Film Club: End of the Line

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So, Film Club ends its weekly tyranny of our schedules and goes monthly after this…

A psychopath proposes an exchange of murders with a tennis champ he meets by chance on a train. In exchange for strangling the tennis player’s wife, the psycho wants his father done away with…

Picked up a copy of Raymond Chandler Speaking at a library sale. Here he is on STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, a note intended either for Hitchcock or himself ~

“I nearly went crazy myself  trying to block out this scene. I hate to say how many times I did it. It’s darn near impossible to write, because consider what you have to put over:

(1) A perfectly decent young man agrees to murder a man he doesn’t know, has never seen, in order to keep a maniac from giving himself away and from tormenting the nice young man.

(2) From a character point of view, the audience will not believe the nice young man is going to kill anybody, nor has any idea of killing anybody.

(3) Nevertheless, the nice young man has to convince Bruno and a reasonable percentage of the audience that what he is about to do is logical and inevitable. This conviction may not outlast the scene, but it has to be there, or else what the hell are the boys talking about.

(4) While convincing Bruno of all this, he has yet to fail to convince him so utterly so that some suspicion remains in Bruno’s mind that Guy intends some kind of trick, rather than to go through with it in a literal sense.

(5) All through this scene (supposing it can be written this way) we are flirting with the ludicrous. If it is not written and played exactly right, it will be absurd. The reason for this is that the situation actually is ludicrous in its essence, and this can only be overcome by developing a sort of superficial menace, which really has nothing to do with the business in hand.

(6) Or am I still crazy?”

Remarkable, reading Chandler’s  cogently argued deconstruction of the inherent implausibility of the scene, that in the finished film it plays out so smoothly that you can’t imagine it was even difficult.

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After the titles, the opening montage cross-cutting two pairs of feet on a collision course. I’d misremembered this as a title sequence, and I suspect a few years later that’s how they’d have done it. Music by Dimitri Tiomkin — Bernard Herrmann could have done wonders with this one, but then again, nearly all the great moments are accompanied by that scarifying wurlitzer version of The Band Played On, so there wouldn’t have been much for him to do. Amazing how often Hitch does weave the music into the plotline — it’s almost a constant technique.

Farley Granger as the nice young man — perhaps too nice? The more violent Guy feels towards his estranged wife, the better the story works. But I never had any real problem with Farley in the role (this movie is difficult to see, in  a way — what I see is myself as a kid watching it for the first time). Robert Walker is truly impressive. The camp mannerisms are just the right side of overdone, and balanced by the surprising physical strength, and weird flights of fancy to create a believable and unpredictable psychopath. Like Joseph Cotten in SHADOW OF A DOUBT, it’s clinically quite a shrewd portrayal, matching what we know of such types, but the two characters are nevertheless entirely distinct people. While Uncle Charlie occupied his mind with philosophy, charting his separation from and superiority over the world he moved through, Bruno Anthony’s restless brain flits from one crazy scheme to another. It’s not clear how many of them are japes and how many he entertains seriously: he seems to enjoy springing them on the unwary, just to get a reaction.

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Hitching a ride.

As with ROPE, an idea which seems like a gag is taken too seriously by one party… in fact, ROPE, STRANGERS and DIAL M FOR MURDER form a sort of informal Perfect Murder Trilogy. Lots of Hitchcock films feature careful killers, but these three films hinge upon murder schemes that aim for artistry, and which must be explained to an appreciative audience. Brandon in ROPE has his accomplice, and also seems to hope that Jimmy Stewart’s going to catch on to the plot and come to respect its fiendish brilliance; Bruno needs a partner who shares his enthusiasm for the idea of swapping murders (which is where his plan miscarries); and Ray Milland will need to enlist a patsy to do his killing for him, which allows him to enjoy explaining just how clever he is.

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The movie is a noir symphony of lampshades. Cinematographers take note — the solution is to have lots of lamps, with fairly opaque shades, so not too much light gets through.

The first act of STRANGERS plays out entirely in a criss-cross pattern, intercutting Guy and Bruno’s storylines, barely introducing Ruth Roman as Guy’s romantic interest, and leaving her family for later. To put over the jumps from character to character, Hitch has fun linking scenes with audio-visual connections, as when Bruno finishes his first encounter with Guy by murmuring “Criss-cross…” and Hitch cuts to the Metcalf station, the big X of a crossing sign in the centre of frame. Later, he’ll cut from Bruno”s watch, after the killing, to Guy looking at his own watch, fixing the time of the murder and Guy’s potential alibi.

(In counterpoint to this back-and-forth rhythm, Hitch favours long takes in the early scenes, playing a number of them in single sequence shots, which raises no ROPE-style difficulties since he doesn’t make a fetish of it. But there are some beautiful long takes here, marvelously played by Granger in particular, who of course has had practice.)

In fact, Bruno’s plan goes wrong from the start, when Guy can’t establish his whereabouts beyond a doubt. But it’s not a fatal flaw, since the authorities can’t place Guy at the crime scene. This makes the whole story possible. It’s quite ingeniously worked out, although Chandler complained that the story was inane.

“The question I should really like to have answered, although I don’t expect an answer to it in this lifetime, is why in the course of nailing the frame of a film together so much energy and thought are invariably expended, and have to be expended, in exactly this sort of contest between a superficial reasonableness and a fundamental idiocy. Why do film stories always have to have this element of the grotesque? Whose fault is it? Is it anybody’s fault? Or is it something inseparable from the making of motion pictures? Is it the price you pay for making a dream look as if it really happened? I think possibly it is.”

