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One of the Greatest Thrillers of All Time: Hitchcock Presents Highsmith!,
This review is from: Strangers on a Train (Two-Disc Special Edition) (DVD)
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN is a wonderful thriller. I am always amazed at the amount of suspense and tension that Hitchcock is able to create in each of his movies. What passes for "thrillers" these days has none of the heart or excitement of his films and this picture is one of his best. Moreover, if you enjoy Patricia Highsmith's novels (or the films that have been made from them), you will love this film. Highsmith seems to have a flair for giving us extremely creepy, psychopathic murderers. Yet, at the same time, she manages to breathe life into Bruno Anthony (played by Robert Walker). Of course, he is an amoral, calculating murderer (as many of her villains are), yet we come to sympathize with him in strange ways. Regarding the "homoerotic" content of his performance, I agree with other reviewers who say that it is so subtle as to be completely negligible: one could either chalk up his behavior to homoerotic feelings he has for Guy, or you could simply pass it off as the deranged actions of a mad man. In any case, while it may add depth to his character, it is certainly not necessary for delving into this film (or enjoying it).
The plot is rather simple: two strangers meet on a train and one of them casually proposes that they each "swap" murders. Neither of them would have a motive for killing each other's "nuisance" and it would solve both of their problems. The only trouble is, only one of the strangers is a psychopath with any murderous intentions. When Bruno completes his end of the "bargain," he leaves Guy in a tough spot: since Guy is the only one with a motive it appears that Guy himself is guilty of the crime. The rest of the film is a game of cat & mouse between Bruno and Guy and the storytelling is absolutely phenomenal.
As always, Hitchcock is at the top of his game. I found myself just marveling at the angles and the composition in this film. His use of lighting (and, of course, the absence of lighting) is absolutely perfect. Hitchcock could tell an entire story just with his choice of lighting and shadows. There is also the famous "tennis" shot, in which the entire audience is flipping their heads back and forth, keeping up with the game. All of the heads, that is, except for one: Bruno's. His steady gaze is fixed upon Guy's position, burning a hole in his chest. It is absolutely perfect.
As you can probably tell, I'm a big fan of Hitchcock. But even if you are not a huge fan, I think you owe it to yourself to see STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. It is widely regarded as one of his best films and it should have a broad appeal. One word to the wise: make sure you buy a good transfer of this film (such as this set). Many of Hitchcock's films have been horribly transferred onto cheaper DVD's (and it shows).