Strangers on a Train Review

Strangers on a Train is a 1951 crime drama written by Raymond Chandler/Czenzi Ormonde/Whitfield Cook and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The film is an adaptation of a thriller novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith that was published the previous year, mirroring Hitchcock's future production history with Psycho about a decade later.

Story
Two men who have never met each other before start a conversation on a train ride, leading to a misunderstanding that spirals out of control. I don't want to give away any more than that, because not knowing what the movie is about is half the fun.

The story and plot are both kept mostly simple by defined motivations for both of our titular strangers. One wants something badly, which conflicts with the wants of another and this causes them to clash, making a strong conflict for the film.

Being an Alfred Hitchcock movie, it's paced extremely well. Every scene that's supposed to be tense uses every agonizing, nail-biting minute to its fullest. Everything in these scenes is paced slowly and carefully, making sure the audience feels the same tension the characters do.

Most of the characters are nothing special. They aren't bad, there's just not much to them. Even one of the strangers, the one we follow, is kind of bland. I suppose he's supposed to be the everyman caught in a bad situation and he works fine in that role. The other stranger is one of the most uncomfortable characters I've seen in a movie in a long time. Everything he says just makes you squirm, it's very unnerving.

The dialogue is pitch perfect, finding a good balance between exposition and emotion. What's great about how they do both, though, is that it all sounds natural. It seems like every topic of conversation leads into the other, no matter what it is.

Technical

I've always loved 1950's cinematography. They knew when to use their close ups well, knew how to film shot/reverse shot without constant use of close-ups and they use nice, clean shots to get their landscapes. I also love how they used medium close-up shots while still getting the full facial expressions of their actors. It goes to show that you don't always need the actor's face to use up the whole shot to get their expressions.

I also love the acting style of the 50s. I've always found it fascinating that the actors could somehow portray diverse emotions while barely changing facial expressions.

There was this part in the climax where they had to make a carousel look like it was going faster and I honestly wish they hadn't. The speed up effect was a bit too ambitious and it didn't look well when other people had to walk at a normal pace in the same shot.

Summary: This is another Hitchcock masterpiece. I really wish they'd show this in film classes instead of rear window. Don't look anything about this movie up. Just sit down and watch it.

A-

Comments

  1. I love Strangers On A Train. One of Hitchcock's most brilliant and essentially tense movies, and the one with my favourite villain, Bruno. You were right to point out how unnerving his dialogue is, but I think you missed a chance to incorporate the idea of "doubles" or parallels within the theme of the picture. I know you didn't want to give anything away, but the emphasis on duality is one of the supremely psychological tags within the film that make it work so well. Keep spreading the word, this one is often overlooked!

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