Strangers on a Train is a Hitchcock film from the middle of his Hollywood era. It has one of Hitchcock’s craziest villains and one of the weirdest finales. Which with Hitchcock is really saying something. The premise is that two strangers meet on a train and one of them proposes that each commit a murder that benefits the other. The idea is since they’re perfect strangers they won’t be suspected in a murder associated with the stranger but not himself. The one proposing the deal is a very strange man named Bruno Anthony (played by Robert Walker) who hates his father. The other man is a relatively famous amateur tennis player named Guy Haines (played by Farley Granger) who has an unstable and unfaithful wife Miriam, that he’d like to divorce to marry Anne Morton, the daughter of a US Senator. But Miriam refuses to allow it because of the monetary benefits marriage provides. Guy doesn’t even know how to react to this outrageous proposal so he treats it jokingly and gets off the train at his stop. But he accidentally leaves his very expensive and monogrammed cigarette lighter on the train with Bruno. Guy may treat this proposition as a joke but Bruno certainly doesn’t. We get a scene with Bruno and his parents. Bruno and his mother are both lunatics but she seems relatively harmless. We hear his father state that he will have Bruno put away. This activates Bruno and he proceeds to murder Miriam at an amusement park. He stalks her and flirts with her and chokes the life out of her. Then he casually walks away.
Bruno goes immediately to Guy and announces that he has carried out his side of the bargain and expects Guy to kill Bruno’s father. When Guy threatens to call the police Bruno counters by saying both would be held responsible in the conspiracy. Most of the rest of the movie involves Bruno hounding Guy even within his circle of friends. And this is where you realize that Bruno is the most interesting character in the movie. His insanity does not prevent him from entertaining the minor characters at dinner parties and outside restaurants. He tells Anne’s father about his theory of interplanetary clairvoyance and he entertains an old lady socialite with his theories on murder. Unfortunately he gets carried away and almost chokes her to death at a dinner party. All in all he’s a very spirited fellow. But eventually all good things come to an end and when guy doesn’t come through with his “criss-cross” side of the murder bargain, Bruno decides to frame him for the original murder using the monogrammed lighter as evidence.
Several additional scenes advance the story to the climax and we return to the scene of the crime, the amusement park. A very bizarre and cinematically interesting scene with a carousel brings it to a head and Bruno and Guy and the police finally sort things out.
Even though Guy and his friends are the innocent victims, I never felt all that much sympathy for them. They don’t really evoke much interest. They’re all kind of flat. So, despite the fact that he’s a thoroughgoing psychopath, the movie is really the Bruno Anthony show. And as creepy as he is he definitely keeps my interest. I like this Hitchcock pretty well but I could see how it might not appeal to all tastes. Caveat emptor.