captain Turley - Howard St John
Professor Collins - John Brown
Mrs Cunningham - Norma Varden
Detective Leslie Hennessey - Robert Gist
Detective Hammond - John Doucette

Two men meet on a train by accident. One is Guy Haines, a successful young tennis player with sights on marrying a senator's daughter despite already being married. The other is Bruno Antony, a playboy with dangerous delusions and some wicked notions.
Whilst dining, Bruno tells of his idea about swapping murders and offers, supposedly hypothetically as far as Guy is concerned, that Bruno kills Guy's current wife and Guy kills Bruno's domineering father.
Guy shrugs off the meeting as a brief encounter with a loony and gets off at Metcalf (accidentally leaving his personalised cigarette lighter behind in Bruno's compartment) in order to talk to his philandering wife, Miriam Joyce Haines, about their impending divorce.
Miriam works at Miller's Music Store and during their meeting, she announces that she has since changed her mind about the divorce since Guy's career has suddenly sky-rocketed. She will keep the baby (which is not Guy's) and threaten scandal if he leaves her in the lurch. Fuming with rage, he leaves the smug bitch in the shop and immediately telephones Anne (his lover) to explain the horrible situation - he admits he'd like to strangle Miriam.

One evening, Bruno travels to Metcalf and finds out where Miriam lives. He waits for her until she leaves the house with two 'boyfriends', George and Tommy. He follows them to a fairground where he stalks her. She sees him and she flirts casually with him as he follows her to various stalls and onto the merry-go-round.
The three young people decide to take a boat through 'The Tunnel of Love' and have some fun on the 'Magic Isle' - Bruno takes a boat too and follows.
Miriam and the boys separate on the isle and Bruno catches her. He holds Guy's cigarette lighter up to her face and asks "Is your name Miriam?" and when she replies that it is, he slowly strangles the life out of her body.

Nonchalantly, Bruno climbs back into his boat and returns to the mainland.
He arrives at Guy's home and shows him the evidence of his success - Miriam's broken glasses. Guy is appalled but Bruno threatens him with the fact he'll be seen as an accomplice. Bruno wants Guy to go through with the murder of Mr Antony.

Guy returns to his home and receives a call from Anne - she asks him to go to her home. When he turns up, Anne, her sister Barbara and her father, the senator, are waiting for him and they tell him the tragic news, little knowing he is already familiar with the details. Guy says he has an alibi - a Professor Collins from Delaware Tech, who was on the train with him at around the time of the murder. Frustratingly, when the chief of police, Captain Turley, finds the Professor, it is discovered that the man was drunk and cannot recall the meeting at all.

Turley assigns two detectives, Hennessey and Hammond, to take turns in tailing Guy whilst procedures take place.

Bruno begins to stalk Guy, turning up at his tennis matches, following him to the museum etc. Bruno posts him the key to his father's home, includes a map of the building. He even sends him the gun he wishes Guy to use.
On one meeting, Bruno spies Barbara and is aghast at how similar she is in looks to the murdered Miriam. This haunts him once more whilst at a function held by the senator, Bruno strikes up a conversation with a Mrs Cunningham and her friend Mrs Anderson about the perfect murder. Bruno demonstrates the simplicity of strangulation but when he sees Barbara in the background, he goes into a trance and nearly kills Mrs Cunningham whose throat is being crushed by his grip.

Guy wants Bruno to leave him alone and Anne is becoming more and more suspicious. She confronts Guy and he admits to what is going on, but still professing his innocence.
Guy telephones Bruno and says he will go through with it, but that night, having slipped the detective, he arrives at Bruno's father's home only to find Bruno waiting for him. Guy was going to tell Mr Antony the truth about his son but instead tells Bruno that he needs some sort of psychiatric help.
Bruno is not impressed and says he won't kill Guy, he will find something much better...

Anne visits Mrs Antony, trying to persuade her to stop her son. Mrs Antony is having none of it and thinks it is all too silly. Bruno arrives and tells Anne that it was all Guy's doing and how Guy wanted Bruno to retrieve the lighter from the scene of the crime.
With this informative clue, Anne and Guy realise Bruno is going to plant it back on the Isle.
They need to get there before Bruno but without the police getting in the way. However, Guy has a tennis match to finish and win first.

