Daily Dose #13: Criss Cross
Opening Scene from Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951)
1. In how many ways does Hitchcock play with or visually manifest the metaphor of “criss cross” or “criss-crossing” in this introductory sequence. [For those who haven’t seen the film yet, the idea of “criss cross” is central idea in this film, a theme Hitch sets up from the opening frames of this film] Be specific.
This question reminds me of those illustrations where the viewer is asked how many animals can be found? It also brings to mind the “X” direction for scenes where many extras are featured walking through a scene by crossing each others paths in an “X” pattern. Anyway:
the paths the two main characters take entering and walking in the train station would form a criss cross (X) pattern if they were to be placed on top of each other: Robert Walker exits his cab walking from middle frame to the left; Farley Granger is shown doing the same actions from middle frame to the right.
As the train is underway we are shown its POV of the tracks ahead. A large “X” is shown being approached, with the train switching to the rails that go off at angle instead of the ones that were straight ahead. Once that happens a pair of “X”s are shown, followed by another single “X” track line.
In the dining car. Robert Walker is walking from frame right to a chair where he sits crossing his legs forming an “X”. Farley Granger is shown walking in the dining car from frame left to an opposite chair where he sits, crossing his legs to form an “X”.
Robert Walker crosses his hands when he begins conversing with Granger. Then crosses the dining car to sit next to Granger crossing his hands over Granger’s in a hand shake.
2. Even in this brief scene, how does Hitchcock create a sense of contrast between Guy (Farley Granger) and Bruno (Robert Walker)? Consider everything from camera work, to clothing and shoes, to dialogue and speech, for example.
Camera Work - main characters contrasted by being shown moving in opposite directions within the frame and scenes.
Clothing and Shoes - Robert Walker, Bruno, is introduced in “flashy” shoes with an obvious white/black pattern. His suit features a pin stripe pattern that stands out. Farley Granger is introduced in solid colored shoes that almost disappear into matching slacks.In the dining car opposite each other Walker’s clothing is extremely noticeable almost to the point of being gaudy with a tie pin that he apologizes for. Granger wears a conservative dark jacket that blends into a dark vest.
Personal Items - Walker exits his cab with one suitcase, light colored, made of inexpensive weave and worn/frayed around the edges. Granger exits his cab with three items, a suitcase and two tennis racquets. In addition to having more luggage than Walker, Granger’s suitcase is made of what appears to be expensive leather, scuffed in various places.
Dialogue and Speech - Walker’s character initiates and has the majority of dialog in the scene. He obviously flatters in an attempt to ingratiate himself, then crosses the dining car and attempts to appear self deprecating by criticizing his tie pin ignoring his loud patterned tie. Granger’s dialog is limited to reacting to whatever Walker is saying. Although he has initiated, dominated the conversation the scene ends on with humor from Walker directing Granger to continue reading as he, Walker, doesn’t talk very much.
3. While the visual design gets the most attention typically, how does the Dimitri Tiomkin score function as part of the mood and atmosphere of this opening sequence?
The score opens the movie with the full orchestra announcing we are seeing a film that will feature intense emotions and an experience. After the opening titles, Tiomkin limits the orchestra to a few instruments, the scoring emphasizes the comedy elements of the action, to the point of poking fun at one of the characters shoes by introducing a brief trombone note. As the scene continues the score retreats, blending in with the sound effects of a train over tracks. Both score and sound effect fade out, thereby focusing attention on the dialog that follows.