Strangers on a Train (1951)

Ask anyone about Alfred Hitchcock, and many classic films will come to mind: PSYCHO, THE BIRDS, VERTIGO, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, and REAR WINDOW just to name a few. But one name which you may not hear just as much—but should—is this 1951 entry.

Adapted (albeit with major modifications) from the eponymous novel by Patricia Highsmith, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN starts with, as its title implies, two strangers—amateur tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and psychopath Bruno Antony (Robert Walker), both of whom reveal during their conversation that they each have someone they want to “get rid” of. Bruno suggests to Guy that they “exchange” murders so that neither will be suspected of the crime; Guy feigns interest in the idea, but Bruno thinks he’s actually willing to do it…

Once again, Hitchcock presents a well-crafted suspense thriller with an overarching theme of “doubles” (all the way down to his signature cameo, in which he carries a double bass onto a train). The two leads, especially Walker, brilliantly provide contrasting characterizations that stand out on their own as much as they play off each other. Robert Burks’ Oscar®-nominated cinematography includes one of the most iconic shots in the Hitchcock canon, in which Bruno’s crime is reflected off the fallen eyeglasses of his victim. Also playing on the idea of “doubles” is Dimitri Tiomkin’s score, which itself provides a series of contrasts that fit the events onscreen; not part of his score but also notable is the calliope music used during the carnival scenes, most specifically the 1890s standard “The Band Played On,” which provides a particular background to many of the film’s key events. Speaking of which, the memorable and climactic carousel sequence, ironically taken from a completely different novel, quite literally gives us the ride of a lifetime and is quite possibly a fitting ending to an arguably groundbreaking masterpiece.

While the premise of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN has actually inspired contemporary, and often more comical, reinterpretations, such as THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN (1987) and HORRIBLE BOSSES (2011), the original is an absolute must-watch whether or not you’re highly engrossed in Hitchcock’s works.