Strangers On A Train - 1951 (Thriller
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay by Raymond Chandler
, Whitfield Cook, Ben Hecht, Czenzi Ormonde (Chandler wrote the first version which was totally rewritten by Ormonde)
Starring Farley Granger
as Guy Haines, and Robert Walker
as Bruno Antony.
It's a simple idea: Two strangers meet on a train. Each one has someone they'd like to get rid of. They'll get caught because they have a motive - so why not swap murders? Set up alibis, do the other person's murder, that's it. Simple. Guy Haines is awaiting a divorce from his wife so he can marry the girl he's seeing. Bruno Antony wants to off his hated father. Bruno proposes the idea to Guy during a chance meeting on a train. Guy thinks he's a nut, quite rightly, and they go their separate ways. But Bruno is completely serious. When Guy's wife is murdered, Bruno makes it clear that he has carried out his half of the bargain - but Guy didn't have an alibi, so now the police think he did it. Worse, Bruno wants him to kill his father for him...
Why You Should Watch/Rent/Buy This:
This is one of Hitchcock's best movies, right up there with Psycho. In fact, I think it's my favourite of his. It starts off with a fun, slightly creepy opening where the two men meet, and then slowly cranks up the tension as things get more and more serious. It's a great story, with lots of twists and turns, and like all the best movies, takes a slightly unbelievable premise but then explores what would really happen if it were true. In other words, it's not likely that you would meet a total stranger who offered to swap murders with you, but if you did, the events that follow are perfectly likely.
The slow build up of tension is superb, and comes to a head in the ridiculously exciting carousel finale, which is one of the best ending sequences ever. As soon as the shot is fired that kicks it all off, it doesn't stop, and is terrifyingly realistic. When you watch it, remember that when the worker crawls underneath the carousel, it is not a special effect - the stunt was done for real.
There are many other classic moments in this film: the tennis match, the lighter scene, the extremely creepy murder at the fairground, the mansion at night - but I don't want to spoil them for you. If you like movies at all, you will love this. Go and see it now.
Most Excellent Movie Trivia:
Hitch does his usual cameo near the start of the film: as Guy is getting off the train, Hitch is struggling to get on with a double-bass.
The story was based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, who also wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley. Hitchcock bought the rights to the novel for $7,500 - he paid anonymously, fearing that if it was made public that he wanted them, the price would go up sharply.
Apparently, Hitchcock's daughter was afraid of heights - so on the fairground set, he left her on the top of the ferris wheel for an hour. Evil bastard.
The UK version is 2 minutes longer than the US version. Some scenes which hinted a bit more at Bruno's homosexuality were removed, because American audiences are incredibly frail and prone to fainting. No, it was the censors who objected, so Hitchcock had to tone it down slightly. For an excellent writeup about the homoeroticism in the film, go here.
Nearly every Hitchcock film has a MacGuffin - in this one, it is Guy's lighter. It can be said that Guy's desire to prove his innocence is the MacGuffin of the first half, but considering the lighter's importance (and that his freedom hinges on it) it's safe to say that the lighter is the object in question. Besides, if he hadn't left it behind right at the start, he could have avoided a lot of trouble... Also, the famous bomb theory manifests itself in the fairground murder (he's not flirting with you, he's going to kill you! aaaah, look out! etc etc).
Throw Momma From the Train uses the murder swap idea from this film - Danny DeVito's character gets the idea after watching the movie. When I first saw this, I didn't realise that Strangers On A Train was actually a real movie, until it was on TV one night. Hitchcock's is the better film, obviously, but this one is very funny, and worth watching too.