I think possibly it is in the case of Hitchcock…

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Bruno’s murder of Guy’s wife (the viciously effective Kasey Rogers) is one of the more DePalmaesque sequences in Hitchcock, depending on a seedy conjunction of sexuality and violence, and upon an exploitation of the audience’s baser instincts. We’ve been led to dislike Rogers. Bruno is a fun character. And his stalking of his prey is mistaken by his prey for sexual interest. Hitch spoke often about how, in a suspense sequence, the filmmaker should not have the terrible, threatened thing, actually happen, yet here it does. The implication is that it’s not so terrible. Only Guy and Leo G Carroll, the boring moral voice character, think it is. And Guy is pretty conflicted/compromised.

Of course, Hitchcock is always morally aware, and so even the bravura, baroque reflected murder shot is played with an eye to discretion and a kind of restraint. And the aftermath is a slow come-down, designed to slowly calm the audience from their murder-lust and start them thinking about the consequences of Bruno’s indefensible act.

Czenzi Ormonde, a Ben Hecht assistant, tidied the script up when Chandler departed the project, leaving a bit of a mess behind him, and reports seeing first-hand Hitchcock’s fear of the police. And, like STAGE FRIGHT before it and I CONFESS after, much of the action here is based on an apparently innocent character’s persecution by the authorities. Here, as in the early spy movies, the hero is in fact caught between the police and the real villains, leading to those superbly dreamlike shots: the zoom onto Bruno in the stands at a tennis match, staring fixedly at Guy as everybody else swivels their heads left and right to follow the ball; the little figure standing on the steps of the Capitol Building, who somehow we KNOW is Bruno.

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Maybe my favourite Monument Moment in all Hitchcock.

Pat Hitchcock! Her finest hour, maybe? “He spent six hours trapped in the meat locker with the left leg.” Sharing with dad a fondness for the macabre, Pat’s character is a delicious piece of comic relief, while adding value as a trigger for Bruno’s psychotic breakdowns. The track into ECU on her face, with wurlitzer music fading up and superimposed reflections of a lit cigarette lighter reflected in her glasses is the most outrageous moment in the film.

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Daffy old ladies! There are so many of them in this film — why? Bruno’s mom is deeply pleasurable, of course, but there’s also the lady who effects his introduction to Guy’s party at the tennis pavilion, and Mrs Cunningham, the lady he throttles at the drinks soiree, and the woman in the commandeered car at the end — “How exciting!” This movie is like the Revenge of the Old Dears.

By the way, has anybody seen THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN? This is one of many Hitchcocks to throw up not a straight remake but a kind of echo. I have seen THE DESIGNATED VICTIM, with Pierre Clementi even more flamboyant than Robert Walker in the bad guy role. This Venice-set giallo follows the Highsmith plot all too closely, although it has a humdinger of a plot twist stored up for its ending.

Hitchcock, I surmise, has just seen THE THIRD MAN, because his canted angles, not heavily featured elsewhere in his oeuvre, suddenly come to the fore, and are often associated with doorways — like the one Harry Lime stands in in Carol Reed’s 1949 classic. Dutch tilts continue to feature in I CONFESS, also shot by Robert Burks, whom Hitchcock discovered on this film, and with whom he continued to work until Burks’ untimely death in a fire. The cameraman helps make STRANGERS Hitch’s most noirish film — his b&w work is every bit as beautiful as his later lush Technicolor films for Hitch.

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Now we approach the scene that gave Chandler conniptions. In fact, the problem is solved partly by having Guy and Bruno communicate by letters and a phone call. He hangs up before we can question whether Bruno is convinced or not. Since Guy brings his gun along, the expectation that he may be going to kill Bruno’s father, as planned, is planted. The fact that he’s been so reluctant in the past is enough to make Bruno suspicious. The extraneous element of menace is provided by the Anthony family dog: we find ourselves worrying that Guy will not be able to kill Bruno’s dad. The thing works.

Having incurred Bruno’s wrath by trying to warn the designated victim, Guy sets in motion the events of act 3 (from Bruno’s point of view, it’s Guy who causes everything in the story to happen) where Bruno will try to plant incriminating evidence at the crime scene. Guy must finish his tennis match in record time (perhaps it would have been easier for him to deliberately lose, but that would be dishonest), escape the police, and physically stop the incredibly strong psychopath from leaving his cigarette lighter on Lovers’ Island. A very good set of seemingly impossible problems.

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(Meanwhile — as if that weren’t enough — Hitch throws in the gratuitous / absurd / delightful / wicked suspense sequence where Bruno drops the lighter down a drain and must retrieve it by extending his arm, Mr. Fantastic-style, through the narrow grille and into the bowels of the earth. And we’re shocked to find ourselves rooting for the bastard.)

Hitchcock’s deft touch allows us to know part of Guy’s plan but not all of it, so there’s a perfect balance between surprise and clarity. Pat pulls off her part of the plot with aplomb, lunging for Detective Hennessy’s crotch like a bull at a gate, and Guy is OFF — already incriminating himself by running from the cops. We suspect that his plan doesn’t really extend as far as dealing with Bruno, and every step he takes is adding to the authorities’ suspicions, so it’s an excellent set-up for a climax which, when Hitch started shooting, did not exist.

