So, I finally saw the Alfred Hitchcock movie Strangers on a Train after friends of mine mentioned it to me nine months or so ago. Yeah, I take my time with these things.
To put it briefly, my comment here about Hitchcock’s work applies perfectly. It’s an amusing film, but by no means a masterpiece. I’ll try to avoid spoiling everything in this review, but I will discuss certain plot elements, so be warned! If you are the kind of sick, deranged person who reads reviews of movies they have not seen (me too) there is a synopsis here.
The character of Bruno Anthony, played by Robert Walker, carries the whole movie. The guy seems completely mad and yet strangely charismatic, which is precisely what the role demands.
The problem is, this kind of works against the story even though it is really fun to watch. It is so obvious that Bruno is not playing with a full deck that it seems like Guy Haines would have no trouble convincing the police that Bruno’s claims about him are nothing more than the ravings of a maniac. Of course, then there would be no drama, and it would be a pretty dull movie. So…
…Haines gets enmeshed in a convoluted plot controlled by the madman. There wasn’t much that stood out about it to me, but there were two scenes that caught my interest. One is the tennis match that comes at a pivotal point in the film. Although fairly contrived, it was still somehow exciting to watch, even though I knew more or less how it would play out. This alone may qualify Hitchcock as a great director. It is one of the most effective uses of sport I’ve ever seen in a movie.
The other thing I really liked was the next-to-last scene. I love the fact that even in his final moments, Bruno still lies to Guy and the police. He has no reason to, he has to know that his deception going to be found out as soon as his fist unclenches and he drops Guy’s lighter, and in any event he is mortally wounded; but he lies to them anyway. That little detail totally sums up the character and how detached he is from reality. I love that.
Unfortunately, the movie is pretty weak otherwise. The direction, editing and cinematography are all quite good, but the acting is pretty poor apart from Robert Walker. Also, once you stop suspending disbelief, which I did whenever Bruno wasn’t around, you realize the whole plot is fairly far-fetched. [Aside: is suspending disbelief the same as resuming belief? Discuss.] The other problem with the movie is that even the “good” characters aren’t very likeable, so it was hard to really get invested in how things worked out for them.
Overall, an enjoyable thriller, but not a great one.