Strangers On A Train
When it comes to films with suspense, thrills and high tension there is one and only one name that soars above all other filmmakers; Alfred Hitchcock. This portly balding man might have superficially appeared to have been a regular middle age, but that assumption would not only be erroneous but an affront to the art form of cinema. In the mind of this man resided a level of genius frequently mimicked but never remotely approached. The sheer perfection of his films not only defined the level of excellence within his chosen genre it was the source of a plethora of innovations in the medium. One aspect of his mastery of film was his amazing talent for framing a scene to get the most out of the situation. When it came to lighting and the use of shadow to heighten the suspense no one has ever come close, especial when you consider Hitchcock made a seamless transition to color in a fashion few directors could match. His black and white movies remain classics secure in their position on every list in perpetuity. There have been numerous box sets over the years, but now at long last, the studios holding the distribution rights to his films have gotten around to high definition releases of the Masters seminal works. This effort is being made on an individual effort by Universal, MGM and Warner Brothers. One of the releases of the later studio is the one under consideration is one the best known and highest regarded films in a long and illustrious career, the 1951 classic suspense/thriller ‘Strangers on a Train.’ The themes contained in this movie have engendered generations of crime mysteries with imitators as one of the definitive psychological thrillers ‘Strangers on a train’ tapped into the primeval emotions lurking deep within the recesses of our minds. This dark, foreboding region of our minds was the favorite playground of Mr. Hitchcock. With this new release, it is finally possible to experience the film in a way that previously only existed in the filmmaker’s vivid imagination. Audiences viewing a new, pristine print in a premier theater did not have the clarity of video or vibrancy of the soundtrack afforded here.
Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is a top-ranked amateur tennis player who is deeply in love with Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), an intelligent, cultured and beautiful daughter of a Senator (Leo G. Carroll). The only cloud on Guy’s horizon and obstacle preventing them being together is a rather significant one, Guy’s wife, Miriam (Laura Elliott). She is the polar opposite in disposition from the lovely Anne; rude, crude and socially unacceptable. In a plot device that was quite shocking when the movie was initially released to the theaters over sixty year years ago, Miriam was cheating on Guy with multiple boyfriends. One especially controversial scene depicted the wayward Mrs. Haines on a steamy date with two men at the same time. Keep in mind this was an era when divorce was socially frowned upon and not something commonly done. The unconscionable behavior blatantly demonstrated by Miriam precluded any deleterious feels towards Guy for seeking the dissolution of the marriage. As the wronged party he deserved the happiness he could only find with Anne. One day a mundane occurrence would bring Guy’s life to the verge of ruination.
While taking a train trip Guy, is relaxing in the coach car when he nonchalantly crosses his legs. His foot bumps into that of the stranger sitting opposite his seat. The other passenger is Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker), an obnoxiously chatty young man. Despite his best efforts to ignore the pest Bruno insists on intruding upon the hapless Guy. Bruno recognizes Guy from the papers, particularly the gossip pages. The topic of Guy’s attraction to a politician’s daughter and his untenable marital circumstances are fodder for the tabloids. This aspect of the story is even timelier now than originally intended. Has Bruno rambles on he tries to establish a connection with the somewhat famous Guy. Bruno begins talking about the similarities in their situations. While Guy had a wife ruining his life, Bruno would be much happier if his stern father was out of his way. Bruno suggests a plan; crisscross murders. Bruno will murder Miriam while Guy kills Bruno’s father. Absentmindedly nodding Guy gets up to leave dropping the inscribed cigarette lighter, a gift from Anne. In Bruno’s mind, the deal has been struck. Bruno stalks Miriam tracking her down to a local carnival. She was a gasp, on a lustful date with two men. Bruno catches her alone and murders her. The scene depicting the crime is among the best examples of Hitchcock’s genius for emotionally impacting the audience on a visual level. Without the use of overtly explicit images, Hitchcock pulls the audience into a state of suspense. Bruno light’s Miriam’s cigarette with Guy’s lighter briefly illuminating her face. The reflection in her glasses shows her last moment of life.
When Guy doesn’t even remember the conversation on the train and refuses to murder Bruno’s father, Bruno flies into a rage. He neatly frames Guy for Miriam’s death. With the police on his trail Guy enlists the assistance of Anne’s younger sister, Barbara, nicely portrayed by the director’s daughter, Patricia. The dénouement involves some of the many iconic moments crafted by this master artisan. One is an old carney crawling under an out of control carousel; the other is Bruno staining to retrieve the lighter, the tips of his fingers brushing the casing of the lighter. In the end, a tight close up has Bruno’s dead hand slowly opens disclosing the lighter that exonerates Guy. Hitchcock had the unique ability to take the mundane and turn it into the most gripping moment of suspense you have ever experienced. Hitchcock’s mastery of manipulating the emotions and perception of the audience perfectly guiding them along to the shocking moments he has carefully planned. His pacing was always impeccable with this one of his most beloved classics. The contrast between the staunchly ethical Guy with two inherently different villains is nothing short of sublime. First, there is Miriam. She is hedonistic, self-centered and amoral. Her actions are based on being vindictive and petty want to destroy Guy’s chance for happiness. Bruno, on the other hand, is a psychopath devoid of a functional conscience. Fundamentally a spoiled child angry that he did not get his way and that Guy didn’t even remember him. A sane person could not fathom his motivation.
For anyone that still think an older movie, in black and white with monaural audio would not benefit from a high definition re-mastering this release will go a long way to alter that misconception. In a black and white high definition video, the 1080p resolution greatly enhances the sense of texture and the contrast created by the juxtaposition of light and shadow. You can discern the textural difference between a glossy silk tie and the course fabric of the jacket. The tiny shadows cast by the irregular surfaces of concrete or the imperfections in wood jump out at you this adds up to a depth of realism that draws you into the scene. Similarly, the remixed audio is an improvement albeit not as dramatic as the video. The DTS-HD MA Mono lacks the low end or directionality we have come to expect. I found that using one of the audio enhancement programs included in all modern AV receivers provides a more enjoyable experience. Try the setting that emulates the grand temples of cinema that existed before the rise of the Cineplex.it will bring you back in time to when this film was new.
Final Release Version With Commentary
Posted 10/13/12 Posted 03/08/2018