Film Noir · Thriller

Bruno Anthony’s Reliance on Public Transportation

Robert Walker (left) flirts with wayward Laura Elliott. Image:
Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker, left) toys with Miriam (Laura Elliott). Image: The Assommoir

One of our favourite on-screen performances is Robert Walker‘s turn as the psychopath Bruno Anthony in Alfred Hitchcock‘s Strangers on a Train (1951).

Walker is electrifying as the spoiled, too-smart-for-his-own-good Anthony, a man with a slippery, non-stick charisma that easily deflects criticism. Even his rare flashes of anger are charmingly displaced by a mischievous smile and an amusing it’s-not-my-fault demeanour. There isn’t a situation Bruno Anthony can’t schmooze his way out of.

Strangers on a Train begins on the train from New York to Washington, DC, where Anthony finds himself sitting across from tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger). Not only does he recognize Haines, Anthony shows himself to be really interested in – and unusually knowledgeable about – Haines and his troubled personal life.

It’s during lunch in his private compartment that Anthony casually proposes a plan for murder. He prefaces it with the statement: “I’ve got a theory that you should do everything before you die.” It’s obvious Anthony’s been chewing on the subject of murder for a while – his presentation to Haines is like a well-crafted sales pitch, sans the PowerPoint graphs.

He suggests they both could benefit from murder: Haines could be rid of his philandering wife (Laura Elliott); while Anthony would be free of his father and his irksome Why Don’t You Get A Job speeches.

To make the plan foolproof, suggests Anthony, they should swap murders. Anthony would take care of Haines’ wife, while Haines would handle Anthony’s father. “Criss cross,” says Anthony cheerfully, as though they were swapping tennis racquets.

Haines is perturbed by this idea but, curiously, offers no vehement objection. Instead, he humours Anthony, who interprets this as compliance.

Strangers on a Train is an utterly fascinating movie. The first time we watched it, we could hardly sit still because we found the tension almost overwhelming. Because he’s so clever, it’s nearly impossible to outsmart Bruno Anthony. It’s as though he’s a super villain with access to unlimited resources.

Which begs the question: If Bruno Anthony is so rich, why is he always taking public transportation?

Robert Walker (centre) tries to sell Farley Granger on murder. Image: lsdkjf
Bruno Anthony ingratiates himself with a fellow passenger (Farley Granger). Image: Best Actor

Strangers on a Train ought to be a public service announcement for mass transportation. Characters are forever getting on and off trains or buses, and in and out of taxis. In one scene, Hitchcock makes a point of showing Anthony walking around the cars parked in his driveway, only to climb into a taxi.

Come to think of it, why does Anthony go anywhere? He has no friends, no job, no charity work to occupy his time. He doesn’t even go to a salon for his manicures; his mother happily provides that service at home. (A subject best left for another time.)

Bruno Anthony has a difficult relationship with the world. He has a low opinion of his fellow man, except, ironically, for ambitious individuals who have Achieved Something In Life. He’s virtually friendless and unemployable – but even he needs a purpose.

To someone like Anthony, public transportation provides the perfect arena to browse through people, evaluate them, and corner them. Because in between stops, no one’s getting off alive. Passengers are stuck – trapped, if you will. So Anthony can leisurely choose whom he’ll glom onto for his latest “project”.

Strangers on a Train is based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, and is a Must See for train aficionados and/or those wanting a mesmerizing performance by the underrated Robert Walker.

Strangers on a Train: starring Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Raymond Chandler & Czenzi Ormonde. Warner Bros., 1951, B&W, 101 mins.

This post is part of the Planes, Trains & Automobiles Blogathon hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association. Click HERE to see the other fab entries.

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30 thoughts on “Bruno Anthony’s Reliance on Public Transportation

  1. If you were taking a film course in college, I could easily envision a paper on how Bruno uses public transportation because it “provides the perfect arena to browse through people, evaluate them, and corner them.” That’s a brilliant theme! Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful post. Yes – Bruno gets to mingle yet keep apart. He is the perfect commuter. I just caught this the other day on TCM. It always amazes me how brilliant this film is (despite Farley Granger) and just how awesome Walker’s Bruno is.

