Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Strangers On A Train (1951) Masterpiece of Classic Noir

"You'll be in the grip of love's strangest trip!"
Strange indeed.

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Raymond Chandler (screen play. though in some circles nothing of Chandler's input was left in the script), Czenzi Ormonde (screen play), Whitfield Cookfor the adaptation that was based on Patricia Highsmith's novel, with Ben Hecht adding uncredited input along with Edmund Crispin.

It's interesting to point out that Crispin's 1946 novel The Moving Toyshop has the merry-go-round finale used in the film, the two men fighting, the accidentally shot merry go round operator, the wildly out-of-control merry-go-round, the volunteer amusement park attendant who crawls under the moving merry-go-round to brake it, all these components are all lifted from Crispin.

The excellent stylistic Noir cinematography was by Robert Burks his art includes some  Classic Film Noir sequences. Music was by Dimitri Tiomkin.

The film stars Farley Granger as Guy Haines, Ruth Roman as Anne Morton, Robert Walker as Bruno Antony, Leo G. Carroll as Sen. Morton, Patricia Hitchcock as Barbara Morton, Kasey Rogers as Miriam Joyce Haines, Marion Lorne as Mrs. Antony, and Jonathan Hale as Mr. Antony.

Farley Granger as Guy Haines

Robert Walker as Bruno Antony

Kasey Rogers as Miriam Joyce Haines

Ruth Roman as Anne Morton
 Art Imitates Life. Patricia Highsmith wrote Strangers on a Train in roughly 48-49 it was published in 1950. By then, all the sordid details of Murder Inc., were exposed by former member  Abe "Kid Twist" Reles. Murder, Inc. (Murder Incorporated) was an organized bunch of wiseguys who in 1930s and 40s carried out whacks (murder contracts) for organized crime around the country. Reles by the way "fell" out of a window to his death while supposedly under police protection.

In the novel Guy Haines is an architect (not a tennis champ). His wife Miriam is cheating on him. Haines wants to cut his marital ties in order to marry Anne Faulkner (in the film her name is changed to Anne Morton).

As in the film Guy meets Charles Anthony Bruno (a psycho) who in the film is a spoiled rich kid named Bruno Anthony, on a train journey to meet his wife in the town of Metcalf. For the sake of clarity we'll just call him Bruno from this point on. Bruno proposes as in the film his crazy scheme to swap murders. He'll off Miriam and Guy will shoot his father. With no motive nobody will be the wiser. Guy thinks it's all fantastical bullshit, but Bruno goes through with his end. In the novel Guy is out of the country on a job assignment in Mexico, in the film Guy is going about his various tennis matches.

I killed Mirian

In the film Bruno informs Guy, just outside the door of Senator Morton's D.C. home, that he killed Miriam just as Guy is returning from a tennis match. When Guy enters the house he is met by Senator Morton, Anne and Anne's sister Barbara who inform him that the police called to notify him that his wife has been murdered.

Leo G. Carroll as Sen. Morton, Anne Morton , Patricia Hitchcock as Barbara Morton
Guy fakes surprise. Barbara, obviously a True Crime buff tells him that he will be the chief suspect unless he has an alibi. Guy's alibi was a drunken professor of mathematics who he met in the smoking car on the train. However in the film the professor was too drunk to remember him. The fact that he was on the train however, convinces the police to release Guy, however they provide him with a round the clock escort so that he doesn't flee the country.

To drunk to remember seeing Guy
In the novel Guy doesn't go immediately to the police because he realizes that Bruno will claim that he was an accomplice. Over the following months in the novel Bruno hounds Guy to fulfill his half of their contract. In the film it's sped up to just a few weeks.

Here, at this point the film and the novel wildly diverge. In the novel Bruno puts the screws to Guy by showing up at various functions and writing anonymous letters to his friends and associates. Guy actually goes through with the murder of Bruno's father.


Marion Lorne as Mrs. Antony

Alfred Hitchcock's cameo

It's been written numerous times about Hitchcock's use of doubles, the "title sequence making this point: there are two taxicabs, two redcaps, two pairs of feet, two sets of train rails that cross twice. Once on the train, Bruno orders a pair of double drinks — "The only kind of doubles I play", he says charmingly. In Hitchcock's cameo he carries a double bass. There are two respectable and influential fathers, two women with eyeglasses, and two women at a party who delight in thinking up ways of committing the perfect crime. There are two sets of two detectives in two cities, two little boys at the two trips to the fairground, two old men at the carousel, two boyfriends accompanying the woman about to be murdered, and two Hitchcocks in the film" (Spoto, Donald (1983). The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock.)

Much has been written about about the sexual ambiguity of the characters of Guy and Bruno. Robert L. Carringer "has written of a political subtext to the film, arguing that the film was crucially shaped by the Congressional inquiries commissioned a study into the Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government. Carringer states that Guy was a stand-in for victims of the homophobic climate. He claims that Hitchcock "drafted the left-leaning Cook... expressly because he was comfortable with sexually ambiguous characters." (McGilligan, Patrick (2004). Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light.)

I myself see some interesting, for the Eisenhower Era, sexual subtext reinforced with suggestive visuals and dialogue that obviously went right over the heads of sexually stagnated legions of decency. It all revolves around with Miriam proclivities for sexual experimentation.

Miriam apparently likes to be spit roasted. She's cheating on Guy with two townies. This is somewhat visually enforced (gotta love that Motion Picture Production Code) by the scene at the amusement park where she is "doing" an ice cream cone.

She tells the boys she eating it "to satisfy her craving." Townie replies "craving for what."

That comes right after she mentions something about a "hot dog." and right before she suggests that her ménage à trois move to the Tunnel Of Love.  Hitch, what a devious mind you had, it probably went right over the heads of the censors, lol.

Looking for Bruno
We are then treated to a couple of sequences where she's looking back at Bruno with come hither looks. She's not satisfied with her two boy toys she angling for a three way. The slut! I bet she isn't wearing panties, lol.

We get another suggestive sequence of Miriam riding a horse on a merry-go-round. Again she looks for Bruno.

Bruno follows the trio through the Tunnel Of Love. In the tunnel we get some suggestive shadow play on the wall accompanied by Miriam's giggling. 

One townie on far  left, Miriam bending over his lap  while second townie is in doggy style position.
Bruno follows them out on to "Magic Isle" a sort of lover's lane islet. Miriam apparently knows the place well. Miriam runs and hides from the boys that brought her, while looking to try a sample of Bruno. She's dripping with anticipation. She finds him.

She gets choked but not with what she was expecting. He strangles her in a the famous noir stylistic sequence where we see the reflection of the murder in Miriam's dropped glasses. It's beautifully done.

Later at the Morton's after Guy finds out about the murder. Miriam's predilection for multiple partners is again reinforced.

Senator Morton: ... Dreadful, business dreadful, poor unfortunate girl.
Barbara Morton: She was a tramp.
Senator Morton: She was a human being, Let me remind you that even the most unworthy of us has a right to life and the pursuit of happiness.
Barbara Morton: From what I hear she pursued it in all directions.

Yes she pursued it in all directions, which also begs the question of why?  If you take into the already scholastically analyzed deliberate depictions of Guy as a sexually ambiguous character you may come to the conclusion that maybe Miriam wasn't getting it at home from Guy so had to shop out. Which also now makes you think of the possibility of a similar sexually noir denouement ahead for Guy and Anne's marriage.

Oh well, screencaps are from a Turner Classic Movies stream On Demand. 10/10

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