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In some ways, using the merry-go-round for an action climax is an act of desperation, since the whole thing smacks of that element of the grotesque Chandler complained about. Having Hennessy’s partner shoot the carny in charge is a bit cold-blooded, and anyhow, is this ride fitted with an engine from Lockheed? Do fairground hurdy-gurdies really have the ability to accelerate to 90 mph? I’d like to think so, but I suspect the true answer is “Don’t be silly.”

But the sequence is justifiable on every level other than plausibility. The fairground is a key location already established and the return there is central to the plot. The wurlitzer has played during the first murder, and has been fixed in both Bruno’s and the audience’s minds. And the very public nature of Guy and Bruno’s death-brawl signals the moment when the secrets are dragged from the closet and the truth is outed, so to speak.

Surprising that Hitch jeopardizes all these kids and then never really reassures us that they’re all OK. It seems unlikely that Bruno is the only one hurt. I recall as a kid that the extra I was really worried about was the old Manny Farber lookalike who crawls under the spinning attraction to pull the off lever. I wasn’t alone — Hitchcock himself was in an agony of suspense filming the dangerous stunt.

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The single action of Bruno’s hand opening in death to reveal the lighter is maybe the single neatest narrative wrap-up in Hitchcock’s career, considering the number of things it accomplishes all at once. To return to Chandler’s numerical system, it

(1) Shows Bruno’s death.

(2) Clears Guy.

(3) Forces into the open the secret true story.

(4) By extension, frees Guy to marry.

The inscription “From A to G,” originally meaning “From Anne to Guy”, now stands for “From (Bruno) Anthony to Guy,” as he gets it back (except the police  need it for evidence — well, after all this fuss, we kind of hate that lighter, I bet Guy never wants to see it again).

Isn’t Guy still an accessory after the fact? Aren’t they going to hold him partly to blame for the destruction of a funfair? Is Hennessy’s partner, kicked out of the force for shooting an innocent carny (if such a phrase isn’t a contradiction in terms), going to come gunning after Guy? Find out in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN II: MONORAIL OF MADNESS!

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60 Responses to “Film Club: End of the Line”

  1. Recalling a planeload of extras drowning rather gruesomely in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, I’d have to wager some of the fairground kiddies are not okay.

  2. It’s the Fun Fair setting that makes “the horrible thing that can’t be shown” visible. It’s obvious from the victim’s (hapless) suitors, that they go with her to the fun fair so she’ll be scared and fall into their arms — and have sex with them. This is why horror movies are “date flicks” to this very day.

    Bruno turning up in bed instead of the old man opens up a world of alternate scenarios. It clearly indicates that Bruno knew Guy was likely not to go through with it AND suggests that Bruno hopes Guy will have sex with him. This would have been the case had guy actually made the murder approach.

    Pat Hitchcock is sublime. She functions as the audience’s surrogate — raising “indelicate” questions with supreme confidence. I love her flirting with the policeman who has been assigned to tail Guy.

    Hitchock appears little interested in Ruth Roman. But then Granger’s Guy doesn’t seem too passionate about her either. He IS a social climber after all.

    Keep in mind too that this is Washington D.C. in the immediate postwar period, when the major threat was homosexuality.

    Yes they called it Communism, but let’s look at the Original Cast, shall we? Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers (Sam Tanenhaus of the “New York Times” is Beyond Clueless when it comes to what went on between those two and their respective boyfriends), Roy Cohn (I’ll go find the Angels In America clip if it’s around) and Tailgunner Joe McCarthy himself.

    Joseph Welch (future star of Anatomy of a Murder) was actively gay-baiting when he teased McCarthy about a doctored photo that the latter had submitted, cropped to make Roy’s boytoy G. David Schine (future producer of The French Connection ) look more important than he actually was — standing next to a Very Important General. Welch produced the REAL photo, which was a group shot that didn’t feature Schine in any way. McCarthy claimed ignorance of how this came about, to which Welch, holding up the cropped photos said

    “Well who’s responsible for this? A pixie?”

    To which Joe mumbled.

    “A pixie? What’s that?”

    And then Welch gave the coup de grace looking Roy right in the eye.

    “Well it’s my understanding that a pixie is a very close relative of a fairy

    As Stanley says via Thackeray at the close of Barry Lyndon: “They are all equal now.”

  3. Christopher Says:

    ..lol..Everyone likes the old guy who crawls under the Merry-go Round to reach the lever..Gramps at the Throttle!…”I can handle it!”..chewing his cud with caution yet fearless certainty as he inches along in speed frame.
    …Some of my favorite shots…the spooky dog on the Staircase,is it Mrs Danvers? or the Hound of the Baskervilles?..Theres also something unsettling about a dog that trusts you,even tho you’ve snuck into someones home with ill intentions toward its occupants…
    …THe scene in the Tunnel of love where the two shadows of the boaters merge and it appears as if Bruno is one with Miriam,who i think is kinda hot,funny glasses or not..I get a laugh whenever Pat Hitchcock notices Bruno “noticing” her..Its like instantly shes thinking..”Its my Glasses..I look like miriam!”

  4. Tony Williams Says:

    Remember the name on one of the Tunnel of Love boats – Pluto, the god of the underworld as well as a favorite Disney character (an obvious Hitchcock joke?). Since the film abounds in such mythological references, Bruno dog is also Cerbereus who guarded the gates of Hell whom Hercules had to subdue on one occasion. But here, it recognizes Guy as one of the new entries to the underworld and licks his hand in greeting (something emphasized by the deliberate frame motion used in this shot.

    There are lots of things happening in this film as other posts will note.