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  3. Excellent post about a fascinating film. The film is a real favourite of mine despite having reservations prior to watching it, I had already been blown away by the book and so often we are disappointed by film of books we love. As for Bruno he strikes me as a lonely guy using public transport as an arena for meeting people. I would imagine a guy like him would have shared his scheme with plenty of strangers on trains before finding one as malleable as Guy Haines.

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  4. As a lifestyle transit user, Bruno’s lack of a vehicle always seemed perfectly normal to me. I observe that cars seem to need an awful lot of care and attention. They almost seem to take over some people’s lives. That would be too much competition for Bruno’s self-absorption.

    It is something to consider the next time I watch the movie, and there is always a next time. As you say, Robert Walker is electrifying.

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    1. True, driving would compete with Bruno’s obsession with himself, but I always wondered why he didn’t employ a chauffeur.

      Isn’t Robert Walker amazing as Bruno? I never tire of his performance. I hope to see this on the big screen someday.

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  5. I’m going to guess that Bruno used public transportation because his father took away his car keys and/or driver’s license and cut off his access to the family chauffeur. I’d always thought Bruno wanted his dad murdered because the man was on the verge of having him committed. Maybe not, maybe it was all about being forced to get around on public transportation. We assume Bruno was tracking Guy’s movements and maneuvered their “accidental” meeting on the train. Stalking would have been so much easier if he’d had access to a car…

    Really enjoyed your post!

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  6. Great post. Your title made me LOL. I had never thought of it before, but public transportation gave Bruno the perfect opportunity to be a “creeper” (that’s what my grandma used to call strangers who bugged you in public).

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  7. I saw this movie not too long ago, and I can totally relate to you not being able to sit still due to the tension of the movie. Robert Walker is so disturbing in this. Now I want to see it again so I can notice all the public transportation in the movie. I completely missed that. That is why you are the movie reviewer and I am a food blogger (although I think you could easily do both)! 🙂 The movie sure does make you think twice about getting on a train or other public transportation, that’s for sure! Great post, Ruth!

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  8. One of my all-time favorite movies and most of your questions never even occurred to me! Fantastic look at a forever classic that never fails to stir. And I love your “non-stick charisma” and overall description of Bruno. I must agree Walker knocked it out of the park with this one.

    Aurora

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  9. Very interesting perspective on this film. It really is a good question to ask (i.e., why Robert Walker’s character is always taking public transportation when he’s so rich).

    Tam

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  10. While North by Northwest is King of the Mountain of Hitchcock films in our house, Strangers on a Train is ever nipping at its heels.

    Here’s a link to my review of this classic –

    http://doriantb.blogspot.com/2010/10/lovers-and-other-stranglers-alfred.html

    The media recently reported that Ben Affleck is working with David Fincher that are working on a remake of the film, with all the juicy homoerotic subtext (that author Patricia Highsmith was rightly known for) left in. Hubby has been campaigning for Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory to get the role of Bruno. As Robert Walker was best known for playing nice guy types before this film, he feels Parsons could make the same surprising move to heavy in the same role.

    Gotta give a shout out to baby-faced scene stealer Pat Hitchcock – She’s always a delight whenever she shows up in one of Daddy’s projects.

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    1. I heard about the remake, and it would be interesting to see Jim Parsons in the role of Bruno. I think your hubby is right – Parsons would likely do a fab job. But no one can replace Robert Walker in my mind! 🙂

      I’ll drop by your blog and check out your review. Thanks!

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  11. Great review Silver Screenings. In film noir (and with Hitchcock), train transportaion changed from its former symbolism of escape and freedom to its new terrain of claustrophobia with bad charachters and one-way tickets to a bad end. This one is sets a standard.

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