Filmsite Movie Review
Strangers on a Train (1951)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

In his dark apartment, tuxedo-wearing Guy (without his jacket) opened a brown-paper wrapped package from Bruno - inside was a gun. When his doorbell buzzed, he hid the contents in his top dresser drawer. Hennessey arrived to escort him to a formal, high-society cocktail party held on Thursday evening in Senator Morton's mansion. It was the night before Guy's Forest Hills tennis match. [Note: Hennessy was on a 16-hour shift to trail Guy, followed by an 8-hour graveyard relief shift by a second officer, the more suspicious "bloodhound" Detective Hammond (John Doucette).]

At the extravagant reception party, the troubled Anne nervously looked around as Guy fumbled with his cocktail glass. The presumably-uninvited Bruno was spotted in a doorway and rushed over to Guy, but was refused a hand-shake. Bruno proceeded on to meet and greet Anne, who introduced him to her father in the line. Bruno forced himself upon the dumbfounded Senator Morton and insisted they have lunch together, so he could express more weird comments about energy sources and other similarly unusual ideas:

I'd like to talk with you sometime, sir, and tell you about my idea for harnessing a life force. It'll make atomic power look like the horse and buggy. I'm already developing my faculty for seeing millions of miles. And, Senator, can you imagine being able to smell a flower on the planet Mars?

After he moved on, the Senator inquired of Anne who had invited him (the Darvilles?), and regarded Bruno as having "an unusual personality." Then by butting in to talk with other party guests, Bruno insolently questioned dignified Judge Donohue (Charles Meredith) how could be so "impersonal" and self-righteous when trying, convicting, and sentencing a murderer to death:

After you've sentenced a man to the chair, isn't it difficult to go out and eat your dinner after that?

The judge responded with a matter-of-fact legal answer: "When a murderer is caught, he must be tried. When he is convicted, he must be sentenced. When he is sentenced to death, he must be executed," and then added that it rarely happened. Bruno gloated that "so few murderers are caught."

Bruno spoke further about murder to two elderly, rich matronly guests: Mrs. Cunningham (Norma Varden) and Mrs. Anderson (Laura Treadwell), when the former matron claimed: "I'm not interested in murder." At his cunning best (after years of manipulative experience with his own mother), Bruno would prove her wrong. He semi-seriously joked that everyone has thoughts of murder or of disposing of someone: "Everyone has somebody that they'd want to put out of the way." He asked how the two indulgent women would hypothetically kill their husbands, and they innocently obliged with complicit and desired guilty thoughts. The two proposed murder by gun or poison, but those methods were dismissed as too messy or slow. Mrs. Cunningham was even goaded into admitting an even more macabre method, described with giggles:

I can take him out in the car and when we get to a very lonely spot, knock him on the head with a hammer, pour gasoline over him and over the car and set the whole thing ablaze.

Bruno then offered his own superior form of homicide: "the best way" with "the best tools" - "simple, silent and quick." He demonstrated how he could simply murder someone via strangulation, 'borrowing' Mrs. Cunningham's neck for his simulation. [Note: this was the film's second strangulation, with another glimpse of Bruno's clenched, murderous hands.] As Bruno showed off his technique, he spotted Babs observing him with horror from behind (she was again functioning as Miriam's doppelganger with spectacles). He fixated on her face a second time - lost control, and began to uncontrollably choke the woman, as he experienced a second troubling flashback to the night of the murder.

  • a repeat of the leitmotif of the calliope music
  • a close-up of Bruno strangling the woman
  • a zooming close-up to Bab's face
  • a full-screen zooming close-up of Bruno's staring face
  • sounds of sobbing, and a close-up of the woman's neck with Bruno's grasping hands

As other hands reached in to release Bruno's hold on Mrs. Cunningham's neck, his eyes closed as in a swooning trance. He passed out and fainted to the floor, and only then did he loosen his grip on the traumatized woman's throat. When Bruno returned to consciousness in the study-library where he had been carried, he told Guy a prophetic foreshadowing of the film's conclusion:

I was on a merry-go-round somewhere. It made me dizzy.

Guy was incensed and called him a "mad, crazy maniac." He ordered Bruno out of his life, and then angrily punched him (seen from two close-up POVs). And then Guy led Bruno outside to his awaiting chauffeured ride. Shortly later, the visibly-troubled Barbara recalled to Anne that she felt like she had been the strangulation victim:

He looked at me. His hands were on her throat, and he was strangling me....He was looking at her first. Then, he looked over at me. He went into a sort of a trance. Oh, it was horrible! He thought he was murdering me! [As Babs removed her spectacles, Anne noticed them and became suspicious, as the calliope-music played again.] But why me, Anne? Why me? What did I have to do with it?

