Movie Review: Strangers on a Train (1951)

StrangersTrainThumbby Brad Nelson
Not one of Hitchcock’s best efforts but certainly very watchable. Strangers on a Train is about a young tennis star (played by Farley Granger) and a mentally corkscrewed momma’s boy (Robert Walker) meeting on a train and striking up an ill-fated conversation.

Robert Walker, who is no doubt a first cousin of Misery’s Kathy Bates, is exquisite in the role of the wickedly enthusiastic and obnoxiously bent conversationalist. He sidles up to Granger on a train and won’t let go, eventually inserting himself into Granger’s life with disastrous consequences. They don’t explicitly make a deal to trade murders, but in Walker’s mind things are, of course, crystal-queer.

Granger is suitably mannequinishly plastic which probably suits Hitchcock’s directorial style of manipulating events. He’s a prop. But Walker is the one to watch in this film. It’s a nice and dark performance. The rest of the cast is okay, nothing special, although Ruth Roman is good and believable in the role of future-wife-in-waiting.

Where this movie loses at least a whole star is in the stupid ending involving cheesy special effects which amount to little more than just speeding up the film. It’s sort of tough to create a menacing carousel, what with all those nice colorful ponies. And Hitchcock, usually the master of such things, isn’t able to do so. He actually drew unintentionally laughter from me at one point, which isn’t a good sign.

But overall the movie flows along nicely, even if does inexplicably take time off for a tennis match. And no doubt the Senator in this one is a Democrat because he doesn’t seem the least concerned about avoiding scandal. Anyway, I’ll give this one 2.9 drunk math professors out of 5. This movie is generally rated much higher by the public and by professional reviewers. But I find it a tad over-rated. Still, it’s a fun popcorn type of movie.

strangers_on_a_train

Available on DVD ($10.29 new, $1.74 used), Blu Ray ($14.99 new), or Instant Video ($2.99 rental) from Amazon.com. Not available on Netflix.

Here’s the entire movie, The Lady Vanishes (1938), in 720p on YouTube. It’s also a train movie.

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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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9 Responses to Movie Review: Strangers on a Train (1951)

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    As a devoted Hitchcock fan, I’m quite familiar with the movie, and in fact even saw it at a local discount movie theater (since closed down). One scene I naturally enjoyed, as a sometime math major, was the scene in which the drunk math professor told Guy Haines that he had just given a speech on integration. The previews on that occasion included a set of 5 Hicthcock re-releases (Rope, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and The Trouble With Harry; I think the others may have been Rear Window and Vertigo, since Jimmy Stewart introduced it).
    The movie, incidentally, was based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, basically a psychological thriller. In this one, the crisscross murders both happen, and the latter half of the book involves bringing both killers to justice. This may have been the first use of that particular plotline (which Fredric Brown also used in his novel The Murdererss).
    Strangers on a Train was also used as a plot element in the movie Throw Momma From the Train. A creative-writing teacher advises one of his less capable students to learn about motives and alibis, noting the problem they both have in wanting certain people to die. The student watches Strangers on a Train, and the “crisscross” scene inspires him to more than literary creativity. Since the movie is a comedy, you can guess that it doesn’t end up working out the way he anticipates.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Thanks for the further info on this, Timothy. That’s the kind of stuff that goes a long way toward movie appreciation. And although I liked “Strangers on a Train,” I think Hitchcock captured this (dark) ideal in “Rope.” That’s a splendid Hitchcockian film. It certainly doesn’t hurt having the presence of Jimmy Stewart. I think Stewart’s nice-guy, normal-man personal was just a wonderful thing to play tension and murder off of. “Rear Window” is one of my top ten (maybe top five) movies of all time. I believe it is Hitchcock’s masterpiece.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I read once that Hitchcock saw the Cary Grant roles in his movies as who he wanted to be, and the Jimmy Stewart roles as more like who he was. I like all the Jimmy Stewart movies; The Man Who Knew Too Much is undoubtedly my favorite (my favorite of the Cary Grant movies is probably North By Northwest, probably the first Hitchcock movie I ever saw).
        Rope is based on an actual play (I think this may be why Hitchcock decided to screen with those long takes, an experiment he decided never to repeat), which of course is inspired by the Leopold and Loeb case. (There are 3 non-fiction books about it, including Leopold’s autobiography, and I have all of them, as well as Meyer Levin’s Compulsion, a fictionalized version of the case.)

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    A note to anyone interested in this movie: According to The Week, Turner Classic Movies will show Strangers on a Train September 29 at 4 p.m. (most likely starting a few minutes later).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Terrific. Thanks for the news. I’ll look into seeing if there is some kind of “reminder” or calendar widget that will allow us to save those dates and make them easy to find.

      Okay, thanks to Timothy’s impetus, I’ve got an Upcoming Events widget showing in the bottom of the sidebar. If anyone has an event that they want to remind people of, let me know. There’s an email link below the “Upcoming Events” section.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Note that the movie is at 4 p.m., not 1 p.m.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Further information on the movie (even if you may not see this in time). TCM has Hitchcock Sundays at present, and the movie after Strangers on a Train is Dial M for Murder, which one book on Hitchcock suggested was, in a sense, the sequel (i.e., what happened to the tennis star and his marriage once he was no longer a tennis star).

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          It may have been a while since I’ve seen “Dial M for Murder”…if I’ve seen it at all. I might have to run home and check that out.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I did get to watch “Dial M for Murder” last night. My capsule review would be:

          Not one of Hitchcock’s best. Ray Milland seems miscast (was James Mason unavailable?). Robert Cummings is about as dull. Grace Kelly (who plays it well) sparkles and yet has few good lines to say.

          The build-up to the murder is the best part of the movie. But after that it gets bogged down in an over-complicated plot regarding a latch key.

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