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Two strangers meet by chance on a train from Washington, D.C., to New York - Guy Haines, a married professional tennis player in love with the daughter of a U.S. Senator, and Bruno Antony, a cynical mama's boy who hates his wealthy father. Bruno poses the wild idea of each committing the other's perfect murder; Guy would kill Bruno's father and Bruno would do away with Guy's promiscuous, blackmailing wife. Guy thinks it's all a joke and laughingly agrees, but when Bruno murders Guy's wife in a small-town amusement park, the joke turns deadly.
Director/Producer: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Raymond Chandler, Czenzi Ormonde, Whitfield Cook, based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Editing: William H. Ziegler
Art Direction: Ted Haworth
Original Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Robert Walker (Bruno Antony), Farley Granger (Guy Haines), Ruth Roman (Anne Morton), Patricia Hitchcock (Barbara Morton), Leo G. Carroll (Senator Morton), Laura Elliott (Miriam Haines).
Why STRANGERS ON A TRAIN is Essential
After riding high for several years as one of the most popular directors in film, Alfred Hitchcock produced a string of critical and commercial failures in the late 1940s. Following the great success of Notorious (1946), his next four pictures - The Paradine Case (1947), Rope (1948), Under Capricorn (1949), and Stage Fright (1950) - turned out to be major disappointments. He needed a first-rate thriller that could put him back on top, and he found it in Patricia Highsmith's novel, Strangers on a Train.
In the story, Hitchcock found more than just opportunities for a wild suspenseful ride with a climactic amusement park disaster. He was able to work out in the script and in the film's structure and visual design, the motif of doubling, of opposing forces of dark and light, good and evil, innocence and guilt coming together. Through crosscutting and visual cues that echo each other from one scene to the next, Hitchcock shows how the psychopathic murderer is the shadow of the "innocent" tennis pro, putting into action what the athlete really wants, bringing out the dark underside of potentially murderous desires.
Strangers on a Train isn't usually considered Hitchcock's best work, and in film history, it is generally overshadowed by Notorious (1946), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), and Psycho (1960). (It didn't even make the list of Hitchcock's top ten films compiled by a panel of noted directors at the behest of the British Film Institute in 1999.) But film critics, students and fans love to pick it apart, discuss it, argue over it. Even Hitchcock himself confessed to be enthralled by its elaborate, tightly worked-out design. And even today, such set pieces as the stalking and murder of the young wife, the near-strangulation at the cocktail party, and the climactic carousel scene can still make audiences gasp in unison.
by Rob Nixon
Strangers on a Train (1951)
The story was presented on radio later in 1951 on CBS Theater with Ray Milland and Frank Lovejoy in the leads and Ruth Roman reprising her role as Anne.
The story was done again on radio in 1954 with Dana Andrews, Robert Cummings, and Virginia Mayo.
The movie was remade as Once You Kiss a Stranger (1969). In that version, Paul Burke plays a pro golfer who gets mixed up with a mentally unstable woman (Carol Lynley) who offers to kill his opponent if he will kill the psychiatrist who wants to have her committed.
Another version was made for TV as Once You Meet a Stranger (1996) with the genders of both the main characters reversed. Jacqueline Bisset plays a former child star whose husband won't give her a divorce. Theresa Russell is the woman who offers to kill the husband in exchange for the murder of the mother she hates.
The story - and the familiar Hitchcock nightmare mother figure - got a comic twist in Throw Momma from the Train (1987) with Billy Crystal and Danny DeVito as the would-be murderers. In this version, the plot is set in motion when teacher Crystal suggests to writing student DeVito that he watch a Hitchcock movie to learn the mechanics of a mystery thriller. DeVito watches Strangers on a Train and gets the inspiration to off Crystal's ex-wife and have his own obnoxious mother killed.
Strangers on a Train was featured in the Barry Levinson film Liberty Heights (1999).
There are three differences in the British version of the film: The first encounter between Bruno and Guy on the train is longer and features a more obvious homoerotic flirtation by Bruno; in the scene where Guy sneaks out of his apartment to go to Bruno's house, a shot of him opening a drawer to get the map Bruno sketched is added; the very last scene of Guy being recognized by a clergyman on a train was deleted.
Murder by strangulation is described, implied, or shown in 17 of Hitchcock's films.
John Frankenheimer paid homage to the scene of Bruno strangling Miriam shot as a reflection in her fallen glasses in his film The Young Savages (1961).