  5. The whole idea of the fairground finale is that the two parallel lines of Bruno and Guy finally grind in a centrifuge and spin out of control. The amazing thing about the sequence is that it is a Hero vs. Villain showdown but the hero doesn’t defeat the villain, the merry-go-round stops and one survives by luck and the other gets pummelled to death.

    STRANGERS ON A TRAIN is fascinating because it’s one of two films where the villain are equally prominent, on an even keel and nearly share equal runtime. Unlike SHADOW OF A DOUBT, which is Good(Teresa Wright) vs. Evil(Joseph Cotten), this is more ambiguous. The hero profits thoroughly from the murder done by the bad guy and yes, he didn’t ask for it but he WISHED for it and it got done and everything’s opened up for him as it would not be had he never met Robert Walker. It’s really troubling. Robert Walker on the other hand is part of the very class that Guy wants to enter and he wants his father dead out of Oedipal angst not for any social gain.

    The entire film is like a symmetrical painting really. With the doubles, criss-crosses and the parrallelism that’s there on every level.

    And I still don’t see anything absurd about Robert Walker’s arm reach. I myself have had to reach for stuff in my time and my own hands have surprised me repeatedly. You can stretch if you try. Anyway, that’s never bothered me.

    Robert Walker in this film has a suspicious resemblance to J. Edgar Hoover, apropos of the film’s political context.

    Another derivation of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN is Woody Allen’s MATCH POINT which is also about a social climbing tennis player, only there Woody doesn’t need a Bruno.

  6. A chilling short from David Cronenberg. His contribution to “Chacun son cinema”:

  7. Tony Williams Says:

    Fascinating though this is, how is it relevant to STRANGERS?

  8. I think it ie more real and more honest and hence more relevant.

  9. Angels in America was very powerful indeed. I thought that Emma Thompson’s “angel” near the end was brilliant.

  10. Oh, we shouldn’t worry too much about relevance. I’m delighted to see the Cronenberg.

    I’m fascinated by the mythological idea, and wonder if we can take it further. The horses on the merry-go-round would have to fit in there somewhere. The Augean stables that Hercules cleans? I don’t think I can fit all 12 Labours of H into the story, although stealing the girdle of the Amazon Queen sounds like something involving Ruth Roman.

    Hitch didn’t consider Farley or Ruth ideal casting, but I don’t know whom he’d have preferred. It’s interesting how RR’s POV dominates in the later second act, varying the pace from the symmetrical back and forth, but once Farley takes her into his confidence (and she BELIEVES that crazy story? It must be love) she’s less important.

    Although Hitch seems to have no qualms about slaughtering his extras, he’s often squeamish about allowing his hero to kill. Here it’s interesting that Bruno is killed by fate, or God — it offers Guy more chance of redemption, although his moral and legal position is still uncertain. Interesting that Hitch tested the film without the lighthearted coda, as if he felt that was too neat and easy.

  11. AnneBillson Says:

    Isn’t Pat Hitchcock’s character one of the sensible/fun/well grounded female characters in Hitchcock’s films? As opposed to the cool, idealised, haughty blondes. For example, I always connect her to Barbara Bel Geddes in Vertigo – down-to-earth, sense of humour, a bit flirty and BESPECTACLED (like Alma!) I like to think of her as Vertigo’s Voice of Reason – and of course Scotty won’t see reason, he’s too busy chasing ghosts.

    But Guy’s wife also wears spectacles, and she gets strangled. Doesn’t she look a bit like Pat or Alma? She’s set up to be such a slutty bitch, I’d like to rewrite the story from her point of view. Maybe she’s not as bad as all that; we have no idea how Guy treated her.

  12. ——————
    I’m fascinated by the mythological idea
    ——————

    Nice little piece on the intersection of mythology and “Strangers on a Train” here:
    http://www.anvil-media.com/archives/090104/mini_symbols.htm

  13. Ah, good old Joel. OK, add Adonis to the myths referenced.

    Yes, Pat is smart and funny and honest, which makes her refreshing in this film. She’s only a comic figure because she’s wildly enthusiastic and says inappropriate things. A shame she got sidelined into TV after this one (apart from Psycho, shot with Hitch’s TV crew).

    Midge definitely seems like a Pat character, as does little Edna May Wonacott in Shadow of a Doubt. Pat’s characters are always very honest and forthright, perhaps because they get to state Hitch’s point of view a little, and express his humour.

    I have a sneaking sympathy for Mrs Haines too. As played by Ksay, she’s not nice but she’s definitely fabulous. Her sheer exultation in sluttiness is kind of commendable. Whatever you do, do it with all your heart!

    Seems possible that Guy, with his eye in the prize, may have been a lousy husband. (We’re all so ready to believe the worst of him — maybe that’s why Hitch wanted a stronger leading man, but Granger’s petulance works beautifully.)

  14. I see Mrs. Haines as a bored wife who acts out against her passive career minded husband the usual way of the wanton. What makes it interesting is that she doesn’t look like a slut. She looks quite bland and plain but she’s quite hungry for love.

    Farley Granger’s Guy is basically a nice guy deep down but obviously he cares a great deal about propriety, image and society. And so since he isn’t going far with Tennis, he wants the next best thing, not unlike Jonathan Rhys-Meyers in MATCH POINT but unlike that guy, he genuinely does care for Ruth Roman, not in the passionate romantic sense but enough and obviously the ordeal has brought them together. And I don’t think Guy ever had it in him to kill, at least in the film(though not in the book).

