Strangers on a Train is one of the quintessential Hitchcock classics. It has a great premise, interesting and often chilling characters, and is basically a massive collection of tense scenes and fantastic shots. While I watched it I was marveling at how well thought out each and every shot was and how nearly everyone helped to build the dramatic tension. In a modern age of cinematic crap, most directors and editors seem to believe that it is rapid edits and incomprehensible sequences of action that build tension as opposed to real cinematography. I’ve come to the conclusion that film is not so much an art anymore, but just a means of making money with whatever product they can turn out, no matter how lazily shot and edited it is. Hitchcock predates this era, hell even his death predates this era. He is from a time of classic movie making in which films were edited carefully and manually, not sloppily and on a computer. Film is expensive and he knew he had to make every shot count. And that’s exactly what he did.
Of course as I said before the shots build tension, and this tension is essential for the plot. The film opens with a tennis pro on a train to go divorce his estranged wife who is pregnant with another man’s baby. On the train a man recognizes him and introduces himself. They have a somewhat awkward interaction before the man invites the tennis pro to his compartment for lunch. There they drink and discuss various matters. Then the man suddenly mentions how much he and his father hate each other and how sometimes he wishes his father were dead. It is then he presents his idea for the perfect murder. He proposes that the tennis pro kill his father and that he will kill the tennis pro’s wife. Of course the tennis pro marks this off as drunken banter and doesn’t give it a second thought when he gets off the train. In short, the wife refuses to get the divorce she had wanted and the man kills her. The rest of the movie is then him stalking the tennis pro, trying to convince him to carry out the other end of the bargain. It all culminates to a spectacular climax on an out of control carousel.
Besides the wonderful cinematography, I mentioned above that the characters are great. This is completely true. Each has a function and each carries it out. The strongest however is the man from the train played by Robert Walker. Walker manages to play murderous and deranged in such a subtle manner that it brings tension to the screen every time he walks into frame. He is also the subject of many of the great shots in the film. Perhaps the most famous shot is of a tennis match in which the pro is playing. The man is in the audience and Hitchcock gives us a shot of the audience following the ball with their eyes back and forth. However one person is not turning their head. It is the man. He is staring directly at the pro. This fantastic yet simple shot gives me goosebumps every time. And it all builds the tension required by the film’s plot. We watch as things escalate and eventually explode. It is an exciting experience that is rare in modern cinema.
Verdict? Definitely a must see for any fan of Hitchcock, murder, suspense, thrillers, tennis, old movies, new movies, basically anyone! So rent it or download it, just see it any way you can. You wont regret it.
Up Next: Whatever movie I feel like reviewing. I’ll probably watch some stuff this weekend, though don’t expect a review for Transformers 3 or anything like that.