Because he died before filming was complete, the final shots of Walker's last film, My Son John (1952), were taken from Strangers on a Train.
by Rob Nixon & Jeff Stafford
Strangers on a Train (1951)
Hitchcock's cameo comes early in Strangers on a Train. He is seen boarding a train carrying a double bass.
Hitchcock cast his own daughter as the younger sister of Guy's girlfriend. Patricia Hitchcock also appeared in her father's Stage Fright (1950) and Psycho (1960).
Similar to the scene of Bruno at the Morton's party, Hitchcock enjoyed showing people in social situations how to strangle someone. Also, a famous sequence of photos by Philippe Halsman shows Hitchcock doing various things to a bust of his daughter, including strangling her.
Advertisements for the film showed Hitchcock inserting the letter "L" into the word "Strangers" in the title to make "Stranglers."
In 1956, Ruth Roman and her son were among the hundreds of passengers rescued when the luxury liner Andrea Doria collided with another ship and sank.
Laura Elliott, who played Guy's murdered wife, is best remembered under her other professional name, Kasey Rogers, as Louise Tate, wife of Darren's boss on the TV series Bewitched.
Marion Lorne, who played Bruno's mother, also appeared on Bewitched for several seasons as Samantha dotty old Aunt Clara.
Hitchcock and cinematographer Robert Burks worked together 12 times. Burks shot every one of Hitchcock's films between this picture and Marnie (1964), except for Psycho (1960). He was Oscar-nominated for this film and Rear Window (1954) and won Best Color Cinematography for To Catch a Thief (1955).
Composer Dimitri Tiomkin also wrote the scores for the Hitchcock films Shadow of a Doubt (1943), I Confess (1953), and Dial M for Murder (1954).
Leo G. Carroll appeared in five other Hitchcock films, including his role as the murderous Dr. Murchison in Spellbound (1945).
Several of Raymond Chandler's novels have been made into movies, including Farewell, My Lovely (1975, and as The Falcon Takes Over, 1942, and Murder, My Sweet, 1944), The Big Sleep (1946 and 1978), Lady in the Lake (1947), and The Long Goodbye (1973).
Chandler also wrote the screenplays for Double Indemnity (1944), The Unseen (1945), and The Blue Dahlia (1946).
Raymond Chandler on writing for film: "They hire writers as a necessary evil because all the brilliant second-guessers, who can tell you what is wrong with what you do, can't do anything themselves. They hire writers, I said, and sometimes at a high salary; but they hate them every minute. They would rather save a thousand bucks by cutting off a writer before he has time to catch his breath than save fifty thousand by using their brains during production."
Famous Quotes from STRANGERS ON A TRAIN
BRUNO (Robert Walker): I certainly admire people who do things. People who do things are important. Now me, I never seem to do anything.
BRUNO: Scotch and water please. A pair. Doubles. The only kind of doubles I play.
BRUNO: What is a life or two, Guy? Some people are better off dead. Your wife and my father, for instance.
BRUNO: You do my murder, I do yours. Criss cross.
MRS. ANTONY (Marion Lorne): I do hope you're forgotten all about that silly little plan of yours.
BRUNO: Which one?
MRS. ANTONY: About blowing up the White House.
BARBARA (Patricia Hitchcock): Daddy doesn't mind a little scandal, he's a senator.
BARBARA: I still think it would be wonderful to have a man love you so much he'd kill for you.
SEN. MORTON (Leo G. Carroll): Even the most unworthy of us has the right to life and the pursuit of happiness.
BARBARA: From what I hear, she pursued it in every direction.
BRUNO: My theory is that everyone is a potential murderer.
BARBARA: He looked at me. His hands were on her throat, Anne; he was strangling me.Compiled by Rob Nixon
Strangers on a Train (1951)
When Alfred Hitchcock read Patricia Highsmith's thriller Strangers on a Train, he immediately decided to buy the film rights. He found he shared with Highsmith an interest in the duality of the human psyche and each person's capacity for evil. He decided to create from the novel a suspense story centering around two men who would represent both sides of the same personality.
Hitchcock instructed his agents to negotiate the purchase of Highsmith's book without mentioning his name for fear of jacking up the price. He ended up getting it for only $7500,which seriously irritated its author.
Hitchcock contracted Whitfield Cook, who worked with him on the screenplay for Stage Fright (1950), to help him hammer out a 65-page treatment of the novel. Their treatment tightened the story, limited the location, and delineated a series of shots that would set up the structure and visual motif of doubles and morally opposing forces.
Hitchcock had a hard time finding a first-rate writer willing to take on the script assignment. "They all felt my first draft was so flat and factual that they couldn't see one iota of quality in it," he later said. "Yet the whole film was there visually."