Outside the mansion's front door, Anne approached Guy who had just put Bruno into his car. She suspected that Bruno had been maliciously involved with Guy regarding Miriam's murder, and that Babs was a trigger to the murder - becoming a look-alike for Guy's glasses-wearing dead wife. She confronted Guy to tell her the truth of his involvement with Bruno, after a series of insightful, damning questions:

  • You didn't meet him for the first time the other day, did you, Guy?
  • Did you notice how he stared at Barbara then?
  • What did Miriam look like?
  • What else? She wore glasses, didn't she, Guy?
  • She looked something like Barbara, didn't she?
  • How did you get him to do it?
  • He killed Miriam, didn't he? Tell me, didn't he?

He confessed to her about the "strangers on the train" bargain on the train to Metcalf ("he had some crazy scheme about exchanging murders - I'd do his murder, he'd do mine"), and Bruno's subsequent murder of Miriam. Guy didn't seem to take any personal responsibility or acknowledge his own guilt. Anne was astounded: "What do you mean - your murder, Guy?" Then, Guy admitted that he was expected to fulfill his part of the scheme: "And now, a lunatic wants me to kill his father." Sensibly, Anne wondered why he didn't report the murder the first night to the police, but Guy explained how he was trapped, felt guilty and implicated:

And have them say what you did? 'Mr. Haines, how did you get him to do it?' And Bruno would say we planned it together.

Anne and Guy proceeded to work together to prevent Guy from being framed. As they talked, Hennessey was intently watching them from across the street. When Hennessey changed shifts with Hammond, he told him: "Somethin' funny's goin' on."

To avoid dragging anyone else into his personal dilemma, Guy desperately phoned Bruno from his DC apartment, and quickly confirmed that he was ready to kill his father that very evening with the gun (from his drawer). He suggested that Bruno vacate the house and not return until daylight the next morning, before quickly hanging up. After evading Hammond by taking his apartment's second-floor rear fire escape, Guy proceeded to Arlington, VA where he crossed over the home's vast front lawn in the moonlight, and entered the front door. Once inside, he viewed Bruno's hand-drawn map with a flashlight (a circular dot of light followed directional arrows up to the father's bedroom), and tensely climbed the stairs. On the stairs landing, a menacing, growling guard dog mastiff sat alert - causing Guy (and the audience) a moment of pause. But then the dog turned docile and began to lick Guy's hand.

Inside the father's bedroom down an upstairs hallway, he began speaking to a dark figure sitting on the bed, assuming it to be Mr. Antony: "Mr. Antony. Don't be alarmed. But I must talk to you about your son, about Bruno, Mr. Antony." The light switched on - revealing Bruno on the bed. He had questioned Guy's "sudden decision" during the rapid phone call (and hadn't been able to tell Guy that his father was away), and had anticipated Guy's duplicity and pretense. Guy explained how he had planned to double-cross Bruno by informing the father of his lunatic son's murderous psychosis. He relinquished the door key and the gun, and vowed that he never agreed to take part in the arranged reciprocal murder.

When Guy failed to persuade Bruno to seek psychiatric help or treatment on his own ("You're terribly sick"), he then claimed ignorant self-awareness about everything: "I don't know much about these things" - one of Guy's prevailing traits. Bruno was angered by the double-cross. He grabbed the gun and threatened to punish Guy for betraying him and his friendship, and for not reciprocating the bargain:

I have a murder on my conscience, but it's not my murder, Mr. Haines -- it's yours. And since you're the one to profit by it, I think you should be the one to pay for it.

As Guy walked out declaring that there was "nothing further to discuss," Bruno followed him down the stairs to the landing, with his gun pointed at Guy's back. Determined to make Guy eventually pay a hefty price, Bruno menacingly bragged about how his own diabolic cleverness would seek vengeance: "Don't worry. I'm not going to shoot you, Mr. Haines. It might disturb Mother. I'm a very clever fellow. I'll think of something better than that. Much better."

Later, the two detectives (Hennessey and Hammond) on the street discussed how Guy had inexplicably disappeared in the middle of the night and had returned at 3:25 am. When on his night shift, Hammond realized that Guy had been gone when his phone rang incessantly for half-an-hour so he asked a janitor to open up the vacated apartment. There was "nothing conclusive" on Haines to place him at Miriam's murder scene, but their suspicions were multiplied.

