Film / Strangers on a Train

Bruno: 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 directed by David Fincher, written by Gillian Flynn and starring Ben Affleck, simply titled Strangers, was announced in 2015. Currently in Development Hell due to the schedules of those three people.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: In the original book, Guy tragically succumbed to Bruno's pressure to murder his father.
  • Adaptational Name Change: Charles Anthony Bruno became Bruno Anthony, while Anne Faulkner became Anne Morton.
  • Adult Fear: Concerned mothers are seen helplessly watching their children trapped in the dangerously spinning carousel.
  • Almost Dead Guy: Bruno, under the carousel, is able to deliver some final incriminating words against Guy before dying.
  • 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.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: The cops chasing the clearly unarmed Guy through a carnival break every police firearm procedure there by firing at him as he runs through a crowd of children. One of the shots hits and apparently kills an innocent bystander, who happened to be operating a merry-go-round, causing it to careen out of control.
  • 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.
  • Badass Bystander: The random Cool Old Guy who volunteers to stop the speeding crawling underneath it to get to the mechanism at the center.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Bruno's tie pin which Anne notices later.
  • 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. Subverted, as Bruno is able to easily pull out his hand clutching the lighter from the tight grid where he struggled to slide his forearm through just moments ago.
  • Creator Cameo: Hitchcock appears lugging around an upright bass the first time Guy gets off the train.
  • Defiant to the End: In the face of a witness to his murder, his possession of incriminating evidence, and his imminent death, Bruno never stops trying to frame Guy.
  • Depraved Homosexual: If Bruno is gay he definitely fits this trope.
  • The Ditz: Bruno's mother. Anne had to bluntly spell it out for her that her baby boy killed a woman, for his mother to ask if Bruno told her any of this and if not, that isn't true.
  • 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. While showing a calm demeanor throughout his scenes, he gets extremely agitated and rude to bystanders when the lighter drops into the drain hole which jeopardizes his plan.
  • Feet-First Introduction: For both Bruno and Guy, the first of many times the movie contrasts the two.
  • Flashed-Badge Hijack: When Guy takes off in a cab after the tennis match, the two cops shadowing him decide to hijack a car in order to stay on his heel.
  • Foil: Bruno and Guy, very intentional (see Numerological Motif below).
  • Forced Perspective: The final scene of the so-called American version has Barbara and Anne Morton waiting for Guy to call on the telephone. Alfred Hitchcock wanted the phone in the foreground to dominate the shot, emphasizing the importance of the call, but the limited depth-of-field of contemporary motion picture lenses made it difficult to get both phone and women in focus. So Hitchcock had an oversized phone constructed and placed in the foreground. Anne reaches for the big phone, but actually answers a regular one.
  • Hand Stomp: Hugo stomps on Guy's hands when the latter is hanging on to a steel bar to keep him from being propelled away from the spinning carousel.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Walker (Bruno) worked out an elaborate series of gestures and physical appearance to suggest the homosexuality and seductiveness of Bruno's character while bypassing censor objections.
  • 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.
    • Moreso in the novel, where the aforementioned scene never takes place and 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.
  • Inspiration Nod: Throw Momma from the Train is built around the same let's-trade-murders plot. This is directly referenced in the movie, when writing teacher Larry tells his hapless student Owen to watch some Hitchcock for inspiration. Owen watches the first few minutes of Strangers, immediately recognizes the similarity to his current situation, and runs off to kill Larry's wife.
  • In the Back: Subverted. It looks like Bruno is going to shoot Guy in the back as the latter walks out of the mansion but he refrains from doing so, noting that the noise would wake his mother.
  • Karmic Death: Bruno.
  • MacGuffin: Guy's lighter.
  • Mama Didn't Raise No Criminal: When Anne come to talk to Bruno's mother about his deed, the latter wouldn't hear any of it.
  • Meganekko: Ann's younger sister, Barbara "Babs" Morton (played by Hitchcock's daughter Patricia).
  • Momma's Boy: Goes hand in hand with Bruno's Oedipus Complex.
  • 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. 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.
  • The Perfect Crime: At least as Bruno likes to see it.
  • 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.
  • Rich Idiot with No Day Job: Bruno hates his rich father partly because the latter wanted him to take on a regular job.
  • 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).
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Guy actually kills Bruno's father in the book. In the film, he doesn't go through with it.
  • "Strangers on a Train"-Plot Murder: Trope Namer, and an Unbuilt Trope: Guy laughs Bruno's suggestion off as a joke, only to discover that Bruno is all too serious. In the end, Guy doesn't go through with it — in the movie, at least.
  • Unconventional Vehicle Chase: A "chase" on a Merry-Go-Round.
  • Undercrank: The climax on the spinning carousel was achieved this way. It hasn't aged particularly well, however.
  • 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.
  • We Are Not Going Through That Again: At the end, Guy finds himself in a train carriage with a stranger who recognises him and tries to strike up a conversation. Having just gone through a hell of an ordeal resulting from someone else on a train recognising him and striking up a conversation, Guy gets up and goes to another compartment without saying a word.
  • We Need a Distraction: Babs distracts the cops after the tennis match long enough for Guy to slip by them and into the cab.
  • You're Insane!: Variations of the phrase are frequently used by Guy to describe Bruno, much to his chagrin.