  15. I’m sure Guy wouldn’t have killed his wife, though he nearly hits her. But he has the desire, and in serious Christianity the desire is the same as the deed (which is one reason Catholicism is a bit screwy). So Hitchcock might regard him as in some way culpable.

  16. It’s interesting that in the book, the object left on the train is a copy of Plato’s Dialogues.
    I wonder if Woody Allen was playing with a similar notion of fate and chance encounters in Match Point.

  17. Woody Allen said in an interview regarding MATCH POINT, when the interviewer brought up Highsmith as a point-of-comparison, that he didn’t care for Highsmith(and neither do I) but “when she’s adapted by Hitchcock, it’s a different story.” So I bet he was aware of the reference to STRANGERS… except Guy Haines is a much, much nicer guy than Chris Wilton. MATCH POINT isn’t about fate, it’s about luck. CASSANDRA’S DREAM(which is scandalously underrated) is about fate, those two brothers are damned from the start.

  18. —————
    MATCH POINT isn’t about fate, it’s about luck.
    —————
    I doubt if fate and luck are all that inseparable.

    Another excellent film with a similar theme is Patrice Leconte’s L’homme du train (Man on the Train)

  19. In STRANGERS… it’s not just the desire being the same as the deed, the fact is, Guy’s life has improved because of Bruno killing his wife. If he had remained with his wife and never met Bruno, he wouldn’t have gotten his divorce and would never have been free to marry his girl and never move out of metcalfe. The happy ending at the end, the freedom comes as a result of that murder. So that’s where the strong sense of guilt comes from in the film. Bruno essentially fulfilled his dreams and the irony is Farley’s even more guilty because he is “innocent” of the fact that he didn’t really “order” it. So he’s morally a hypocrite and a coward, not fully able to take responsibility for his actions not fully able to absolve himself from it. And Farley’s underrated performance brings that to the core.

  20. I of course meant to say that fate and luck are probably inseparable.

  21. ——————–
    I doubt if fate and luck are all that inseparable.
    ——————–

    Luck is random, whereas there is a pattern to fate. In CASSANDRA’S DREAM, the brothers are damned because of the family and the class the two protagonists belong to. Whereas in MATCH POINT, events unfold randomly and absurdly. What should be the messiest and dirtiest crime scene ends up making the perfect and clearest alibi.

  22. Luck is random, whereas there is a pattern to fate
    ———————————————————
    I don’t think so.

  23. I am speaking of course from a dramaturgical point of view.

  24. And of course the pattern of fate can only be perceived in retrospect, when it is too late. Hence, the word fate. You know why stuff happens at the precise moment it’s too late to do anything to stop it.

  25. —————————
    I am speaking of course from a dramaturgical point of view
    —————————
    Fair enough. Beyond that, it’s hardly worth while arguing the toss.

  26. True. I don’t believe in fate myself.

    But then in a way, Guy meeting Bruno is a stroke of luck. A stroke of absurd luck. Or as a Catholic would say, the mysterious workings of God. God decides to punish Guy by giving him exactly what he wants and then laughing at his face. The ending with the priest supports that.

  27. IS it a stroke of luck?

    Bruno’s such a schemer one might well imagin he knew Guy was going to take this train trip and arranged to meet him “accidentally.” His noticing him “You’re Guy Haines!” is hoghly theatrical, and to my eyes and ears seems rehearsed. Plus from moment one hes fully equipped with all sorts of information about Guy no “casual” acquaintance would have. Moreover he’s come to all sorts of conclusions about Guy stemming from this information and he’s not shy about voicing them.

    The more you think about it the more sinister it gets.

  28. david wingrove Says:

    Just wondering how many people have seen the explicitly homoerotic (and totally uncredited) Italian remake, THE DESIGNATED VICTIM? Directed by Maurizio Lucidi and starring Tomas Milian and Pierre Clementi.

    It doesn’t so much bring the gay subtext out of the closet as blow the closet door wide open and leave it dangling off its hinges in mid-air!

  29. It is still a stroke of “luck” that Guy became Bruno’s target. He can’t be the ONLY social-climbing tennis player in Washington but Bruno who knows the circles of Leo G. Carroll might have heard about him, asked about him and it would hardly be difficult to find about him in Metcalfe.

    So yes it is sinister. Bruno was likely screening for targets and decided that Guy was his best bet for the criss-cross.

  30. Except that it’s Guy’s foot which makes accidental contact with Bruno’s. If Hitch had wanted to suggest that the meeting is not chance, he could have had Bruno make contact (with his rather snazzy footwear).

    I’m forming a theory that gialli are never truly subversive. True, Clementi is even more overtly gay-seeming than Walker, which makes the hero’s relationship with him interesting, since he can’t very well be unaware of the kind of fellow he’s talking to. So he’s either unusually enlightened for a 70s Italian male, or he’s interested. So that’s intriguing. But on the other hand, Clementi comes equipped with a kind of “beard,” a weird girlfriend figure with whom he seems to have some kind of s&m relationship. By contrast, it’s all the more striking how nothing is done to lessen the impression given by Walker’s performance that Bruno “is attracted to that boy as a man would be towards a girl!”

  31. For all the suspense and malevolence to be found in this film, Hitch did a deft job of leavening his story with generous doses of humor. The actress who played Bruno’s mother, Marion Lorne, was unforgettable as Samantha’s Aunt Clara, a daft and daffy old witch, on the Sixties sitcom Bewitched, a show that had also had a relative heavyweight in its cast, Agnes Moorehead. Daft old birds do appear prominently in STRANGERS, at the social gathering, on the elevator, etc., Hitchcock no doubt had a fondness for them. The scene where Bruno’s mother unveils her painting, and Bruno casts its subject as his hated father, is handled strangely, almost as a mix of comedy and horror, the bombastic blast of music would have us think it’s the Picture Of Dorian Gray we’re seeing presented.

