“When an alibi’s full of bourbon sir, it can’t stand up.”
Amateur tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is a well-known in some political circles. He intends on going into politics after tennis. He wants to divorce he promiscuous wife in order to marry Anne Morton. She is the daughter of a state senator. Getting his wife to sign the divorce papers is becoming difficult.
Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) is charming, gregarious and clinically psychotic. He is an entitled sociopath who hates his father and wants his money. He believes he has come up with the perfect murder. Bruno’s plan requires a malleable partner. He selects Guy as the perfect stranger. On a train Bruno starts a conversation with Guy. The conversation leads to Bruno’s plan. He is aware of Guy’s problems with his wife. He suggests that they get rid of each other’s problem by killing them. He offers to kill Guy’s wife if in turn Guy will kill Bruno’s father. With each person having an alibi for the time of each murder and since they are virtual strangers to each other, the police will have no credible suspects in both murders.
Guy take’s Bruno’s talk as the ramblings of a disgruntled son and tries to brush him off gently. Bruno, on the other hand, believes they have made a pack and murders Guy’s wife. Bruno tells Guy that he murdered his wife and now insists that Guy return the favor and dispose of his father. Guy is stuck. Bruno begins to invade Guy’s life trying to pressure him into what he believes is his end of the bargain. Guy believes the police will not believe him if he goes to them with his story. He doesn’t want to kill anyone and he is afraid for his girlfriend and her family if he doesn’t. He is in the proverbial pickle.
Although technically a noir thriller, “Strangers on a Train” has something that instills horror in most people. A relentless homicidal maniac. The book was written by Patricia Highsmith. Patricia was a lesbian and often inserted homosexual undertones in her novels. Hitchcock took pains to try to keep these undertones without the censors realizing. As a matter of fact, he added more. Bruno’s character being one that daddy wants to institutionalize, his subtle mannerisms and his flirtatious conversation with Guy are low-key enough to be missed, but Robert Walker’s compelling performance as a psychopath is right out front. Highsmith wrote the book in 1950. Hitchcock’s version was released in 1951.
Not only was Hichcock afraid of cops he was also afraid of being accused of a crime he did not commit.
There have been many movies and TV episodes that use the same premise. From TV episodes of the “Simpsons” and “Castle” to movies like “Throw Momma From the Train” and “Horrible Bosses”. The plot is a great one that can be used in many ways but they way Hitchcock does it you can’t help but get sucked in.