Eating my vegetables #4: Strangers on a Train

One of the greatest things about expanding your classic film palette is when you discover the films that other, more contemporary films you enjoyed as a child or young adult, riff on or pay homage to. In the case of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, it’s modern tributes include Woody Allen’s 00’s return to form Match Point (see semi-pro tennis players involved in sticky murder plots) and, most hilariously and most obviously, Danny DeVito’s 1980’s Saturday afternoon network TV movie Throw Momma From the Train.

I found Hitchcock’s original to be a most effectively twisty and crafty thriller (for this a great debt, no doubt, is owed to co-screen writer Dashiell Hammett.) Robert Walker is especially effective as Bruno Anthony – a man whose homicidal and delusional derangements result in him murdering another man’s wife in what he thinks is a double-murder pact designed to get rid of his overbearing father. Looked at from the lofty, PC perch of the 20th century his performance is sort of offensive: he’s clearly played as at least vaguely homosexual (and thus, to 1950s eyes extra mentally ill and scary!)

Hitchcock’s eye for set pieces is in fine form here. Indelible images include the shadows of the killer that, disembodied from any visible person, seem to stalk and overtake the victim in an amusement park tunnel of love and the dénouement in which a horrific collapse of a broken merry-go-round metaphorically mirrors Bruno’s utter loss of his psychological faculties. I also especially loved the performance of the director’s daughter Patricia Hitchcock as the bluntly and hilariously honest yet kind hearted doppelganger of the murdered woman who sets Bruno into a homicidal trance.

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