Strangers on a Train
Filmmakers have wasted their time remaking Hitchcock. Films such as Dial M for Murder (1954) (as A Perfect Murder) and Psycho (1960) paled in comparison to the originals. Last night, however, while watching Strangers on a Train (1951), I thought to myself, “I would really like to see this film remade.” I don’t believe I have ever thought that about any film before, but with the right director, screenwriter and actors, I actually think that a remake could be better than the original. (Wait a second… hear that rumbling sound? That’s Hitchcock rolling over in his grave.) IMDb says that a remake is in the works, but a quick investigation on the internet revealed that is remake has been promised since 2005.I also stumbled upon rumors about remakes of Vertigo, North by Northwest, Notorious, and The Birds. Regarding these rumors, I’ll adapt the attitude that one should always have regarding Hitchcock: I’ll believe it when I see it. Otherwise, you end up thinking Mrs. Bates is still alive just because you were shown a shadowy figure in the window.
The premise of Strangers on a Train is clever: two strangers meet on a train and “exchange murders” in order to do away with motive. I found the movement from the initial suggestion of plot to the actual action to be impatient. Bruno, the mentally unstable stranger who suggests the plan, is far more complex and interesting than his counterpart. Bruno’s pathology could be pushed even further, however, by dramatizing his relationship with his father—the man who is probably responsible for Bruno’s warped attitudes in the first place. This added level of psychological complexity would ease the transition from the conversation on the train to Bruno’s decision to murder Guy’s wife, without relying heavily on the audience to infer the connection.
Guy, on the other hand, is relatively untroubled and maintains a clean conscience throughout. His evil side, the side that wanted his wife dead in the first place, is never seriously explored. Rather, the film implicitly relies on the assumption that his wife does deserve to die simply because she was a plain looking, conniving floozy. This assumption is established in the scene when Guy goes to visit Miriam at her work, whereupon she refuses to divorce him even though she was the one who requested the divorce in the first place. She is immediately irritating and unrefined, unlike Guy’s girl friend Anne, who is significantly more beautiful and graceful than Miriam. At one point, Bruno even says that Anne is a “step up” from Miriam. Without further explanation, Anne’s class and beauty render her ethical, just, and ultimately more deserving of life.
Miriam’s unattractiveness is both created and subsequently reinforced by her glasses, the lenses of which are as thick as the bottom of a bottle of Champagne. Guy stares into these glasses as he strangles her, and after her death, her glasses systematically come to signify her murder. The murder itself is filmed as a reflection in her glasses, which have fallen to the ground, creating a deliberate association between the object and the act. (As a side note, this shot is pure Hitchcock, and could never be done better than it was on the first go around.)
Later, when Bruno meets Anne’s little sister Barbara, he flashes back to her glasses, which are eerily similar to Miriam’s. In an instant, he is once again at scene of the crime, reliving the murder in his mind. When Barbara’s glasses cause a flashback for a second time, they prompt Anne to figure out Bruno’s involvement in Miriam’s death. The glasses reflect the action, recall victim, and finally, solve the case. Thusly, the glasses act as a more than a symbol of Miriam’s inferiority; they become symbol of the most important aspects of her death, the thing that the very premise of the film sought to do away with: the motive.
Bruno was caught because he was not able to sweep the motive under the carpet. In a way, Strangers on a Train also attempts to disguise the motive as something other than it is. I managed to watch the entire film without an ounce of sympathy for Miriam or remorse for her death. Only after the film ended and I began to reflect on weakness with which a remake would have to grapple, did realize that the film treats her as disposable. Just like Bruno says in the beginning, “What’s a life or two? Some people deserve to die.” Especially people who aren't so good looking.