Having won the match (playing against his usual style) Guy races to Metcalf with the help of Barbara who hinders the detectives in their pursuit.
Bruno is also hindered slightly when he accidentally drops the lighter down a drain. He wastes valuable time trying to retrieve it - telling curious passers-by that it's a cigarette case in order to not arouse suspicions later...

Guy finally makes it to the fairground as night draws in. Bruno has been unable to get a boat to the island as the morbid curiosity of the public have increased interest in the 'Magic Isle'.
Guy spies Bruno and Bruno leaps onto the moving merry-go-round, Guy joins him. Two Metcalf policemen try to stop Guy and fire a gun - it hits the operator who slumps to the floor taking the control lever down with him causing the ride to speed up.
Guy and Bruno fight as the children scream around them. One fairground attendant manages to crawl beneath the spinning beast and reach the brake which brings it to a shuddering, screeching halt. It thunders and crashes, injuring the riders and the spectators. The policemen search the wreckage and find Guy in good health. However, the man who operates the boat stall had recognised Bruno as the same man from the night of Miriam's murder. The cops still don't believe Guy's innocence, despite his story - until Bruno's crushed body finally gives up and he dies, releasing the grip he has on Guy's cigarette lighter.

Guy has some explaining to do, but he is basically off the hook... and free to marry Anne Morton.

The End.

Great Lines

Mrs Antony: "I do hope you've forgotten all about that silly plan of yours."

Bruno: "Which one?"

Mrs Antony: "About blowing up the White House."

Bruno: "Oh Ma, I was only fooling. Besides, what would the President say?!"

Mrs Antony: "You're a naughty boy, Bruno!"


Barbara: "Nothing stands in your way now. You can be married right away. Think of it, you're free!"

Senator Morton: "One doesn't always have to say what one thinks."

Barbara: "Father, I am not a politician."


When Bruno sees Anne Morton at the museum:

Bruno: "Slight improvement on Miriam, huh, Guy?!"


Senator Morton worries about what the gossips will say after Bruno's little "scene" at the party:

Senator Morton: : "...first thing you know they'll be talking about orgies!"


And the chillingly delivered:

Bruno: "Is your name Miriam?"

Farley Granger died on March 27th of this year. I won't deny that I have always had a bit of a crush on him, ever since I first saw Strangers on a Train and even though he lived to a good age (85) it is still a great loss. He was a charming and beautiful man. (It's that bottom lip of his...)
Robert Walker's performance as Bruno Antony is exquisite. He portrays the unhinged madman with such elegance and class. Once again, as with Rope, we teeter on the edge of the suggestion of homosexuality and Robert's performance is subtle and daring.
Patricia Hitchcock may be an example of nepotism within the industry, but it's not unjustified as her performance as the brutally frank Barbara Morton is pure perfection.

There are so many glorious little touches of black humour. One of my favourites is Bruno's casual demeanour as he stalks Miriam in the park - bursts a child's balloon with his cigarette and then eats popcorn on his way to killing Miriam on the island.

One rather creepy image is when guy sees Bruno in the crowd at the tennis match. Everyone else's heads are turning in rhythm with the flying ball except for Bruno's whose eye-line is permanently on Guy.

The most exciting denouement is delivered with magnificent pace and energy. The whole scene on the merry-go-round is desperately nail-biting and eerie as The Band Played On plays on at a faster speed accompanied by screams from petrified riders and bystanders alike. This scene never fails to chill me. One of Hitch's best moments out of his long career.

Although the story has been remade a couple of times since (why, oh why?) I can recommend the film Throw Momma From the Train. It isn't a direct remake, but more of an homage to the original with splendid direction from Danny DeVito (and a nice early performance from 24th Century Starship Captain Kathryn Janeway AKA Kate Mulgrew from Star Trek)

One final thing... I have always said to myself (and others who care to listen) that if I ever had to choose one prop from film history to own, it would have to be the cigarette lighter inscribed 'From A to G'. Maybe one day I will be able to buy it (or at least have a perfect replica...)
Marion Lorne will be known to most as the lovable but ditzy Aunt Clara from TV's Bewitched.

My Verdict
I have never shied away from announcing this as one of my all-time favourites. Sure, there a couple of plot holes, but I don't give a damn. It's superbly played with one of the BEST climaxes to a thriller ever. 10/10

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