Strangers On A Train (Preview version)

Synopsis: It starts with the shriek of a train whistle…and ends with shrieking excitement!

Strange thing about this trip. So much occurs in pairs. Tennis star Guy hates his unfaithful wife. Mysterious Bruno hates his father. How perfect for a playful proposal: I’ll kill yours, you kill mine. Now look at how Alfred Hitchcock reinforces the duality of human nature. The more you watch, the more you’ll see.

Strangers On A Train (Preview version) 8.0

What would YOU do if a stranger offered to murder someone you couldn’t get rid of but would like to? What if the catch was as minor as doing the same for him? What if the theory was that, as it involves completely unrelated individuals, no one could trace the murder back to you? Would that sound compelling?

This is the basic premise of ‘Strangers On A Train’. It’s the kind situation that Hitchcock started getting known for after a certain point in his career, in his television shows and book athologies as well. And it suits him fine. Personally, I love that this kind of twisted if morbidly humourous situation applies so clearly to him that you can call it Hitcockian.

I say humourous, because, as is characteristic of Hitch, things don’t go quite as expected: the stranger just won’t leave our hero alone, even though he turned down the offer. While he did the ‘correct’ thing, he doesn’t get the outcome that corresponds to his actions. There’s very dark humour in the fact that he did not ask for any attention, was too proper to turn the stranger away completely, coldly, and then couldn’t get rid of him.

And that the stranger is misreading all the semi-ambiguous cues, doing everything he doesn’t want him to.

But mostly, that’s where the terror comes from. We soon discover that this stranger is unhinged; this is not the plan of a brilliant -if amoral- person. It’s the product of a diseased mind. Knowing this helps us realize that pretty much anything could happen, that he is capable of anything and neither the protagonist nor the audience will be privy to his plans until he’s struck.

As I’ve mentioned countless times before, I tend to recoil at the thought of films based on stalking. And there is a fair bit of stalking here. Am I more comfortable about it here because it’s man against man? Because there’s no perverse romantic love involved? Or is it because Hitch manages to inject the film with a flurry of other touches that compensate for the stalking?

Not sure. Still, despite some frustrating choices made by our protagonist (he and I aren’t cut from the same cloth that’s for sure!), I think that it continues to hold up relatively well for a 60-year old film. Many movies of the era simply don’t hold up now, but I think that this one still plays really well and that a fan of cinema should enjoy this classic Hitchcock. I mean, even the bad Hitchcocks are worth seeing, really, but this is one of the excellent ones.

What do you think?

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