[Join your host, John Holliday, in the review column "A Movie A Week" as he shares his spoiler-free thoughts on our collection of DVD / Blu-ray titles.]
It wouldn't be appropriate to end the first month of a retro movie site without including the works of a master director. "The Master of Suspense" is the epitome of everything we love about movies and no other director in cinema history has as many classics under his belt (despite it's circumference) as Alfred Hitchcock. Though I would probably rank Strangers on a Train as sixth or seventh among Hitch's entire catalog, that's only a testimony to the excellence of his contributions to the craft.
Like any other innocent passenger, Guy Haines was just trying to get from where he was to where he wanted to be. He wanted to be settling an ugly divorce with his unfaithful wife so he could return to his new, secret beloved. But first, he learns how quickly a simple chance meeting can turn deadly.
When accidentally bumping feet with a stranger on a train, Haines is instantly recognized by the man as an amateur tennis player. The suspicious looking Bruno Anthony goes on to reveal an odd knowledge of Guy taken from the gossip columns. These "facts", combined with a curiously engraved lighter in Haines' posession, brings Bruno up to speed with the premature clandestine affair. Guy Haines is just the person Bruno needed to fulfill his plot for the perfect murder(s).
Bruno, also burdened by someone beyond his control, proposes that Guy perform a murder for him in exchange for the elimination of Guy's problem. They will "criss-cross", or swap, murders so no motive could ever be found. Guy quickly brushes it off as crazy talk and bails on the situation as soon as he can. Unfortunately, Bruno leaves with the idea that they have agreed on a plan. Bruno Anthony soon tracks down Haines' wife and relentlessly strangles her to death on a lover's island at the amusement park. Now, with Bruno in posession of his personalized lighter, Guy's only options are to follow through with the volatile plan or be framed for his wife's murder.
Hitchcock strikes again with pinpoint timing and pacing to milk (in a good way) every ounce of suspense as possible. Farley Granger appears as Guy Haines and impressed Hitchcock enough to earn another leading role in one of my other favorites, 'Rope'. His tormenter, Bruno, is played by Robert Walker with just the right amount of psychosis that it's no surprise to learn of his real life mental health. I wouldn't be surprised if the phrase "thrill-a-minute" were coined in referencing Strangers on a Train. It's as tenacious in it's thrills as our antagonist in his scheme.
Missing are the beautiful, powerful, leading women of some of Hitch's better films but their role is filled by the intricate script and it's (mostly) lively characters. It's not fair to compare it with 'Rear Window' or 'Dial M for Murder' since they aren't meant to top each other; they're just different movies with different pros and different cons (if any). That's why I give Strangers on a Train:
What movie would you like to see John review next week? Your suggestions are always welcome at: firstname.lastname@example.org