The next morning, the prim and smartly-dressed Anne began to conduct her own examination of Bruno, and took it upon herself (without Guy's knowledge) to visit with Bruno's mother in her home. She told Mrs. Antony of Bruno's involvement in a murder and attempted to convince her to help Guy out: "Don't you see that just one word from him would get Guy out of this dreadfuI situation?" However, the doting, disbelieving, giggling mother didn't take any of the accusations seriously, although she did admit that Bruno sometimes went "too far," was "terribly irresponsible," and had been involved in various "escapades," but she ultimately interpreted everything as a "practical joke." Anne came right out with a very clear accusation: "Don't you understand, Mrs. Antony -- your son is responsible for a woman's death," but Mrs. Antony excused herself from any further discussion.

Then, more doubts were raised in Anne's mind when Bruno, who appeared in his dressing gown, confirmed that his mother was probably unhelpful and also "confused." Bruno was upset that Guy had become very desperate because of his integral involvement in the murder. Bruno falsely claimed and accused Guy of dropping his own monogrammed lighter at the scene of the crime where he had killed Miriam, and had asked Bruno to join him in retrieving it. It was the "one piece of evidence" that would tie Guy to the murder:

He's been leading you up the garden path, I'm afraid. He must be very desperate to try to involve me. I've been protecting him ever since that conversation on the train when he told me how much he hated his wife. But do you know, Miss Morton, that he tried to get me to go back to the island one night after dark to pick up his lighter so that the police wouldn't find it? He dropped it there, you know, when - well, that night. You see, all the police are waiting for is one piece of evidence to convict Guy of the murder. It's had me so worried. But of course, I couldn't do it, you understand. I mean, it would be too risky. And besides, it would make me an accessory!

[Note: First however, Bruno had to plant the lighter on "Magic Isle" in order to complete the frame-up; Anne and Guy were determined to prevent Bruno from carrying out his plan.]

Just before Guy's scheduled tennis tournament single's match at the US Open at Forest Hills Stadium (in Queens, a borough in New York City), he and Anne sat in the stadium's cafe. They both realized that Bruno's plan was to frame Guy by planting his lighter as evidence later that night at the amusement park, to blame him for the murder of his promiscuous wife Miriam. Guy refused to break off his match and immediately travel to Metcalf to prevent Bruno from carrying out his plan, because it might cause undue suspicion. He decided to play his fifth-seeded tournament single's match against Fred Reynolds (Jack Cushingham, an actual pro tennis athlete) - two cut-throat ace professionals. If he could win in three quick sets, he would be able to evade police (with Babs' and Anne's help) after the match, and reach Metcalf in time to prevent Bruno from planting his incriminating lighter after dark on the park's "Magic Isle." To intensify the suspense, Guy knew that if he didn't win the match in three straight sets, he might not be able to reach Metcalf in time.

In the bright sunshine on a hot day, Guy struggled to win as quickly as possible - he was literally playing against the clock (the stadium clock was frequently viewed). As the game proceeded, Bruno boarded a cab from his home to DC's Union Station. The sports radio commentator noticed that Guy - normally "a quiet, methodicaI player, almost lackadaisicaI," had completely abandoned his normally cautious approach. Now, he was playing with a "reversal" of his "usual watch and wait" strategy, as he slashed aggressively and attacked the net. Guy's new game play appeared to be working and he easily won the first two sets, but then lost the third one due to his opponent's comeback - unnecessarily prolonging the game. Guy was actually struggling against four adversaries - his tennis opponent, Bruno, the police and the clock - in a life-altering struggle.

Meanwhile, Bruno was traveling to Metcalf, where as he disembarked from the train, he accidentally dropped the lighter down a dark sewer drain grating when a man bumped into him on the street corner. There was tense cross-cutting in a bravura sequence between the spectators watching the conclusion of the "dogfight" tennis match between the two fierce competitors, and the simultaneous scene of a panicked Bruno's struggle to retrieve the film's crucial object - Guy's cigarette lighter. Bruno frantically begged help from a uniformed man and local onlookers and bystanders who were anxious to help him recover his valuable family heirloom. With a close-up of his extended fingers, he strained to reach down into the sewer drain, where the lighter rested on debris, including wet leaves. Ultimately, Bruno reached the object, prompting a great sigh of relief, and then proceeded to run off to the entrance to the amusement park.

At the same time, Guy completed his close match after a victory, and began his pursuit of Bruno - to stop him from planting evidence after sunset. With assistance from the wily Barbara (who dropped her open compact and facial powder all over Hennessey's suit), Guy evaded the two distracted police officers, rushed to an awaiting taxi at the entrance (earlier arranged by Babs, with his change of clothes inside), and was driven to Penn Station in NYC to board a train to Metcalf. The two detectives commandeered a limousine (carrying an older lady) to follow, and at the station, the two learned from the ticket agent that Guy was heading to Metcalf. They decided to phone chief of police Captain Turley in Metcalf to trail Guy once he arrived ("We'll let them take over at that end").

