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Strangers on a Train - Special Edition  (1951)

 

Rating: PG

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Release Date: September 7, 2004
Review posted: September 7, 2004

 

Reviewed by Dylan Grant

 

SYNOPSIS

 

Tennis pro Guy Haines (Farley Granger) has a chance meeting with Bruno (Robert Walker) while on the train to his next match. What passes between them meant nothing to Guy at first… until his wife ends up dead and Guy is framed for the crime.

 

CRITIQUE

 

Hitchcock crossed a line with Strangers on a Train.  What came before was practice, and what would follow would be his strongest, most memorable masterpieces.  He had been directing films for almost 30 years at that point, and he had made 16 pictures since coming to the United States in 1939.  (16 pictures in 12 years!  That kind of output would be unheard of today.)  Despite his output, Hitchcock considered Strangers on a Train to be his first real American picture.  It was the kind of material that really engaged him, and watching the film we can feel him hitting on all cylinders.  The themes that had popped up in his work before are in this film, realized in a more complete way, on a level that had not been seen before.

 

The driving force behind Strangers on a Train is Bruno (Walker), the villain.  Bruno is a classic Hitchcock villain, one of his best.  (Norman Bates is the only other villain that can really compete.)  He is charming, well dressed, and totally insane.  Walker does more than just play a role here; he is Bruno.  The charming way he suggests to guy that they “swap murders” provokes a laugh from Guy, who can only think that Bruno is joking.  Robert Walker, who had previously played more innocent, good guy roles, is so magnetic, so dynamic here, that you can hardly take your eyes off him.  He steals every scene he is in.  Of particular interest are the scenes between Bruno and his mother.  The Mother was always figure of contempt for Hitchcock, and they are typically portrayed as batty old women who haven’t the faintest idea what is going on around them.  Bruno’s mother is one the best examples of this.  In her we have a daffy old woman, who, even when she is being told how dangerous her son is, is talking about something completely different.  She enables Bruno by just being who she is.

 

The imagery in Strangers on a Train is so powerful; this could almost be a silent film.  The dialogue is necessary, and it moves the plot along, but the images tell the real story.  The whole opening sequence, with the two men walking toward the train, up until their meeting, is as suspenseful in its own way as any other moment in the film.  We know they are going to meet, but what is going to happen?  In the scene at the carnival, where Bruno kills Miriam, the only dialogue we hear is in the background.  Bruno and Miriam say nothing at all, and yet Hitchcock is able to reveal everything about their characters and move the plot forward at the same time.  The carnival scene is a masterful stroke.  Most films will have plot scenes and character scenes, and the two rarely meet, but he was able to combine the two, and without the awkward dialogue that tends to pop up.  There really does not need to be any; there is nothing to say.

 

The carnival scene is one of several notable moments in the film, all of them masterpieces of composition.  The tennis match is another scene that builds the suspense and subverts the audience.  The tennis sequences are amazing, some of the best filmed.  While Guy tries to rush the match and finish off his opponent so he can have his final showdown with Bruno, Bruno is trying to dig the lighter out of the sewer.  He needs the lighter to frame Guy.  He reaches into the sewer, and we’re not sure he is going to get it, but in that moment, we find ourselves wanting Bruno to retrieve the lighter.  It is a strange moment, but Hitchcock is able to pull it off.  Moments like that show up repeatedly in his work.

 

Every scene in this film works to move Guy a little bit deeper into trouble, and he is not able to move out of the dark until the very end.  I could write volumes about the beauty of this film, all the subtle nuances that make it work so well.  The film holds up impeccably, and it is one of Hitchcock’s best.

 

THE VIDEO

 

Strangers on a Train is presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  The picture is beautiful, presenting the brilliantly expressionistic photography of this film in a sharp, flawless way.  All levels the gray scale is fully represented, and the overall picture is as close to perfect as we can expect.

 

THE AUDIO

 

English and French tracks are presented here, both in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono.  The presentation is sharp, a bit front heavy, and all the effects come through clearly.

 

THE EXTRAS

 

Though this is not the first time Strangers on a Train has been on DVD, it has never had a presentation of bonus materials like this.  With an entire second disc devoted to extras, we get a detailed look at the film, and at Hitchcock himself.

 

Disc One:

 

Commentary by Peter Bogdanovich, Joseph Stefano, Andrew Wilson, and more: this is a revolving commentary, and we hear from several people, historians and collaborators.  They talk about working with Hitchcock, and this film’s place in history.  Through Andrew Wilson, Patricia Highsmith’s biographer, we learn about her life and work, and the differences between the novel and the film.

 

Theatrical Trailer: the original theatrical trailer.

 

Disc Two:

 

Preview version uncovered in 1991 and theatrically released in 1996: this version of Strangers on a Train runs a few minutes longer than the final release version, and some sequences are done differently, particularly the final scene of the film.  This version is also known as “the British version,” but that is not correct.  This version was only shown once or twice, never in Britain, and it was a labeling mix-up on a film can that caused it to be known as such.

 

Strangers on a Train: A Hitchcock classic: breaks down the film into its most notable sequences, talks about the novel and how the adaptation was done.  Also highlighted are the use of trains in Hitchcock’s films and the dynamic performance of Robert Walker.  (35:00)

 

Strangers on a Train: An appreciation by M. Night Shyamalan: the director of The Sixth Sense and Signs talks about the film, one of his biggest influences.  (12:00)

 

Strangers on a Train: The Victim’s POV: Kasey Rogers, who plays Miriam, talks about her experiences making the film and her subsequent career.  (7:00)

 

The Hitchcocks on Hitch: photos and home movies of the Hitchcocks at home and at play.  A rare look into the personal life of The Master, told by the daughter and granddaughters of Alfred Hitchcock.  (11:00)

 

Alfred Hitchcock’s historical meeting: vintage newsreel of Hitchcock at a train stop, talking to some people.  There is no sound, so it is hard to say exactly what is going on.  (1:00)

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

One of Hitchcock’s best films is finally in a great DVD package.  This is the highlight of the new collection.  The bonus material is interesting and detailed, and the film is timeless and expertly presented.

 

VERDICT: DVD COLLECTOR SERIES

 

Home | Back to Top

 

:: The Disc

 

:: Disc Ratings

 

THE MOVIE

10

THE VIDEO

10

THE AUDIO

8

THE EXTRAS

10

OVERALL

10

 

:: Merchandise