  32. You can get some flavour of the Maurizio Lucidi film from this Italian trailer:

  33. Some great Venetian location shots in Des Vic. The screenplay is cowritten by Aldo Lado, whom I always feel warmly towards because he directed the lunatic Short Night of Glass Dolls, a genuinely WTF experience, and because his first name is an anagram of his last name. Beat that, Rossellini!

    I like that extravagant pop song too.

    There are some good older women in North by Northwest and The Trouble with Harry too, but Strangers really teems with them.

  34. Or it could be that Bruno has been tailing him for a while, maybe taking the same trains and keeping sight of him at a distance and waited for his chance. It cuts both ways.

    Bruno Anthony is simultaneously a troubled, pampered bon-vivant and the double of Guy Anthony. Especially in that striking still before those pillars and of course the famous audience shot in the tennis game where Bruno has eyes only for Guy while the crowd falls the volleys of the tennis ball.

  35. I’ve been trying to figure out, with some fancy finger work on the pause button, the title of the book that Farley Granger is reading on the train. The title begins “Hitchcock’s ……………….” and the glimpse of the author’s photo on the back cover certainly could be Hitch in that period. A search on ABEbooks shows the most likely candidate to be “Alfred Hitchcock’s Fireside Book of Suspense” published in 1947, but I’m not sure if that’s it. Anyone else care to take a look?

  36. Ah but Bruno’s foot is carefully posed to be “accidentally” hit.

    Not familiar with that Italian film. Tomas Milian’s close-cropped hair makes him resemble Clementi in other roles — whereas Clementi’s hairdo reprises the one he had in The Conformist

  37. Pat Hitchcock is wonderful in this, playing nearly all her lines just the right side of outrageous; as much as she’s an audience surrogate, she’s also like all of the garrulous younger siblings from “Young and Innocent” rolled into one, both asking questions that others don’t dare ask, but also providing a constant stream of energetic and amusing commentary.

    As much as they jump out when they are used, Hitchcock does seem to keep the canted angles for a relatively small number of key moments, such as when Bruno appears in DC on the night of the murder, or later when Guy is making his way into Bruno’s house (sort of a symmetry, with two refuges somehow violated).

    Tennis players don’t exactly get a good rap at this period in Hitchcock’s career, do they, with “Dial M For Murder” around the corner? It was somehow sad to watch the tennis scenes, given that the serve-volley tennis of the film has all but disappeared in favour of baseline bludgeoning. “Dial M” seems relevant, too, for the way in which the two films open – or near enough – with long scenes discussing the commission of murders; there’s something even creepier, for me, in Ray Milland’s work, perhaps because there’s no hint of anything other than cold-blooded calculation, unlike Bruno’s much more obvious nuttiness.

  38. I remember my Dad expressing disbelief at the tennis match, but Richard Schickel, in the DVD extra documentary, says that as a tennis player himself he found it fairly convincing.

    I’m thinking I might call my Dial M post “The conspirator wore tennis shoes.”

    Missed the book altogether, but I bet you’re right, Judy. Just like Hitch to plug his latest publication. Those short story collections he introduced are the natural precursor to Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I didn’t realise there were any in print this early.

  39. I’m really interested in the class politics of Strangers on a Train… we’ve definitely covered Guy’s social climbing ambitions, but what about Bruno? Isn’t he, in fact, the ultimate nightmare representation of the leisure class? A bastard who messes with people whenever the whim moves him, simply because he has nothing better to do–and because he has the resources ready to hand… this comes up in Walker’s rant about his father’s protestant work ethic (which, in my mind, translates to: “stop being such an idler! the workers will notice and rise up against us”)

    armed with his super theories and more money than anyone needs, Bruno becomes a kind of vigilante who targets boredom, rather than crime… the ultimate beneficiary of a system that everyone else is trying so hard to keep on the rails, Bruno’s actions can be read as capitalism’s cry for help… I find it much more interesting than Dreiser- (or Match Point)-style tales of aspiration maddened (although this protean film engulfs that narrative by imputing its bare outline to Granger’s guilt-ridden psyche)

    Walker and Pat are both perfect; Granger ideal as a very far from ideal-type hero… Ruth Roman gets very little to do, which is too bad, because I think Vidor’s Lightning Strikes Twice proves that she had quite a bit to offer

    Dave

  40. This class aspect marks Bruno as a precursor of Dickie Greenleaf.
    Dickie, of course, was victim rather than killer.

  41. It seems to me that Hitchcock distinguishes clearly between “good” wealth and “bad” wealth, or “good” upper class and “bad” upper class, in the film: the senator’s situation is obviously very comfortable, and he’s a rock of good sense whose lifestyle seems worth aspiring to, without a hint of decadence and of course the self-justification of a life of “public service”.

    Bruno’s situation, though, is played for absurd effect at times: his over-the-top dressing gown, abundant free time, the completely fake “urgent appointment” that ends his conversation with Ann, his mother’s own obsessions, and of course the contrasting iron-rod father with whom there can be no compromise (the whole affair would surely never have begun had he a father more along the senatorial lines – although of course there is also the absence of a mother in Ann’s life, a notable missing piece given the gallery of older women who populate the film).

