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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 3/20/01



Strangers on a Train
1951 (1997) - Warner Bros.

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock on DVD

Strangers on a Train Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/C+

Specs and Features

Side One: The Hollywood Version
101 mins, NR, full-frame (1.33:1), double-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, theatrical trailers (for Strangers on a Train, I Confess, Foreign Correspondent, Dial M for Murder and North by Northwest), silent newsreel footage, cast and crew biographies and filmographies, production notes, film-themed menu screens, scene access (33 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 1.0 mono), subtitles: English, French and Spanish

Side Two: The British Version
103 mins, PG, full-frame (1.33:1), double-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, theatrical trailers (for Strangers on a Train, I Confess, Foreign Correspondent, Dial M for Murder and North by Northwest), silent newsreel footage, cast and crew biographies and filmographies, production notes, film-themed menu screens, scene access (33 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 1.0 mono), subtitles: English, French and Spanish


"You do my murder, I'll do yours."

Strangers on a Train starts with that most faithful of crime caper setups - the chance encounter. The setup this go around, as the title would lead you to believe, happens on a passenger train. Wealthy brat Bruno (Robert Walker) takes a seat on the train and immediately recognizes the person sitting across from him as tennis pro Guy Haines (Farley Granger). After Guy casually mentions that he is unhappy because his estranged wife won't grant him a divorce, Bruno makes the above suggestion - "You do my murder, I do yours. Your wife, my father." The flippant suggestion hardly phases Guy and he steps off the train, he all but blows off the conversation. That is... until his wife is found murdered a few days later. It would seem that Bruno strangled her, and now he's hunting Guy down and insisting that he follow through on his end of the bargain. What ensues is a maniacal cat and mouse game that piles one plot twist on top of another.

Strangers on a Train has two of Hitchcock's most remarkable scenes. The first is the death of Guy's wife. It's shown through the reflection of her glasses as they fall from her face and hit the ground. It's an effective and eerie shot, that could have come off as comic or gimmicky in the hands of a lesser director. The other is the film's climax (which I will not describe here so you can discover it for yourself) is spectacular and tense, and is similar in tone to the Mount Rushmore scene in North by Northwest. The two scenes almost bookend the film, but believe me... there's enough excitement in between them to keep your attention. I think this is one of Hitchcock's best films.

What makes this movie so memorable for me is its well-written script. There's a lot of depth to Strangers on a Train, and it does something most thrillers that come out of Hollywood today don't - it assumes the audience has some level of intelligence. It's smart in the way it creates characters that are consistent in their motives, yet surprising in their actions. It never disappoints on any level. The entire cast is good, but Robert Walker is a standout as the creepy, lose-it-at-the-drop-of-a-hat Bruno. He died not long after the movie was completed. Ironically, as good as his performance in this film is, it feels like the kind of overly-defining role that could have cursed the rest of his career. It reminds me a lot of Anthony Perkins' equally disturbing turn in Psycho.

The DVD version of Strangers on a Train presents the film in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. It looks pretty good, but doesn't really offer anything in picture quality that hasn't been seen before this release. The overall quality of the film print is decent, but there are a handful of obvious specks and scratches throughout the film. Picture clarity also isn't as detailed as I would have liked, due to some light grain that hampers the image. But most of the drawbacks to the picture are related to its age, so there isn't too much to complain about outside of that. The sound is a uniform, Dolby Digital 1.0 mono that delivers everything you'd expect from an older soundtrack. A French mono track is also included and it sounds about as good as the English audio.

The best extra on the disc (if you want to call it that) is the British version of the film, which is included on the flip-side of the disc. It runs about 2 minutes longer than the Hollywood version. There's an extended version of Bruno and Guy's train conversation, which lends more insight into the obsessive, brash nature of Bruno's attraction to Guy. It's tame by today's standards, but was controversial enough in 1951 to warrant it getting excised from the film. One the other hand, the Hollywood version has an extended ending which I prefer to the British version. It's only about a minute longer, but ends on a more darkly comic note, similar in tone to some of Hitchcock's later work. The remaining extras on the disc are in the form of production notes and trailers for other Hitchcock films. Aside from Strangers on a Train, you'll also get trailers for I Confess, Foreign Correspondent, Dial M for Murder and North by Northwest. There's also a short bit of newsreel footage (without audio) of Hitchcock promoting the film to "Betsy Ross" and "Thomas Jefferson" at a train stop in Washington D.C. (odd indeed). Not a bad set of features for a great film with a cheap price tag.

Hitchcock didn't delve often into film-noir territory, but Strangers on a Train was definitely a great step in that direction. It was the first of Patricia Highsmith's novels to be adapted to the screen (later examples include The Talented Mr. Ripley), and Hitchcock was a natural choice to direct it. Strangers on a Train is a twisted, depraved little gem of a film and it gets better with each viewing. The Hollywood and the British versions each have something the other doesn't and, thankfully, this DVD has both. That alone makes this DVD worth owning.

Dan Kelly
dankelly@thedigitalbits.com


The Films of Alfred Hitchcock on DVD




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