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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Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

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