The perfect murder
So today I had jury duty and while on the subway, it got me thinking about a certain type of movie. Train movies. I bet you thought I was gonna say courtroom thrillers. Nope. Not this time. I have a bit of an obsession with thrillers that specifically take place in some sort of enclosed or isolated place. So basically: airplane thrillers, road thrillers, cabin thrillers, and train thrillers. I love these movies probably more than any other type of movie. When done well and smart, they offer an atmosphere of tension through the claustrophobic nature of the space they are in. And stakes tend to get raised.
Although not shot entirely on a train, one of my favorite movies of all time is Strangers on a Train. I’ve watched it well over a hundred times. In fact, I’m watching it right now. It’s playing in the background. See below for proof. I was thinking I would talk a little about why I like this movie so much. To be honest, aside from the train aspect, I’ve never thought about why exactly I gravitate toward this movie. Until now. So I figured I would analyze myself and the movie and list five things that I like about this train flick. And I can’t use “because it happened on a train.”
5. Editing in twos
Hitchcock does this really cool thing throughout the movie where he uses doubles. There are lots of parallels and story elements that are represented in twos. The movie is obviously about two strangers that meet on a train. So there’s that. But he uses twos consistently. In the beginning of the movie, Hitchcock shows us two pairs of feet approaching the train station. And does so by cross cutting back and forth. The first time we’re introduced to the characters, it’s in a wide two shot. There’s two of everything. Two train tracks. Two murders. Two women with eyeglasses. Even Hitchcock’s cameo has him carrying a double bass. It goes on and on. Twos. He uses this as part of the story’s structure to clearly make us compare and contrast the two main characters and their journeys.
4. Light and dark
Hitchcock just knows what he’s doing when it comes to visuals. He really knew how to control the visual aspect of the story. One of the ways he does this in Strangers on a Train is the use of light and dark to mirror the good and evil between the two characters and how that good and evil can be interchanged depending on the scene and the character.
One thing I love about all of Hitchcock’s films, but especially this one, is his use of humor. He’s not afraid to poke fun at the situation and provide some levity for the audience. He is deliberate in when he wants the tension raised, the humor raised, or both at the same time. One of my favorite scenes in Strangers on a Train is when Bruno pops a little boy’s balloon at the carnival. It always makes me giggle. The dialogue also has its share of dark humor. Here are some lines from the movie.
Guy Haines: “I may be old-fashioned, but I thought murder was against the law.”
Bruno Anthony: “Don’t worry, I’m not going to shoot you, Mr. Haines. It might disturb Mother.”
Guy Haines: “Oh skip it, Miriam. It’s pretty late to start flirting with a discarded husband.”
Guy Haines: “When an alibi is full of bourbon, sir, it can’t stand up.”
Barbara Morton: “Oh, Daddy doesn’t mind a little scandal. He’s a senator.”
2. The director’s daughter
I absolutely love Patricia Hitchcock. Usually I hate the idea of anything resembling nepotism. But she’s great. And was a very under appreciated character actress of her time. Hitchcock cast Patricia in a lot of his projects. She’s even in a number of episodes from Hitchcock Presents. In Strangers on a Train she plays Barbara Morton, the sister of Ruth Roman (Guy’s new fiancé). Patricia Hitchcock was an actress committed to her craft. She studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Here is a video where she talks a little about her experience working with her father.
1. Farley Granger
I think my favorite thing about this movie is Farley Granger. I absolutely adore this actor. I fell in love with him as an actor when I first saw Rope. He’s an incredibly talented actor. I also love that Farley Granger acted in two of Hitchcock’s movies, both of which were arguably quite homoerotic. And then that he later became a gay icon. Everything about him is so cool. And he’s pretty.
BONUS: Here’s a trailer for Strangers on a Train. It’s not the official trailer even though it says it is. I think it’s hilarious that they’re calling this the “Official Trailer.” Anyway, it’s a modern trailer for Strangers on a Train and it’s pretty cool - even though it gives absolutely everything away. So if you don’t want spoilers, don’t watch this trailer. And if you want to see the actual original trailer, I’ll post a link for it below.