In the finale, Bruno entered the amusement park and while waiting for darkness to fall, he attempted to blend into the crowd. He loitered close to the Tunnel-of-Love ticket line to take a boat to Magic Isle. Guy was also nervously noticing the sun setting as his delayed train made its way to Metcalf. (He noticed one passenger accidentally strike another with his shoe - uncomfortably reminding him of his first encounter with Bruno). Standing in line, Bruno was recognized by the Boat man, who went to inform the police. Guy arrived in a cab from the train station where he was staked out by the authorities as he proceeded into the park, just as the Boat man pointed out Bruno for the police - but they misinterpreted and thought he was pointing at Guy. As Guy called out to Bruno and the two both fled from the police and jumped onto the park's carousel, the merry-go-round operator was accidentally shot by the clueless police aiming at Guy. The man fell on the ride's controls, sending the revolving and careening whirligig out of control (it tossed off the detectives when they tried to board the spinning platform).

While Guy and Bruno fought and wrestled aboard the wildly-speeding, runaway carousel for possession of the lighter, the cops gathered around and observed them. Other hysterical riders screamed at the terrifying, dizzying speed of the ride. The Boatman vaguely identified Bruno as their suspect: "He's the one, he's the one who killed her!" A second elderly carnival worker (Harry Hines) began to crawl under the revolving carousel to reach the controls. Every slow and painstaking move of the veteran employee was over-emphasized, to stretch out the excruciating tension. In a short vignette during their struggle and the old man's attempt to stop the carousel, a little boy on one of the horses, who tried to help Guy by striking at Bruno, was violently shoved and almost tumbled off the edge of the carousel. Guy risked his life to rescue the boy, and then was almost kicked off by Bruno, as he held on for dear life. The galloping hooves of the ride's painted wooden horses threatened to stomp and trample both Guy and Bruno as they struggled on the platform. Underneath the carousel, the old man paused to wipe his mouth.

Finally, the elderly worker rose up in the center of the ride and pulled the central stop lever, causing the gears to strip. The entire mechanism broke apart, spun off-kilter, and literally exploded into pieces before coming to a halt. Riders were tossed off and the wreckage was massive. The Boat man clarified for Captain Turley that he had never seen Guy before - he specified that it was the "other one" (Bruno) who had been at the park and had committed the murder.

Bruno was lethally injured when crushed beneath the structure, but he overheard Guy's accusations made against him to Captain Turley, that he was planting Guy's lighter at the scene of the crime:

He has my cigarette lighter. He wanted to plant it there on the island, to pin the whole thing on me. Let me talk to him. Let me show you.

As Bruno died, he remained unrepentant - he attempted to deny the charges and pin the crime on Guy. He claimed that he didn't have the lighter, but that Guy did ("I haven't got it. It's on the island where you left it"). Ultimately, however, Bruno was confirmed to be guilty when his clenched hand relaxed and opened to reveal Guy's lighter. Captain Turley declared Guy exonerated: "Well, you were right...We'll clear the whole thing up in the morning." As Guy walked off with the Boat man to a payphone to call Anne, he was asked about the dead man, to which he replied with Bruno's braggadocio term for himself: "Bruno Antony. A very clever fellow."

An enlarged close-up of a telephone began ringing. It was picked up by an expectant Anne who learned the jubilant news that Guy had been cleared and would be allowed to return to Washington, DC the next day, after submitting to questioning in the morning in Metcalf.

[Note: It was unusual for a Hitchcock film to have an alternate ending version. His only other film with an alternate ending (three endings, in fact) was Topaz (1969).]

In the film's comic epilogue (in the American version only), Guy and Anne were finally together, without any more looming threats from Bruno or other interferences. They were sitting hand in hand in a train's lounge car when a kindly, pipe-smoking minister (Dick Ryan) (and sports fan) asked him if he was Guy Haines ("I beg your pardon, but aren't you Guy Haines?"). The minister's question reiterated the same one asked by Bruno in the film's opening. Spooked and not wanting to repeat the scenario or risk anything else, the untrusting and paranoid Guy hurriedly turned and walked away with Anne, while the minister gave them a puzzled look.

[Note: It was indeed ironic that a minister figure - who could tie the knot for the couple in a marriage ceremony - was essentially rejected.]

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