Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman, Leo G. Carroll, Patricia Hitchcock
Perhaps none of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1950s films is quite as intense as Strangers on a Train (1951). There are arguably better films from that period, but none are more effective at generating the atmosphere that gained Hitchcock the title of the Master of Suspense. The story is certainly a classic one (even serving as the premise for Danny DeVito’s Throw Momma from the Train (1987)). Two men meet by chance on a train where one of them puts forth an idea for the perfect pair of murders. Supposing that Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) committed a murder that would benefit Guy Haines (Farley Granger) in a manner that afforded Guy an airtight alibi, then Guy could do the same for him. Since the victims would have no connection of any kind to their killers, the likelihood of them being caught would be slim. That’s the crux of the story, but it doesn’t take into account the fact that Bruno is quite capable of agreeing to the proposal for both of them and expecting Guy to carry out his end of a bargain that he didn’t really make.
In many ways, it’s a typical Hitchcock work—one that plays off the director’s own fears of being accused of a crime that he didn’t commit. But it’s a little more than that, because there’s a strange subtext to it all. Bruno seems as much interested in “picking up” Guy as he is in involving him in his murderous scheme—something that becomes even more pronounced in the British cut of the film, which the Hendersonville Film Society is screening (the additional footage underscores the character’s homosexuality). There seems more at stake here than the murders, giving the film an undercurrent of unusual power. Intriguingly—and perhaps accidentally, since Hitchcock really wanted neither actor for the parts—the casting goes against type. Farley Granger, who is gay, plays the straight man, while Robert Walker, who was straight, plays the gay role. Was Hitchcock playing with our perceptions of gay and straight or was it merely a coincidence? You decide.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show Strangers on a Train at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 14, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville. (From Asheville, take I-26 to U.S. 64 West, turn right at the third light onto Thompson Street. Follow to the Lake Point Landing entrance and park in the lot on the left.)