  42. oh no doubt it, re: where Hitchcock probably stood on these matters–but I think the film itself protests too much re: the “good wealth/bad wealth” distinction–and in such a way that you can use Bruno to smash it, if you’re in the mood to do so

  43. MATCH POINT is more Stendhal(LE ROUGE ET LE NOIR) and Dostoyevsky(CRIME AND PUNISHMENT) than Theodore Dreiser. When it came out people compared it to A PLACE IN THE SUN but it’s closer to Hitchcock, Lang, Chabrol(of whom Woody has become the Anglo-American counterpart) and Losey(THE SERVANT, THE GO-BETWEEN). Cassandra’s Dream is more Dreiserian since it’s about a family and an uncle who is the last best hope. Of course there you have two brothers rather than a single character but a similar determinism is there as is the brutal observation of capitalism and free-market ethics affecting every relationship.

    STRANGERS…’s observation on class is limited to perversion, rather than detailing how society and power function. Hitchcock’s view of class was never interested in the latter(save perhaps in MARNIE and some other films in places) and certainly fixed towards the former.

    The daffy society hostesses of Washington, Leo G. Carroll’s aloof senator patriarch, Bruno’s mother and Bruno himself. At the lower side you have Guy’s wife. The calm, collected hero Guy Haines spends all his time trying to stay calm, always afraid. One interesting scene is the end of STRANGERS after the carousel melts down, Guy is standing over Bruno and he asks the cop timidly whether he could prise it open and has to wait for Bruno to die and lose his strength for the lighter to glint through. He is afraid of disobeying the slightest laws. When of course he knew for a fact that the lighter was on him and once found he’d be in the clear. It’s passivity at a perverse level.

    The strong political undercurrent is of course the menace of the HUAC and the FBI’s anti-communist hysteria which the two Davids have touched on here. Hitchcock was anti-blacklist and a lot of his friends got into a jam even if he was apolitical by default but he certainly didn’t have sympathy for authorities.

  44. I don’t think a better father would solve Bruno’s problems — as Hitch said, “He’s clearly a psychopath,” and even in an age of pop psychology and dollarbook Freud, Hitchcock uses the term quite precisely. In fact, had Leo G Carroll the misfortune to marry Bruno’s mother and father Bruno, he’d probably appear much like Mr Anthony the Elder, whose efforts to get his son sectioned seem entirely sensible under the circumstances.

    We’re told that Hitch disliked the English obsession with class, so I find it easy to imagine him sympathizing with Guy and seeing this story as a corrective to the Place in the Sun type story of scheming interlopers.

  45. Okay, perhaps Bruno’s problems go well beyond his parentage or his father’s parenting style, although the film does link his behaviour at least partly to that of his mother, and her tolerance for his escapades. I do think that the episodes involving Bruno’s reaction to Babs undermine his depiction as a psychopath to some degree, at least from the more precise clinical standpoint, since clearly there’s some form of guilt in his reactions, and a very emotional response that is at odds with the general lack of affect in most psychopathic personalities. I think the film tries to have it both ways a little bit by having Babs comment that Bruno seemed to be in a “trance.” Clearly, though, he’s alarmed and distressed by her presence and the passing resemblance between the two women immediately recalls for him, in a deeply unpleasant way, the murder he has committed (and about which he is otherwise so nonchalant). That, of course, is critical to the action of the film, and it is obviously a drama rather than a clinical diagnosis!

  46. STRANGERS…’s observation on class is limited to perversion, rather than detailing how society and power function. Hitchcock’s view of class was never interested in the latter(save perhaps in MARNIE and some other films in places) and certainly fixed towards the former.
    ==================

    oh I don’t know about that–STRANGERS provides one of the most powerful dramatizations of leisure as a weapon that I can think of… the freedom from the need to work (or to secure the favour of those with power by, say, running around a tennis court while you’re being framed for murder) is, after all, the greatest power the ruling classes have, in a “democratic society” (yes, making others work for you is pretty big time stuff… but who else has the freedom to run for office? or to ride the rails in search of people to screw with?)

    I also like the way Bruno forces the idea of murdering UP (Mr. Antony) into Guy’s mind, while committing the Dreiserian murder (down) for him, for whimsical reasons of his own

  47. Norman Lloyd was a very involved leftie in his youth, and was consiquently blacklisted. Hitch wouldn’t hear of it, and hired him to be the show-runner of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

    As I may have mention Mr. Lloyd is hail and hearty as ever, playing tennis daily — even as he moves ever-so-gracefully towards the century mark. And he steals In Her Shoes clear away from its star, Cameron Diaz.

  48. I’m amused by the moment when Guy asks permission to search the dying Bruno for the lighter, and the chief cop snaps back, “Certainly not. Anyway, he says he hasn’t got it.” The police aren’t too efficient here.

    Hitch’s fear of cops and authorities may not have been political in nature, but it must have made him sympathetic to those who ran afoul of the heavy hand of the law. In I Confess, that sympathy sees Montgomery Clift becoming positively Christ-like in his defiance of power.

    Guy’s denial that he wants to “marry the boss’s daughter” is very quick, and of course we can read that both ways…

  49. I thought that add-on comment by the police chief was hilarious, as is the chief’s astonishment that the carny could possibly have meant the other man in the struggle was the guilty party! It’s amusing, too, that although the police tail is presented as a pretty genial fellow, he’s easily distracted by the smile of a pretty young woman, while his response to his colleague when they see Guy getting on the train is pretty funny, too: let’s not follow him BECAUSE something big might happen. In other words, we will assume that he is about to travel to the place he bought a ticket for; it never occurs to them that Guy could get out somewhere other than his hometown. The fact that he doesn’t get out anywhere else isn’t really the point.

