Friday, October 16, 2020

Don’t talk to “Strangers on a Train”

Strangers on a Train (1951) is a psychological thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock starring Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, and Robert Walker. The film was based on the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley), with cinematography by long-time Hitchcock collaborator Robert Burks and music by Dimitri Tiomkin.

The fateful moment that starts the action

The plot concerns two strangers who meet on a train: a young tennis player Guy Haines (Granger) and a somewhat charming psychopath named Bruno Antony (Walker). Bruno suggests that they should exchange murders, but Guy really doesn’t take Bruno seriously. When Bruno commits the first murder and tries to convince Guy to complete their “bargain,” the plot takes a series of strange and exciting twists and turns.

Strangers on a Train ushered in a golden period for director Hitchcock. He would go on to make some of the most memorable and successful films of the 1950s including, Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), and North by Northwest (1959).

Alfred Hitchcock (1899 – 1980) was an English film director, producer, and screenwriter. He is one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century. Hitchcock directed over 50 feature films, many are classics that have been honored and studied for years. Some of Hitchcock’s classic films include The 39 Steps (1935), Sabotage (1936), Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and Psycho (1960).

Robert Burks (1909 – 1968) was an American cinematographer. He was adept at both color and black and white photography. In 1928, Burks got his start in film at Warner Bros. He eventually worked his way up to Director of Photography in 1944. The first feature that he worked on as a cinematographer was The Fountainhead (1949) starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. Burks is closely associated with Hitchock. He was the cinematographer on some of the directors most famous works from the 1950s and 1960s including Strangers on a Train (1951), I Confess (1952), Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), The Wrong Man (1956), Vertigo (1958) and North by Northwest (1959).

Dimitri Tiomkin (1894 – 1979) was a Russian-born American film composer. He received 22 Academy Award nominations and won four Oscars. Tiomkin got his big break working with director Frank Capra on the classic Lost Horizon (1937). He also collaborated with Capra on You Can’t Take it With You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Meet John Doe (1941) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Tiomkin was famous for scoring western films including Duel in the Sun (1946), High Noon (1952), Giant (1956), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), and Rio Bravo (1959). Tiomkin also wrote the scores for three other Hitchcock films: Shadow of  Doubt (1943), I Confess (1953), and Dial M for Murder (1954).

Farley Granger and Ruth Roman

Farley Granger (1925 – 2011) was an American actor best known for his two films with Alfred Hitchcock: Rope (1948) and Strangers on a Train (19510). Signed to a long-term contract by Samuel Goldwyn. He made two films: The North Star (1943) and The Purple Heart (1944) before joining the United States Navy. When he returned to Hollywood he starred in They Live by Night (1948) which brought him to the attention of Hitchcock. Granger went on to star in other Goldwyn films including Enchantment (1948), Roseanna McCoy (1949), Edge of Doom (1950), and Our Very Own (1950). Granger worked in films, stage, and television, including work in several soap operas into the early 2000s.

Ruth Roman (1922 – 1989) was an American film, stage, and television actress. Roman got her start in the movies starring in the Jungle Queen (1945) film serial. She had a notable role in The Window (1949) which lead to her being cast in Champion (1949) co-starring Kirk Douglas. These successes earned her a contract with Warner Bros. During her years under contract, she costarred with some of Hollywood’s top leading men including Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, Glenn Ford, and James Stewart. Roman also worked steadily on television during the 1950s and beyond, appearing on such popular shows as Mannix, Marcus Welby, M.D., The Mod Squad, The FBI, and The Outer Limits.

Robert Walker and Donna Reed in See Here, Private Hargrove

Robert Walker (1918 – 1951) was an American actor who was to the first husband of film actress Jennifer Jones. In 1943, he was signed to a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he had supporting roles in Bataan (1943) and Madame Curie (1943). The studio started grooming him for stardom with the starring role in See Here, Private Hargrove (1944). Other starring roles followed in films like Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), The Clock (1945) co-starring Judy Garland, Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945) with Hedy Lamarr and June Allyson, and Till the Clouds Roll By (1946) where he portrayed composer Jerome Kern. Walker’s last film, My Son John (1952) used footage from Strangers on a Train when Walker died before production ended.

Strangers on a Train also features Leo G. Carroll, Patricia Hitchcock (the director’s daughter), and Laura Elliot (later known as Kasey Rogers).

Strangers on a Train trivia:

  • Hitchcock bought the rights to the novel for a mere $7,500.
  • Robert Walker was Hitchcock’s only choice to play Bruno Antony.
  • Hitchcock had wanted William Holden to play Guy Haines, but he was unavailable.
  • Patricia Hitchcock is the last surviving member of the cast.
  • Farley Granger said that Hitchcock didn’t like Ruth Roman and treated her badly in front of everyone.
  • Tennis pro Jack Cunningham coached Farley Granger for the tennis scenes and played his opponent in the movie.

To watch the film, click on the link below.

To join the discussion on Zoom on October 20, 2020, at 6 p.m. Central Time, click the link to the Chicago Film Club Meetup Group.

Questions for discussion:

  1. What did you think of the opening scenes of the movie?
  2. What clues do we have that Bruno may be “trouble?”
  3. How do the tennis match and Bruno’s struggle to retrieve Guy’s lighter add to the film’s suspense?
  4. The film develops the idea of the double: Bruno Guy, Miriam, Ann. Can you find any other pairs?

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