‘Strangers on a Train,’ Another Hitchcock Venture, Arrives at the Warner Theatre
It appears that Alfred Hitchcock is fascinated with the Svengali theme, as well as with his own dexterity in performing macabre tricks. His last picture, “Rope,” will be remembered as a stunt (which didn’t succeed) involving a psychopathic murderer who induced another young man to kill for thrills. Now, in his latest effort, called “Strangers on a Train,” which served to reopen the Strand Theatre last night under its new name, the Warner, Mr. Hitchcock again is tossing a crazy murder story in the air and trying to con us into thinking that it will stand up without support.
And again his instigator of evil is a weirdly unbalanced young man who almost succeeds in enmeshing a young tennis star in a murder plot. This time the two individuals meet by seeming chance on a train, making what appears a devious journey from Washington to New York. And before the trip is over, the Svengali has hatched a scheme whereby he will do a murder for the athlete if the athlete will do one for him.
As a matter of fact, he doesn’t even wait for the tennis star to agree to the scheme—or even to show an interest in it. He just goes out and murders the athlete’s wife. And then he fast-talks the poor, scared fellow into thinking that he is somehow involved and keeping him in a state of terror and grave anxiety until the end of the film.
Perhaps there will be those in the audience who will likewise be terrified by the villain’s darkly menacing warnings and by Mr. Hitchcock’s sleekly melodramatic tricks. Certainly, Mr. Hitchcock is the fellow who can pour on the pictorial stuff and toss what are known as “touches” until they’re flying all over the screen. From the slow, stalking murder of a loose girl in a tawdry amusement park to a “chase” and eventual calamity aboard a runaway merry-go-round, the nimble director keeps piling “touch” and stunt upon “touch.” Indeed, his desire to produce them appears his main impulse in this film.
But, for all that, his basic premise of fear fired by menace is so thin and so utterly unconvincing that the story just does not stand. And the actors, as much as they labor, do not convey any belief—at least, not to this observer, who will give a Hitchcock character plenty of rope. Robert Walker as the diabolic villain is a caricature of silken suavity and Farley Granger plays the terrified catspaw (as he did in “Rope”) as though he were contantly swallowing his tongue. Ruth Roman holds herself in solemn tension as, the latter’s hopeful fiancée and Patricia Hitchcock, the daughter of the director, bounces about like a bespectacled tennis ball as the sister of Miss Roman and a convenience to the paternal “touch.” Leo G. Carroll and Laura Elliott are others who jump and jig according to how Mr. Hitchcock arbitrarily yanks on the strings.
Also, it might be mentioned that there are a few inaccuracies in this film that may cause some knowing observers considerable skeptical pause—such as the evidence that you get to the Washington Union Station by going into Virginia over the Memorial Bridge. Also a purist might question how a tennis star could race around Washington half the night and then win three grueling sets of tennis in a Forest Hills tourney the next day.
Frankly, we feel that Mr. Hitchcock is “touching” us just a bit too much and without returning sufficient recompense in the sensation line.
Bosley Crowther, NY Times, July 4, 1951
Subtitles:English, Spanish, French