Monday, May 2, 2011

A Stranger on a Train

Pop Eye
By Scott Duhamel
A Stranger on a Train

   Among true aficionados Strangers on a Train (1951) and Shadow of a Doubt (1943) are considered among the famed British directors most resolutely American films (notably, the former was co-scripted by Raymond Chandler, the latter by Thornton Wilder), both of them smaller movies that brilliantly illustrate Hitchcock’s talents before his populist career turn that came with big budgets, big stars, and well-earned box office lionization.
   Strangers on a Train also remains as one of the more lucid examples of Hitchcock’s long term thematic fascination with both doppelgangers and the wrong man theme. The plot revolves around an enigmatic exchange of words between one Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) and Guy Haines (Farley Granger) during a random train ride, a meeting that results in a murder and a falsely accused protagonist fumbling nervously to protest his innocence. In the words of the film, criss-cross.
   While Robert Walker’s obviously deranged Bruno character, with his mile-long oedipal complex propelling the movies’ plot has long been the weirdly compelling figure that audiences and critics have focused on, it is Farley Granger and his portrait of tennis star Guy that  actually surfaces  as the lynchpin of the Hitchcock’s moral and psychological game playing. Granger’s Guy is fit and particularly handsome, yet he wears his neuroses on his sleeve, and sends off palatable vibes of both self-loathing and social climbing desperation. The movie’s resonance rests upon the fact that despite the fact that the wild and wooly Bruno is the actual killer of uptight and out-of-sight Guy’s slattern wife, Guy undeniably wanted himself rid of her. The suggestion of an overt homosexual attraction between the two men flavors the film strongly also, all the more ironic because Granger would eventually come out the closet while still active in his acting career (his 2007 memoir was entitled Include Me Out).
   Granger--whose name begs the question who the hell’s parents name a kid Farley?-- died in March, was born in San Jose, California in 1925, and was signed by Sam Goldwyn as a contract player in the early 1940’s,  as a skinny but pretty tow-headed young lead. After a somewhat checkered 40 plus year stint in the movie biz, the actor found decent success on the stage. He did carve out a small place for himself in the overall Hollywood firmament with strong appearances in Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), Nic Ray’s They Live by Night (1949), and Luchino Visconti’s Senso (1954), but we will always remember him as the cocky but hapless Guy, a bit more than a mere stranger on a train,  quivering impotently with anger and frustration (and a deep blotch of black guilt) as Bruno’s dancing eyes gaze upon him trapped in the frame of Hitchcock’s accusatory lens.