Thursday, 4 March 2010

Strangers on a Train


I’ve watched Hitchcock’s classic movie Strangers on a Train more than once, as well as reading the book by Patricia Highsmith on which it was based, but this is a film which is so masterful that it was good to see it again the other day. And as I watched, I reflected that, after almost half a century, it has lost little of its power.

The story-line of the ‘exchange of murders’ is now very familiar, and it has been referenced countless times subsequently (my favourite is the Peter Lovesey story called ‘Strangers on a Bus’). As with many of Highsmith’s plot ideas, the material is melodramatic, but the story is developed brilliantly, and although Hitchcock made some changes for the film, he was able to capture, in his own way, the chilling, obsessive atmosphere of the literary source. Apparently he approached Dashiell Hammett to write the screenplay at first, then gave the job to Raymond Chandler, but the pair did not get on, and little of Chandler’s writing survived in the final version. Famously, Highsmith was only paid $7,500 for the rights - not much for one of the classics, really.

Farley Grainger plays Guy, the likeable tennis player with a faithless wife, and Robert Walker is the superficially charming but sociopathic Bruno, who wants his own father dead. Ruth Roman does a decent job as Guy’s girlfriend, and her younger sister is played by Hitchcock’s own daughter, Pat. I was sorry to learn that Walker, whose performance is quite brilliantly spooky, died not long after the film was screened; he suffered serious psychiatric problems. Grainger, however, is still alive.

There are lots of wonderful touches in this film, and the climactic scene on a merry-go-round is superb. This is one of the best Hitchcock films, which means, quite simply, that it is one of the best crime films ever made.

14 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Oh, you are talking about one of my all-time favorite Hitchock films! You're right that it is a powerful view, and ranks as one of the most suspenseful, engrossing and, well, creepy mysteries ever filmed. I could go on with more superlatives, but I beleive I've made my point. Thanks for reminding me of that fine piece of cinematic mastery.

Hannah Stoneham said...

This is one that I have neither read nor seen despite being both a Hitchcock and a Highsmith fan. thanks for recommending - I think I will give the film a go. Highsmith was a fascinating character and there is a brilliant biography of her which I read a few years ago.

thanks for sharing

Hannah

Martin Edwards said...

Margot, I do agree. It's all the more amazing that it was written at the start of her career. I'm not sure even The Talented Mr Ripley surpassed it.
Hannah - I agree, the bio was excellent, and I believe a couple more have appeared recently, though I haven't read them. I have added your blog to my blogroll.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I LOVE this movie. I didn't know that about Walker or that Hitchcock's daughter was in the film. Can't believe Highsmith was paid so little! Great, great movie.

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Ann Elle Altman said...

This is one of my favorite movies and one of my favorite plot lines...I use a similar plot line but with a twist in my next code-based mystery. The ingenuity of the writer.

ann

R. T. said...

Martin, I think the movie works so well for at least two reasons: (1) Of course, Hitchcock's superb artistry with exquisite framing and pacing of scenes; (2) casting of Granger and Walker, otherwise unremarkable actors, seems unlikely to succeed (at least at first glance) but turns out to be brilliant because of their nuanced performances (orchestrated, of course, by Hitchcock).

Nicole_Hadaway said...

Hitch did some gems, and this is one of them. Though I have to say that Shadow of a Doubt always grabs my attention, as does the classic Rear Window.

Jerry House said...

Hitchcock went through a shell company to buy the rights to Robert Bloch's Psycho for chump change. He may have done the same wiith Highsmith.

Martin Edwards said...

Elizabeth, I share your enthusiasm for the film.
Ann, your book sounds really intriguing!
R.T. - good points,and point 2 is especially pertinent. The dynamic between those two is quite special.
Nicole - I'm definitely a Rear Window fan. Great movie from a story by one of my favourite American writers, Cornell Woolrich.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Jerry - he could certainly spot a bargain as well as a great movie concept!

pattinase (abbott) said...

A wonderful film-does that book justice.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Marti-I didn't spot a forgotten book on here and I have to go away for the day. If one comes up, I will add it later. Patti

Mrs. B. said...

I love this film! Your post makes me want to see it again. I'm a big, big fan of Highsmith too.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Mrs B - good to hear from you, and I'm impressed by your blog.