I’ve watched Hitchcock’s classic movie Strangers on a Train more than once, as well as reading the book by Patricia Highsmith on which it was based, but this is a film which is so masterful that it was good to see it again the other day. And as I watched, I reflected that, after almost half a century, it has lost little of its power.
The story-line of the ‘exchange of murders’ is now very familiar, and it has been referenced countless times subsequently (my favourite is the Peter Lovesey story called ‘Strangers on a Bus’). As with many of Highsmith’s plot ideas, the material is melodramatic, but the story is developed brilliantly, and although Hitchcock made some changes for the film, he was able to capture, in his own way, the chilling, obsessive atmosphere of the literary source. Apparently he approached Dashiell Hammett to write the screenplay at first, then gave the job to Raymond Chandler, but the pair did not get on, and little of Chandler’s writing survived in the final version. Famously, Highsmith was only paid $7,500 for the rights - not much for one of the classics, really.
Farley Grainger plays Guy, the likeable tennis player with a faithless wife, and Robert Walker is the superficially charming but sociopathic Bruno, who wants his own father dead. Ruth Roman does a decent job as Guy’s girlfriend, and her younger sister is played by Hitchcock’s own daughter, Pat. I was sorry to learn that Walker, whose performance is quite brilliantly spooky, died not long after the film was screened; he suffered serious psychiatric problems. Grainger, however, is still alive.
There are lots of wonderful touches in this film, and the climactic scene on a merry-go-round is superb. This is one of the best Hitchcock films, which means, quite simply, that it is one of the best crime films ever made.