Hitchcock wanted a mystery writer to handle the script. It was first submitted to Dashiell Hammett, whose novels The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key, and The Thin Man had been adapted for the screen. But that collaboration never materialized.
Finally Raymond Chandler was hired at $2,500. Chandler had a great track record, both as a screenwriter himself and as an author whose novels were successfully adapted to screen. He and Hitchcock met only once, briefly, before Chandler took the treatment, Highsmith's novel, and a secretary to his La Jolla home to work.
The working relationship between Hitchcock and Chandler was not a happy one. Chandler was a hard drinker and a difficult person to get along with under the best of circumstances. He had very little respect for Hitchcock. One day when the director was getting out of his car at Chandler's home, the writer turned to his secretary and said, "Look at that fat bastard trying to get out of his car." When the secretary warned that Hitchcock might be able to hear him, Chandler said he didn't care.
The main bone of contention between the two men was that Chandler's writing paid more attention to character motivation while Hitchcock was more interested in the visual development and formal structure of the movie laid out in the treatment. In a letter to a studio executive, Chandler said he preferred to work with a director "who realizes that what is said and how it is said is more important than shooting it upside down through a glass of champagne."
"The thing that amuses me about Hitchcock is the way he directs the film in his head before he knows what the story is," Chandler wrote to his British editor. "He has a strong feeling for stage business and mood and background, not so much for the guts of the business. But he is as nice as can be to argue with."
Chandler and Hitchcock were also at an impasse over the notion of suspense. "Suspense as an absolute quality has never seemed to me very important," Chandler wrote a friend in September 1950. "At best it is a secondary growth, and at worst an attempt to make something out of nothing."
"After a while, I had to give up working with him," Hitchcock recalled later. "I would offer him a suggestion. Instead of giving it some thought, he would remark to me, 'If you can go it alone, why the hell do you need me?' He refused to work with me as director."
Chandler finished a draft of the script that ended with the murderer apprehended and sent to an insane asylum, writhing in a strait jacket in the final shot. Hitchcock noted revisions he wanted made. Although Chandler carped furiously to his agent, he went forward with a second draft. Upon reading the revised version, Hitchcock immediately decided he needed another writer.
Although Chandler had been complaining all along that the reason his work wasn't up to snuff was because Hitchcock interfered too much, after the second draft he began grousing that the director had ignored him and left him to work on his own too much to produce a satisfactory script.
Hitchcock next assigned the script to Czenzi Ormonde, assistant to Ben Hecht, the noted screenwriter with whom the director often worked. With help from Hecht, production associate Barbara Keon, and Hitchcock's wife, Alma, Ormonde completed a script that Chandler said removed "almost every trace of my writing." A comparison of the two scripts bear out Chandler assertion.
Chandler threatened to have his name removed from the credits. "It is obvious to me now, and must have been obvious to many people long since, that a Hitchcock picture has to be all Hitchcock," he wrote in a December 1950 letter. His name, however, was kept on the credits.
With the script complete, casting was begun. Hitchcock wanted - and got - Robert Walker for the role of the psychopathic Bruno. Because Walker was best known as the All-American boy next door in such films as Since You Went Away (1944), The Clock (1945), and One Touch of Venus (1948), Hitchcock liked the idea of casting him totally against type.
Hitchcock wanted William Holden for the role of tennis pro Guy Haines. When he couldn't get Holden, he signed Farley Granger, who played one of the troubled young killers in Rope (1948).
Against Hitchcock's wishes, Warner Brothers cast one of their contract players, Ruth Roman, as Guy love interest.
Hitchcock's daughter Patricia was informed by her agent there might be a part for her in the film. The director handled his daughter as he would any other actor, formally interviewing her, doing a screen test, and discussing her rightness for the role.
by Rob Nixon
Strangers on a Train (1951)
While the script was still being worked on, Hitchcock went to the Forest Hills tennis club in New York to film the Davis Cup matches between Australia and the U.S. for long shots of Guy competing.
Location scenes were shot in October 1950 at Penn Station in New York, a railroad stop in Danbury, Conn. (standing in for the town of Metcalf), and at various places around the nation's capital.
An amusement park was created according to Hitchcock's exact specifications at the ranch of director Rowland V. Lee in the Los Angeles suburb of Chatsworth. However, the tunnel-of-love scenes were shot at a fairground in Canoga Park.
Farley Granger said that Hitchcock, who worked all his shots out in great detail on paper before shooting, often looked unhappy on the set. When the actor asked him if something was wrong, Hitchcock complained, "Oh, I'm so bored!"
