Here’s a new column we’re trying out at Angry Web called Classics Are Badass…simply because they totally are. Once a week or so, we’ll be offering a retrospective look at classic films, many of which were once revered Oscar nominees, that jumpstarted the path into modern cinema as we know it today. No, this is not your prime time PBS documentary with drab credit titles followed by a 75-year old anonymous man narrating over a series of black and white still photographs and an occasional video clip with muffled audio. This is for the hardcore film buff who’s tired of seeing films like “Punisher: War Zone”, “Hotel For Dogs”, or “Mall Cop” being released 60 or so years after “Casablanca”, “12 Angry Men”, or “North by Northwest”.
Admit it, mainstream movies today have grown awfully distant from their classical predecessors that we sometimes forget what quality cinema once was. The bar continues to be set higher and higher as contemporary audiences now need million-dollar CGI effects, devastating explosions, blood, bullets, sweat, death-defying stunts, and all sorts of eye candy to meet their expectations. After all, when’s the last time we asked a fellow college roommate to watch “The Maltese Falcon” with us, rather than “Saw 5”? I rest my case.
So now, let’s take a look at our first badass classic, “Strangers on a Train”, helmed by directing mastermind, Alfred Hitchcock. And believe me, for a 1950s classic, this film is quite badass 🙂
Strangers on a Train
Release Date: July 3, 1951
“Strangers on a Train”, based on the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith, was released by Warner Bros. in 1951. Nominated for a 1952 Oscar in Cinematography by Robert Burks, the film is ranked #107 on IMDB’s top 250 films of all time.
The story centers around Tennis pro, Guy Haines (Farley Granger), who is interrupted on a train by a stranger named Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker). Haines reveals that he is trying to settle a divorce from his promiscuous yet unattractive wife, Miriam (Kasey Rogers), in order to marry Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), the beautiful daughter of a senator. Anthony then tells Haines about his hatred toward his unpleasantly dictatorial father and makes a suggestion to him. What if Anthony murdered Haines’ wife, Miriam, and in exchange, Haines murdered Anthony’s father? As long as they had valid alibis, no one could trace the murders back to either one of them, both being complete strangers to their victims. Haines, realizing Anthony to be a complete psychopath, shakes off the idea as a mere joke and leaves, not knowing that Anthony was being serious the entire time.
I’m sure you can roughly guess what follows after that. Contrary to my expectations, “Strangers on a Train” is very well-plotted and the characters, well-developed, especially with the character of Bruno Anthony. Believe me, this character is pretty damn creepy and has numerous scenes that exhibit his stark insanity. Put it this way, he’s quite “Joker-ish”. There is one scene where Anthony stalks Haines’ wife, Miriam, through a nighttime carnival, quietly steering a boat behind her in the Tunnel of Love, as his shadow looms over. He then crashes a party uninvited (remind you of someone?), strikes up a conversation with these old ladies about murder, and demonstrates a strangling technique with one of them by pressing his thumbs against her throat to obstruct her airway (and he gets away with it). There are also a few eerie, distant shots of Anthony such as one where he simply stands on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial staring straight at Haines (audience POV). In a classic scene during one of Haines’ tennis matches, spectators on the bleachers follow a tennis ball left to right as we see Anthony calmly sitting in the middle of the crowd, the only one focused on Haines.
Keeping the spoilers on the down-low, there is a memorable showdown between Haines and Anthony on a carousel that goes haywire and spins out of control. I kid you not, this is pretty intense for a 50s movie as we see kids holding on to their dear lives on their carousel horses. In one shot, Anthony even knocks a little boy off his horse causing him to nearly fly off the ride at 60 miles an hour. The carousel does eventually derail as it’s still spinning, sending clouds of smoke bursting out into the crowd. How Hitchcock accomplished this is pretty damn impressive for its period and made the movie all the more worthwhile.
“Strangers on a Train” is definitely worth checking out, even if you aren’t a hardcore classic film buff. It’s a smart, well-thought out crime thriller that rarely, if ever, drags. If you’re wondering where in the world you might find a film this old, besides maybe at the public library, I recommend Netflix. Search for it, and you’ll find it as an instant viewing selection, amongst other countless classics.