Director of Philanthropy Carter Hedberg recommends the film Strangers on a Train, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, based on the book by Patricia Highsmith.
Can you imagine being a writer and having your first published novel made into a major motion picture, much less a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock! That’s the case with one of my favorite authors, Patricia Highsmith. Her first novel, Strangers on a Train, was adapted for the big screen and released in 1951. I recently watched it again and rediscovered what a captivating and ingenious film it was. Even movie critic legend Roger Ebert ranks it in his top five best Hitchcock movies.
The stage is now set for a tense and riveting cinematic journey that leads to a dramatic and very Hitchcockian conclusion at an amusement park.
This thriller noir begins when amateur tennis star Guy Haines, played by Farley Granger, meets engaging well-to-do psychopath Bruno Anthony, cunningly portrayed by Robert Walker, on a train between New York and Washington. The strangers strike up a friendly conversation as they have drinks together during the short journey. Bruno is familiar with Guy’s stardom and the stories of his cheating wife, and proposes a plan that he views as mutually beneficial. He suggests that he kills Guy’s wife, and the tennis star takes care of Bruno’s hated father—eliminating two troublesome people from their lives.
Guy smiles and humors Bruno, but when the train arrives at the final destination, he quickly exits and clumsily leaves behind his engraved cigarette lighter. Bruno keeps the lighter as insurance, and then goes on to fulfill his end of the bargain, which he assumed he had struck with Guy.
The stage is now set for a tense and riveting cinematic journey that leads to a dramatic and very Hitchcockian conclusion at an amusement park. The first-rate cast is rounded out by Ruth Roman playing Granger’s sympathetic love interest and Alfred Hitchcock’s daughter, Patricia, as Roman’s younger sister.
Hitchcock was interested in meeting Highsmith and invited her to join him during the filming of the tennis scenes in Forest Hills, New York. Even though she declined the invitation, she wrote in her diary, “He seems to be going . . . mad over my book.” When she finally saw Hitchcock’s version of her book, Highsmith said, “I am pleased in general. Especially with Bruno, who held the movie together as he did in the book.” Indeed, Bruno’s psychopathic and seductive behavior seeps throughout the film like Elmer’s Glue.
Patricia Highsmith never achieved the lofty fame as Alfred Hitchcock, but I find her writing to be clever, engrossing, and often deliciously dark. Strangers on a Train was only the first of several of her books to be made into films. Probably the most famous included her 1955 novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, which was made into the successful 1999 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, and Jude Law. And writing under the pseudonym of Claire Morgan, Highsmith published the lesbian themed novel, The Price of Salt, in 1952, which was republished 38 years later as Carol under her own name and later adapted into the acclaimed 2015 film starring Cate Blanchette and Rooney Mara.
I invite you to learn more about this accomplished, elusive, and enigmatic author. You can check out the well-respected and exhaustive biography by Joan Schenkar, The Talented Miss Highsmith, as well as the film and book versions of Strangers on a Train from The Community Library . . . and perhaps Patricia Highsmith will no longer be a stranger to you!