Hitchcock supervised the minutest detail of the filming. He personally selected an orange peel, a chewing gum wrapper, wet leaves, and a bit of crumpled paper that were used as debris in the sewer where Bruno strains to recover Guy's dropped cigarette lighter.
Hitchcock personally designed Bruno's necktie with its threatening lobster claw image.
Cinematographer Robert Burks began an association with Hitchcock on this picture that would last another 13 years and a dozen films. "You never have any trouble with him as long as you know your job and do it," Burks said. "Hitchcock insists on perfection. He has no patience with mediocrity on the set or at a dinner table. There can be no compromise in his work, his food, or his wines."
Tennis pro Jack Cunningham coached Farley Granger for the scenes that depicted Guy Haines engaged in a tennis match. Cunningham also played his opponent in those scenes.
Hitchcock and Robert Walker worked out an elaborate series of gestures and physical appearance to suggest the homosexuality and seductiveness of Bruno's character while bypassing censor objections.
Granger said Hitchcock, who did not like Ruth Roman in the role, treated her very harshly and criticized her often in front of everyone. "He had to have one person in each film he could harass," Granger noted.
Hitchcock refused to treat his daughter preferentially, which won them both the respect of the other players. "We never discuss Strangers on a Train at home," she told an interviewer at the time. "On the set, he gives me direction as well as criticism. I might as well be Jane Jones instead of Patricia Hitchcock."
Hitchcock's treatment of his daughter went beyond professional in one instance. Pat had begged for a ride on the Ferris wheel constructed on the fairgrounds set. When she reached the top, Hitchcock ordered the ride stopped and all lights turned out. Leaving the area in total darkness, he took cast and crew to another location in the far corner of the park to direct a different scene. His daughter remained in terror at the top of the Ferris wheel for an hour before he sent someone back to lower it and let her out.
The scene of the climactic fight on the carousel and the ride's subsequent explosion was very complicated to shoot with a combination of live action and rear screen projection. It usually took about a half day to set up each shot so the actors and the projected image matched.
The carousel explosion was filmed in miniature then enlarged on a huge rear-projection screen behind the live performers.
The shot of the carousel operator crawling under the ride to shut it off when it spins out of control did not employ special effects other than speeding up the film slightly. The man actually crawled under the spinning carousel. Hitchcock swore he would never do anything like that again.
To achieve the shot of Bruno murdering Miriam reflected in her glasses, an enormous distorting lens was constructed. The two actors were then reflected in it at a 90-degree angle.
On Strangers on a Train, as was his usual practice, Hitchcock shot each scene so that there was only one way to edit it which always conformed to his initial visual concept and pre-production storyboards.
Strangers on a Train was completed just before Christmas 1950.
by Rob Nixon
Strangers on a Train (1951)
What could have been a more inspired collaboration than one between the cinematic master of suspense and the hardboiled novelist who made detective fiction a respected literary genre? While it seems like a perfect pairing in retrospect, director Alfred Hitchcock and writer Raymond Chandler clashed continually during the making of Strangers on a Train (1951). In The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock by Donald Spoto, the director admitted, "Our collaboration was not very happy. After a while I had to give up working with him. Sometimes when we were trying to get the idea for a scene, I would offer him a suggestion. Instead of giving it some thought, he would remark to me, very discontentedly, 'If you can go it alone, why the hell do you need me?' He refused to work with me as a director." In the end, Hitchcock threw out Chandler's screenplay and hired Czenzi Ormonde to rewrite it with some additional dialogue supplied by Alma Hitchcock. Even with the last minute change of screenwriters, Strangers on a Train is generally acknowledged as one of Hitchcock's best films and was a remarkable comeback from the director's previous commercial failures of Stage Fright (1950), Under Capricorn (1949), Rope (1948), and The Paradine Case (1948). Of course, Chandler devotees claim they can clearly see the novelist's imprint on the final film but the ironic part is that every trace of the screenwriter's original work was removed by Hitchcock.
Based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley, Strangers on a Train presents us with two men from different worlds who strike up a fateful conversation during a train trip. Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is a professional tennis player with social aspirations. He'd like to marry Anne Morten (Ruth Roman), the daughter of a prominent Washington senator, but Miriam, his spiteful wife, refuses to divorce him. Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) is an effete and emotionally unstable dilettante with a deep hatred for his wealthy father. In the course of their conversation, Bruno makes the suggestion that they exchange murders. If Guy will murder Bruno's father, Bruno will murder Miriam. Guy dismisses Bruno's comment as a macabre joke but soon comes to realize he is dealing with a psychopath.
