Strangers on a Train [1951]

From its cleverly choreographed opening sequence to its heart-stopping climax on a rampant carousel, this 1951 Hitchcock classic readily earns its reputation as one of the director's finest examples of timeless cinematic suspense. It's not just a ripping-good thriller but a film student's delight and a perversely enjoyable battle of wits between tennis pro Guy (Farley Granger) and his mysterious, sycophantic admirer, Bruno (Robert Walker), who proposes a "criss-cross" scheme of traded murders. Bruno agrees to kill Guy's unfaithful wife, in return for which Guy will (or so it seems) kill Bruno's spiteful father. With an emphasis on narrative and visual strategy, Hitchcock controls the escalating tension with a master's flair for cinematic design, and the plot (coscripted by Raymond Chandler) is so tightly constructed that you'll be white-knuckled even after multiple viewings. Better still, the two-sided DVD edition of this enduring classic includes both the original version of the film and also the longer prerelease British print, which offers a more overt depiction of Bruno's flamboyant and dangerous personality, and his homoerotic attraction to Guy by way of his deviously indecent proposal. In accordance with the cautious censorship guidelines of the period, Hitchcock would later tame these elements of Walker's memorable performance by trimming and altering certain scenes, so the differences between the original and prerelease versions provide an illuminating illustration of censorship's effect on the story's thematic intensity. Beyond all the historical footnotes and film-buff fascination, Strangers on a Train remains one of Hitchcock's crowning achievements and a suspenseful classic that never loses its capacity to thrill and delight. --Jeff Shannon

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