  50. Well legally a cop would say we can only search a man after he’s dead and not when he’s dying. In case he makes it, he could sue the police, even if it proves him guilty. Ah, the vicissitudes of the legal system!!!! If Bruno was alive his lawyer could say that the lighter was wrongfully taken away from him and so discount that crucial piece of evidence. Thankfully, Bruno dies and all is well.

    Never forget THE WRONG MAN vis-a-vis Hitch’s sympathy for the persecuted. But that’s for another day. The film that provoked the longest piece of critcism by Jean-Luc Godard can’t be dealt with via digression and aside. Incidentally, Godard wrote a piece on STRANGERS… as well and he delineated the patterning of the doubles and the Catholic tone of it(using Graham Greene as a point of reference).

    I think Guy Haines is stuck both ways. He wants in but he really loves Ruth Roman as well. The former does not dominate over the latter but rater subtly drives his actions and behaviour. He’s not by nature a person who would kill his way to the top but Hitchcock won’t let him off easily.

  51. Christopher Says:

    …Bruno blowing up the white house! ..buahahahaha!….I love the way Bruno and his Ma- Marion Lorne ,excuse themselves from their guests letting them find their own way to the door,a look back and a cheerful smile,letting you know..thats all..we’re done..I suppose a person could go on sitting there in the living room and Mother and son would just work around you..”You still here?..tee hee,silly you”
    I like the way the sun goes down in real time during the race to get to the amusment park..You see it thru the train window on the way…and in the background waiting in line for the boat ride,its at twlight..
    Nighttime on Sex Island!…wonder what all kind stuff goes on there?..

  52. The sun does seem to pop back up at one point… but the idea of a race against sundown (purely because Bruno has said he’ll do this at night, although he doesn’t really have to wait at all!) is nice. Reminds me of Dersu Uzala, the race against the sunset to build a shelter to avoid freezing…

    It’s just as well they didn’t let Guy search Bruno because they might accuse him of planting the lighter on him.

  53. Yeah, things cut back and forth as both Guy and Bruno are both heading to the carny at sunset. You literally see the sundown in the background of each respective character as the film approaches its ending. I wondered to myself as to whether they were showing an actual sundown or something fabricated. It was a nice touch. The collapse of the merry-go-round may not have been realistically feasible, but as a cinematic climax it was wonderfully dynamic, with the tennis player and the mama’s boy going at it. Got a kick out of the kid on the carousel horse joining in on the action, I think he was hitting on Bruno but I suspect in his mind it didn’t matter which one he struck, just as long as he was able to join the fray. Another striking image: Guy on his back as a carousel horse’s hoof comes down, lifts up, comes down, lifts up. Striking him, but not striking him.

  54. Christopher Says:

    Bruno Anthony,a very clever fellow..
    …sounds like something Eliot Ness would say.or Clark Kent..
    Even tho Bruno was a nuisense,Guy was always compelled to take care of him,listening to his wild schemes..fixing his tie and putting him in a Car after slugging him..Brunos just irresistable thats all.. :D

  55. Tony Williams Says:

    The Senator does seem to be a pillar of the establishment but not how Hitchcock has fun with this stuffy Anglo politician when Barbara says things that are beyond the pale such as the dubious nature of politicians. He is quite willing to help Guy up the political ladder and remove him from his previous lower class origins. But even he tells Barbara, that Guy’s wife was also a” human being” after a flippant remark.

    This film is both entertaining and complex in several ways.

  56. Bruno’s teasing of the judge at that party is interesting — the question of how a judge relaxes after sentencing someone to death interested Hitch greatly: he deals with it in The Paradine Case, and raised the subject with Truffaut. So for that moment, he’s on Bruno’s side. By extension, I think he rather enjoys all of Bruno’s socially inappropriate moves, including when he ribs the senator.

  57. Geez, all the things I missed by letting my attention styray away from Shadowplay! I’m glad that someone else introduced my pet notion of comparing “Strangers” to Dreiser — there ain’t that much difference between the position of the two male protags in “Strangers” and “Place in the Sun.” Both are upwardly mobile, or try to be, and both want to rid themselves of embarrassing wives. Guy doesn’t *try*, of course, but he does express the desire to kill Miriam — and to desire such things is enough to make him culpable. (Do I sound like a ’50s Chabrolian R.C. critic? Tant pis!)

    I’ll have to say a word or two in favor of Ruth Roman. Standard Wisdom, or so I believe: Guy’s effective in their scenes together, but Anne’s a conventional bore. Me, I tend to like what Roman does, but regard Guy as strangely withdrawn … as if Anne desires Guy more than he desires her. (Doesn’t Guy call Anne a “brazen woman,” or something like that?) A bit “Senso”-ish, perhaps? Or similar to Bergman desiring the distant Grant in “Notorious”?

  58. If Guy’s Not That Into Her, and is more of a social climber than her or the script admits, this makes sense. He’s an athlete, and she’s a Brazen Woman who clearly desires him (Roman is actually pretty lusty given the stiff society settings), but maybe he’s a bit more calculating.

    Didn’t mind her at all this time. I think she’s a bit soap opera in her emotings, but she holds the film in the second act, and all those Hitchcock reaction shots ain’t easy to do, as Tippi discovered.

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