Originally William Holden was considered for the role of Guy but when he wasn't available, Hitchcock signed his former leading man from Rope, Farley Granger. The director was less pleased with the casting of Ruth Roman as Anne Morten who was forced on him by Warner Brothers. For the role of Anne's spunky sister, Barbara, who witnesses Bruno's dark side at a social gathering, Hitchcock cast his own daughter Patricia in the part after she agreed to a screen test. However, you couldn't really say she was treated with kid gloves. A press release from the set revealed a cruel joke Hitchcock played on her one night. When Pat begged for a ride on the Ferris wheel on the fairground set, he gave his permission and then stopped the ride when she reached the topmost point, extinguishing all the lights. Hitchcock then went off to direct another scene in a far corner of the park, leaving her stranded for more than an hour in the darkness.
Of course, the real surprise of Strangers on a Train is Robert Walker as Bruno Anthony. Walker had always been typecast as the All-American boy-next-door in such wholesome MGM fare as See Here, Private Hargrove (1944) and The Clock (1945) but Hitchcock saw another side of Walker which he effectively exploited in his film. Unfortunately, Walker, who had just recovered from a nervous breakdown prior to filming Strangers on a Train, would die just a year later during the filming of My Son John (1952), a rabid anticommunist melodrama that ended up using some outtake footage of Walker in Strangers on a Train to fill in some continuity gaps. Hitchcock later said in an interview with Jay Robert Nash: "I remember one night we had him at a party, God rest his soul....a little party after the picture's showing at our house and my wife gave him brandy. Someone said, 'Oh, you should never do that, never give him brandy, because he'll be gone.' And he was gone, too. He had two or three. Then he took my wife aside and talked about me. He said: 'You know, I love him, but I hate him at the same time!' This was Robert Walker. It's scary, isn't it? In our own home!"
Screenplay:Raymond Chandler, Czenzi Ormonde, Whitfield Cook (adaptation), Patricia Highsmith (novel)
Principle Cast:Farley Granger (Guy Haines), Ruth Roman (Anne Morton), Robert Walker (Bruno Antony), Leo G. Carroll (Senator Morton), Patricia Hitchcock (Barbara Morton)
by Jeff Stafford
Strangers on a Train (1951)
Although civic and religious groups in some states objected to the explicit murder scene and the implicit homosexuality in the relationship between the male leads, critics and audiences loved Strangers on a Train and made it a hit.
The box office success was boosted by personal appearances by Hitchcock and his daughter Pat, who traveled extensively to promote the film. He went to all 12 cities where it opened between late June and early July 1951, and she represented him at the New York premiere July 3.
Strangers on a Train was re-released by Warner Brothers in 1957 and again did well at the box office.
Strangers on a Train received an Academy Award nomination for Best Black-and-White Cinematography (Robert Burks).
"Given a good basis for a thriller in the Patricia Highsmith novel and a first-rate script, Hitchcock embroiders the plot into a gripping, palm-sweating piece of suspense." - Variety, 1951
"Perhaps there will be those in the audience who will likewise be terrified by the villain's darkly menacing warnings and by Mr. Hitchcock's sleekly melodramatic tricks. Certainly, Mr. Hitchcock is the fellow who can pour on the pictorial stuff and toss what are known as 'touches' until they're flying all over the screen. From the slow, stalking murder of a loose girl in a tawdry amusement park to a 'chase' and eventual calamity aboard a runaway merry-go-round, the nimble director keeps piling 'touch' and stunt upon 'touch.' Indeed, his desire to produce them appears his main impulse in this film." - Bosley Crowther, New York Times, July 4, 1951
"One of the most remarkable aspects of the picture is the bold manipulation of time, the way in which it is contracted and dilated. - That dramatic play with time is really stunning." - Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock (Simon & Schuster, 1983)
"As I see it, the flaws of Strangers on a Train were the ineffectiveness of the two main actors and the weakness of the final script. If the writing of the dialogue had been better, we'd have had stronger characterizations. The great problem with this type of picture, you see, is that your main characters sometimes tend to become mere figures." - Alfred Hitchcock, Hitchcock, by Francois Truffaut (Simon & Schuster, 1983)
"The power of the story - adapted from the novel by Patricia Highsmith - lies in its simplicity, and Hitchcock piles on the sinister layers as only he can." - Emma Cochrane, Empire Magazine, June 1, 2001
By Rob Nixon