Plot: What’s it about?
Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) is a vicious, maniacal man, someone who would kill his own father, if not for the consequences. In fact, he would love to knock off his old man, as he despises him and wishes he were out of the picture. Bruno does love his mother and with good reason, as she spoils him and makes sure all of his wants are fulfilled. So in order to remove his father, whom he sees as a thorn in his side, Bruno would love to have him murdered. But he has a motive and would need an alibi, all of which is too dangerous to risk his pampered lifestyle. On a train ride however, Bruno thinks he has found the perfect way to have his father killed, as another passenger is in a situation similar to his own. That man is Guy Haines (Farley Granger), a well known tennis star who is in love with the daughter of a U.S. Senator. The trouble is, Haines is married to another woman and one that is pregnant with another man’s child, no less. Bruno knows the situation and approaches Haines about a potential agreement, a lethal agreement. While Bruno is with peolpe to have an alibi, Haines will kill his father, then Haines will be somewhere else when Bruno kills his wife, a pact that wouldn’t pose either as suspects. The plan seems foolproof, but will Haines agree to the blood pact and if so, will the plot go off without a hitch?
This is not one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best known works, at least not within casual viewers, but it is one of his best motion pictures. That is an extreme compliment, given the depth and excellence of Hitchcock’s film career. Strangers on a Train is classic Hitchcock, all of his trademark elements are on deck and not just that, they all work to perfection. Hitchock weaves this movie like he had something to prove and that could have been the case, as his previous few films had left audiences cold, so a return to form was in order. In response, Hitchcock crafted this dark, tense picture that wouldn’t allow viewers to look off screen, even for a moment. The suspense is thick and constant, as we try to guess ahead, only to be proved wrong with twists that are far better than ours, but that is what Hitchcock did best. Hitchcock could always gather an impressive cast and in this film, an actor turns in one of the best performances ever seen in one of his films, but this is was no superstar, just an excellent performer. Robert Walker (Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, The Sea of Grass) isn’t just great in Strangers on a Train, he is incredible. He takes what could have turned into a by the numbers baddie and creates a suave madman. Strangers on a Train is a true classic and with this new two disc Special Edition, we can retire those old discs forever.
Video: How does it look?
Strangers on a Train is presented in full frame, as intended. The previous edition sported a passable transfer, but some restoration work has been done to enhance the visuals. This is not a total restoration, as seen with North by Northwest, but the print has been worked on and the result is terrific. I saw no unintentional grain on the print, while other flaws, such as nicks, marks, or other debris are minimal at worst. The previous transfer wasn’t this clean, but that’s isn’t all, as the image is also sharper and more refined. So softness isn’t an issue, which I am sure some folks were worried about, given some recent digital restoration projects. The black & white visuals shine here, with accurate black levels and a level of depth that I’ve never seen on previous home video editions, so fans should be thrilled. Now if only Warner had given all of their Hitchcock titles this kind of treatment, we’d have more reason to celebrate.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included mono track has some years behind it and sound as such, but still covers the basics well enough in the end. I heard some distortion and harshness at times, but not too much and less than I had expected. No real problems seem to surface here, as the basic sound effects and music come across in decent enough form. I heard no issues with the dialogue either, aside from a couple small flaws that didn’t impact the experience much. This is a limited and dated track, but as far as a mono track from 1942 goes, I’d say this one stands up well enough. This release also includes a French language track on the theatrical version only, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, and French for both versions.
Supplements: What are the extras?
As with the previous release, we have the special preview version of the film, which has a few minutes of added material. But that isn’t all, as the first disc alone houses a crowded audio commentary track and the film’s theatrical trailer. The commentary session includes filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, screenwriter Joseph Stefano, members of Hitchcock’s family, and even Hitch himself, via interview elements, plus a number of additional folks. With such a flood of speakers, no one has time to waste and that means a lot of ground is covered, but no one has enough time to go in depth, which is a disappointment. The second houses more goodies, the best of which is a half hour look inside the production, which includes a wealth of interviews with most, if not all of the folks present in the audio commentary track. Again, there isn’t enough time to go around, but this is still a more than worthwhile inclusion. This release also includes three brief featurettes, as well as vintage newsreel material on Hitchcock.