In Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951), Bruno Antony (Robert Walker)'s costume, mannerisms, and dialogue create a character exposition in which he is clearly homosexual. However, there are homosexual undertones present beyond the outright coded messages of his limp wrists, sashaying walk, and flower-patterned tie. The film uses close up shots, slow motion filming, and variant sequences juxtaposed through editing to create a more general homo-erotic tone through imagery and symbolism. This is the case even though there is no outright depiction of homosexuality in the film, nor is there any one point at which I would say Guy (Farley Granger) and Bruno consummate a sexual relationship in any way.

The first indication of a sexual tone is present in the film’s very title. Hitchcock made five films in which a (male-female) romantic interlude occurs on a train, such as The 39 Steps (1935), The Lady Vanishes (1938) and North by Northwest (1939). The phrase “Strangers on a Train” sounded to me, at a point when I knew nothing about the film’s plot, like a story about two strangers meeting and falling in love on a train. As a film frequently set on a train, Strangers on a Train therefore automatically has the (unrealized) potential to be a charmed romance- two individuals accidentally bumping into each other, smiling, beginning to talk, and all the ensuing clichés. This possibility is subliminally reintroduced each time a train appears, often as Bruno and Guy are crossing paths.

More directly, a train is long and round and hard. So is a gun. And according to Freud, "All weapons and tools are used as symbols for the male organ: e.g. ploughs, hammers, rifles, revolvers, daggers, sabers, etc." (356). This is due to their oblong shape as well as their potency. Additionally, "Rooms in dreams are usually women", that is, sexual receptacles, as based on "the various ways in and out of them" (Freud 354). One blatant instance of homo-erotic imagery therefore occurs when Guy comes to Bruno's house at night, ostensibly to kill Bruno's father. Guy enters a room (Bruno's father's) and Bruno is waiting for him- in bed. Bruno sits up, and Guy tosses the gun that Bruno gave him onto the bed. Was this a dream, Freud's lexicon of symbolism would have Guy's entering a room carrying a gun represent his carrying out a sexual act. And in fact, a close up shot ensues, drawing attention to the phallic symbol (the gun) in its sexual context (the bed).

In this case, a long and narrow revolver represents Guy. Similarly, earlier in the same scene, a Great Dane represents Bruno. The dog’s association with Bruno is set up earlier in the film, when Mrs. Antony chides her son, “You’re a naughty boy Bruno”- more the sort of thing one would say to a dog than to a man- and then giggles and looks at the dog in the background. In addition, “Bruno” is typically a dog’s name, and the dog itself is never named. As a result, the dog growling at Guy, but then inexplicably licking his hand, can be viewed as Bruno threatening yet desiring Guy. A slow motion shot as the dog licks Guy’s hand draws attention to the sensuality of that act.

The most explicit pseudo sex sequence in the film occurs near its end. Shots of Guy playing tennis are juxtaposed with shots of Bruno reaching for Guy’s lighter, which he has dropped into a drain. The contrast between the two sequences makes sense on a plot level, as Guy and Bruno are simultaneously racing to get to the scene of Miriam’s murder first. But when their motions are analyzed in a context of rhythm and posture, they strongly resemble anal sex: Guy is rhythmically moving back and forth, and Bruno is bent over and wincing. Close-ups of both of their straining faces enhance the discontinuity of the motion from the plot. For instance, a frame which contains only Bruno’s horizontal face, as opposed to a frame in which he is seen reaching into the drain, surrounded by townspeople, allows the illusion, or at least the association, of Guy above him, even though Guy isn’t really there. Similarly, a frame containing only Guy’s face, as opposed to one containing Guy, Guy’s opponent, and the judge and spectators of the tennis match, allows the illusion that it is really Bruno receiving Guy’s action.

The homosexual tone created by these techniques adds a deeper dimension to Bruno and Guy’s relationship, representing desires and subtexts neither expressed in words nor consummated. While it does not necessarily correspond to any discrete sexual incident, it is does contribute to a sexual tension, while escaping any Hays Code censorship due to its being ground firmly in apparently innocuous techniques such as close-up, slow motion, and editing.

Works cited:

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.