Monday, November 28, 2005

Not that there's anything wrong with that, Part I: "Strangers on a Train"

TCM had this run of Alfred Hitchcock movies not long ago, and I was kind of pumped to finally see "Vertigo." And I did record and start watching that so-called classic, but it didn't immediately grab me for some reason. So while it sits in my TiVo list, I decided to give another film from the Master of Suspense a shot. Smart move.

Fully recognizing I haven't seen all or even most Hitchcock movies, "Strangers on a Train" has jumped to near the top of my list of Ol' Alfred's works. Since it's outside the pop culture realm populated by "Psycho," "The Birds" and "North by Northwest," I wasn't sure what to expect. For instance, "Spellbound" was supposed to be pretty good, but I found it a little boring and weird. But no worries with "Strangers on a Train," which before now I knew only as the sort-of inspiration for "Throw Momma from the Train." (Another classic, right? Um, maybe not.)

Hitch wastes no time setting up the basic plot: A friendly guy on a Washington-to-New York train starts chatting with a fellow passenger and eventually comes around to the idea of how two guys could commit murders for each other. That way, he explains, each could get away with it because the main suspect would have an alibi while the murderer would have no motive. "Criss-cross." And he's not talking about getting caught between the moon and New York City, kids.

Of course, both men need to be committed to this scheme for it to work, but that's not the case here. While the guy -- named, well, Guy -- approached with the idea dismisses it as idle talk, the other fella, Bruno, has more sinister ideas. That leaves Guy in a pickle for most of the movie, with Bruno not wanting to let him off the hook for his part of the "deal."

Pretty simple, huh? Yet Hitchcock delivers several great, twisting scenes as Bruno ups the ante throughout the movie. Played by a guy I don't think I'd seen before, Robert Walker, Bruno is a terrific bad guy, whether it's following people from a distance or charming them up close. Really, it's a pretty nice performance, even if Bruno seems a little too taken with Guy. Come to think of it, I don't recall Bruno flirting with the ladies much, and he did look a bit like Liberace.

As for Guy, he's played with clean-cut innocence by Farley Granger, another guy I didn't recall from anywhere. Turns out he was one of the two young guys in "Rope," another decent Hitchcock film that also stars Jimmy Stewart, whom Granger somewhat resembles. Still, neither Granger nor Walker were big, big stars, which makes "Strangers on a Train" an even more impressive Hitchcock effort. But it's been long enough ... what say we remake this? Maybe we can get Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes. You know, to recapture some of that "Money Train" magic.


Post a Comment

<< Home