Film: Strangers on a Train
It's so simple, too. A couple of fellows meet accidentally, like you and me. No connection between them at all. Never saw each other before. Each of them has somebody he'd like to get rid of, but he can't murder the person he wants to get rid of. He'll get caught. So they swap murders. Guy:
Swap murders? Bruno:
Each fellow does the other fellow's murder. Then there is nothing to connect them. The one who had the motive isn't there. Each fellow murders a total stranger. Like you do my murder and I do yours. Guy:
We're coming into my station. Bruno:
For example, your wife, my father. Criss-cross.
— Strangers on a Train
A 1951 Alfred Hitchcock
thriller starring Farley Granger and Robert Walker. Guy Haines (Granger), an amateur tennis star, meets the eccentric Bruno Anthony (Walker) on a train. Bruno has read about Guy's romantic troubles in the paper, and suggests that he might want to... dispose of his wife
, the unfaithful Mrs. Miriam Joyce Haines (Kasey Rogers under the alias "Laura Elliot"), so he can marry Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), the daughter of a U.S. Senator. Bruno tells Guy of his own unhappiness with his father, and outlines his plot for the perfect murder: two strangers who both have someone they want dead "exchange murders"
. Guy laughs the whole thing off and gets off the train but, as he learns a few days later, Bruno wasn't joking.
The movie was based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith (of Ripliad
fame) and had a screenplay originally written by Raymond Chandler
(before he was fired and replaced). The book and the movie are the Trope Namer
, Trope Maker
, and Trope Codifier
for "Strangers on a Train"-Plot Murder
, although there's a lot more to the story than just that one trope
. The 1987 comedy Throw Momma from the Train
is part parody, part remake and part homage of this film.
A remake, simply titled "Strangers", directed by David Fincher
and starring Ben Affleck
is currently set for release.
This film provides examples of:
- Absent-Minded Professor: Collins, the drunken mathematician on the train. It's his forgetfulness that kills Guy's alibi.
- Adaptational Heroism: In the original book, Guy tragically succumbed to Bruno's pressure to murder his father.
- Ambiguously Gay: Both lead characters. Bruno, the Sissy Villain, is almost overt about it; Guy (whose actor was openly bisexual) is more of a "sexually ambiguous" ingenue. The film, with an up-and-coming man with a future in politics who gets involved with another man who acts in a flirtatious manner, has been read as commentary on the anti-homosexual hysteria of the 1950s, when the HUAC was on a witch hunt for "sex perverts" and other subversives in the government.
- Amusement Park: The scene of Miriam's murder and of the film's climax.
- Angry Guard Dog: Subverted. After sneaking into the Anthony house late at night to find Bruno's father and warn him, Guy encounters a growling Great Dane on the stairs. However, as he gets closer the dog comes up and licks his hand.
- Asshole Victim: Miriam Haines
- Jerkass Woobie: In the book. She still refuses Guy a divorce and tries to join him in Palm Beach, where Guy is supposed to be remodelling a country club, as a way of cutting in on his earnings and/or convincing his co-workers that he's the father of her baby, thereby forcing him to support the child. However, Miriam suffers a fall in her own home and miscarries, which leaves Guy perfectly free to aggressively pursue a divorce and means that Bruno had absolutely no reason at all to kill Miriam.
- Ax-Crazy: Bruno
- Badass Bystander: The random Cool Old Guy who volunteers to stop the speeding carousel...by crawling underneath it to get to the mechanism at the center.
- Book Ends: In the final scene, a stranger—a clergyman—recognizes Guy on a train and tries to strike up a conversation with him. He and Ann respond by getting up and moving to another car.
- Clutching Hand Trap: Bruno, a remorseless murderer, gets his arm stuck in a drainage hole by the sidewalk. This is played for suspense, as it helps buy time for Guy to finish his scheduled tennis match (though Bruno makes it to the amusement park first anyway), though it does have Alfred Hitchcock's trademark dark humor.
- Creator Cameo: Hitchcock appears lugging around an upright bass the first time Guy gets off the train.
- Depraved Homosexual: If Bruno is gay he definitely fits this trope.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Much like in Shadow of a Doubt, there is a pre-occupation with strangulation in this film, Bruno strangles Miriam and Guy expresses desire to strangle Miriam. Their desire may very well be a response to subconscious sexual urges, namely that of erotic asphyxiation.
- It's also important to note that Miriam, declared a tramp and adulteress by numerous characters before and after her murder, is double teamed by two men in the tunnel of love and goes to the secluded island, which is referred to as a hot spot for 'smoochers', with them. For comparison, in the book at least one of her companions is noted to be her brother.
- Faux Affably Evil: Bruno
- Feet-First Introduction: For both Bruno and Guy, the first of many times the movie contrasts the two.
- Foil: Bruno and Guy, very intentional (see Numerological Motif below).
- I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: The cops at the end shoot at Guy (when he's running into a crowd of children, no less) instead of just chasing after him. Nobody seems to care that one of the shots hits and kills the merry-go-round attendant.
- Probably because they're too busy caring about the merry-go-round full of people that's going at a dangerous speed and can't be stopped now that its attendant is gone.
- Identical Stranger: Barbara Morton and Miriam Joyce Haines. Not quite identical, but similar enough that it becomes a plot point.
- Imperiled in Pregnancy: Miriam is pregnant at the time of her murder. (In the book, she has suffered a miscarriage shortly before that point.) Oddly, nobody seems particularly concerned by this fact, perhaps because she's an Asshole Victim.
- Informed Attribute: Bruno claims his father is a horrible person, but we have only the word of a madman to go on. Indeed, the one time we see him he appears genuinely concerned for his son's well-being.
- More so in the book where the aforementioned scene never takes place, the reader knows nothing about Bruno's father right up until Guy kills him, at which point a private detective in Bruno's father's employ tells Bruno that if he honestly thinks his father didn't love him then he really didn't know him at all.
- Karmic Death: Bruno.
- MacGuffin: Guy's lighter.
- Meganekko: Ann's younger sister, Barbara "Babs" Morton (played by Hitchcock's daughter Patricia).
- Mommy Issues: Bruno. More so in the book where Bruno's mother is described as moderately attractive and has a lot of male friends. In the film she's fairly old and delusional.
- My God, You Are Serious: Guy's reaction when he learns about Bruno killing his wife.
- Numerological Motif: The number two and the concepts of doubles and doppelgangers are both important in this movie.
- The theme of crosses and double crossing could fit under here as well.
- Oedipus Complex: Bruno wants to kill his father and is very... close with his mother. Need we say more?
- The Perfect Crime
- Psychological Horror: Not as much compared to some Hitchcock movies, but it's certainly there. While he's kind of funny most of the time, there are moments when Bruno is terrifying.
- Psychopathic Manchild: Bruno
- Reflective Eyes: Or Reflective Eyeglasses, anyway; we see Bruno strangle Miriam in them after they're knocked to the ground.
- Sarcasm-Blind: Guy's reaction to Bruno's plan is bewilderment, and when Bruno asks if he thinks it is a good plan, Guy sarcastically responds in the affirmative.
- Sissy Villain: Bruno
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Miriam's murder is accompanied by jaunty carousel music in the background (which actually goes twice as fast as it does in the rest of the amusement park scenes).
- "Strangers on a Train"-Plot Murder: Trope Namer.
- Villain Ball: Bruno all but outright tells Anne what he's going to do to frame Guy, just to rub Guy's nose in it, even though it gives Guy a chance to stop him.
- You're Insane!: Variations of the phrase are frequently used by Guy to describe Bruno, much to his chagrin.