Strangers on a Train (1951)

Seventy-one years ago today, the Alfred Hitchcock film Strangers on a Train premiered. You need to see this movie.

Title: Strangers on a Train
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay by: Raymond Chandler, Whitfield Cook, and Czenzi Ormonde
Based on : trangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
Starring: Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker
Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Edited by: William H. Ziegler
Production Company: Transatlantic Pictures
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Release date: June 30, 1951
Running time: 101 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $1.6 million
Box office: $7 million

Amateur tennis star Guy Haines wants to divorce his promiscuous wife Miriam so he can marry Anne Morton, the daughter of a US Senator. On a train, wealthy smooth-talking psychopath Bruno Antony recognizes Haines and reveals his idea for a murder scheme: two perfect strangers meet and “swap murders” — Bruno suggests he kill Miriam and Guy kill Bruno’s hated father. Each will murder a total stranger, with no apparent motive, so neither will be suspected. Guy humors Bruno by pretending to find his idea amusing, but is so eager to get away from Bruno that he carelessly leaves behind his engraved cigarette lighter, which Bruno keeps.

Guy meets with Miriam, who is pregnant by someone else, at her workplace in Metcalf, their hometown. Miriam informs Guy that she no longer wants to end their marriage. She threatens to claim that he is the father, in order to thwart any divorce-attempt. They argue loudly.

That evening, Bruno follows Miriam to an amusement park and strangles her to death while Guy is traveling on the train back to Washington. When Guy arrives home, Bruno informs him Miriam is dead and insists that he must now honor their deal, by killing Bruno’s father.

Guy goes to the Mortons’ home, where Anne’s father informs Guy that his wife has been murdered. Anne’s sister Barbara says that the police will think that Guy is the murderer since he has a motive. The police question Guy, but are unable to confirm his alibi: a professor Guy met on the train was so drunk that he cannot remember their encounter. Instead of arresting Guy, the police assign an around-the-clock escort to watch him.

To pressure Guy, Bruno follows him around Washington, introduces himself to Anne, and appears at a party at Senator Morton’s house. To amuse another guest, Bruno demonstrates how to strangle someone by playfully putting his hands around her neck. His gaze falls upon Barbara, whose glasses and physical appearance resemble Miriam’s. This triggers a flashback; Bruno compulsively squeezes the woman’s neck, and other guests intervene to stop him from strangling the woman to death. Barbara tells Anne that Bruno was looking at her while strangling the other woman and Anne realizes Barbara’s resemblance to Miriam. Her suspicions aroused, Anne confronts Guy, who tells her the truth about Bruno’s crazy scheme.

Bruno sends Guy a package containing a pistol, a house key, and a map showing the location of his father’s bedroom. Guy creeps into Bruno’s father’s room to warn him of his son’s murderous intentions, but instead he finds the suspicious Bruno there waiting for him; the father is not at home. Guy tries to persuade Bruno to seek psychiatric help; Bruno threatens to punish Guy for breaking their deal.

Anne visits Bruno’s home and unsuccessfully tries to explain to his befuddled mother that her son is a murderer. Bruno mentions Guy’s missing cigarette lighter to Anne and claims that Guy asked him to search the murder site for it. Guy correctly infers that Bruno intends to plant it at the scene of the murder, and incriminate him. After winning a tennis match, Guy evades the police-escort, and heads for the amusement park to stop Bruno.

Bruno is delayed when he accidentally drops Guy’s lighter down a storm drain and must retrieve it. When Bruno arrives at the amusement park, a carnival worker recognizes him from the night of the murder; he informs the police, who mistakenly think he has recognized Guy. After Guy arrives, he and Bruno fight on the park’s carousel. Believing that Guy is trying to escape, a police officer shoots at him, but the shot misses, and instead kills the carousel operator, causing the carousel to spin out of control. A carnival worker crawls underneath it and applies the brakes too abruptly, causing the carousel to violently spin off its support, trapping the mortally injured Bruno underneath. The worker who had called the police now tells them that Bruno, not Guy, is the one whom he remembers seeing the night of the murder. As Bruno dies, his fingers open to reveal Guy’s lighter in his hand. Realizing that Guy is not the murderer, the police ask him to come to the station the next day to tie up any loose ends.

In a final train scene, another stranger attempts to strike up conversation with Guy in the same way as had Bruno. Guy and Anne coldly walk away from him.

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