Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #21: Criss Cross (Opening Scene from Strangers on a Train)

149 posts in this topic

How nicely Bruno sets up Guy.

 

You can tell from Bruno's wardrobe that nothing happens "by accident".  His shoes, the finest, most stylish he can find, his tie clip; custom made, I'm sure his suits, shirts, and ties, the same.

 

Guy is wearing a simple outfit, he doesn't have money to flaunt, despite his profession. 

 

The tracks go in two directions; clearly Guy's train took the wrong one!

 

The old trains, they were wonderful...I love the décor...the trip was probably really a trip to be leisurely enjoyed.

 

You can see that Bruno right from the start is going to be needling Guy the whole time...Guy sees it as well.

 

Poor Guy, wrong guy, wrong place.

 

Very good movie!

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In this opening, Hitchcock is telling us a lot about his two main characters before we even see their faces or they utter a word. As the first guy exits the cab we see his flashy shoes and patterned suit, almost posing stance and jaunty walk. His battered suitcase says he might be a bit down on his luck, maybe needs money. The second character's dark clothes and nice leather suitcase say he is prosperous, more conservative. The multiple tennis rackets tell us he's a serious tennis player. His posture and stride show he's a bit preoccupied but unconcerned.

 

In contrast to our other film openings - Caged, Kiss Me Deadly, The Hitch-hiker - Hitchcock is setting a lighter mood at the beginning. Two men are arriving at a train station, they are very different types but the music is light and almost playful, they're not in a big hurry, nothing to worry about...yet. But then we're given the POV shot of the train coming to a crossing track and veering off to the right. Something is about to change...

 

I would certainly agree that Alfred Hitchcock was in a class by himself as a filmmaker but he definitely used film noir styling his films. The lighting and camera angles; the existential themes of hopelessness, dread and man fighting against a world he doesn't understand; and the psychological manipulation of his characters and the audience are all there. But Hitchcock used all the tools of noir to create a style/genre uniquely his own so he is a "special case".

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The man was making Hitchcock movies. We started this course by being asked if Film Noir was a style, a movement or a genre. I think Hitchcock didn't want to be part of a movement or a genre. But he definitely used the noir style in his own brand of filmmaking, which is why I think many of us commenting here have a hard time calling him a noir filmmaker. As someone noted, he was an auteur, and defied conventions, while often utilizing those conventions to elevate, or at least differentiate, his work from everyone else's.

Yes he was making Hitchcock movies, he was around before and after classic noir, so it's interesting to see the noir stylistics during the classic period and some Hitchcock trademarks (see below) during the Classic Noir period .

 

Another interesting point is that a lot of Hitchcock films had a big set pieces or a climatic set piece at the end, think, The Statue of Liberty in Saboteur (1942) the plane crash in Foreign Correspondent (1940), The bell tower in Vertigo (1958) Mount Rushmore in North By Northwest (1959). We see similar set pieces in Down Three Dark Streets (1954) The Hollywood Sign, The Williamsburg Bridge in The Naked City (1948), Niagara Falls in Niagara (1953), The Bradbury Building in D.O.A. (1950) and I, The Jury (1953). Union Station & Chicago Subway in Union Station (1950) tank farm explosions in White Heat (1949) and Odds Against Tomorrow (1958)

  • Like 5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hitchcock's casual point, counterpoint opening in Strangers on a Train is in stark contrast with say Aldrich's frenetic opening in Kiss Me Deadly.    I would think 'collision' is what Aldrich had in mind, whereas Hitch seems to be opting for 'convergence'.  

 

Christina running down the highway in Kiss me Deadly is frantic, desperate, literally breathless as she races towards us but little else.   She's running AWAY from something.    The two sets of shoes in Strangers are leisurely walking TOWARDS one another.   

 

This motif of convergence is foreshadowed from the very opening of the titles against the backdrop of cab drop in Union Station.  We see the Capitol dome in the distant background, against a bright, hazy sky, shot through the contrasting shadow of the archway of the station.   In the street, just beyond the entrance, we see both pedestrians and vehicles randomly pass each other.  

 

A cab pulling into the arch captures our attention.   It's shot at a slight left angle.   A pair of black and white shoes emerge.   Another cab pulls up, shot at a slight right angle, and another pair of shoes emerges.   The wearer of these shoes plays tennis.  

 

We follow each pair of shoes into the station, one entering screen left, one screen right  They're funneled through the same gate.    We breakaway once the men have boarded the train,  to the train leaving the station.    The convergence motif is played with again as we cross a series of tracks while leaving the yard.  

 

Then we're brought back inside the train and see that our two pairs of shoes are still converging.  They've entered the same car from opposite directions, take seats opposite one another in the car.   In a fun sort of way, the accidental tapping of one shoe on the other is actually Hitch shouting 'ACTION!' offscreen.   That's where the film begins, and we finally glimpse the faces of the men wearing the shoes.

 

Though Hitch employs a very different opening motif than Aldrich, there's a certain inevitability about the convergence of Haines and Anthony, just as there was with Christina's meeting with Mike Hammer.  Both are totally random, and yet there's almost an oppressive air about these 'chance' meetings that's very, very noir; perhaps because we sense no good will likely come of them.  

 

Hitch was big on randomness.  So is noir.   The randomness of Black Irish walking in the park just as Elsa Bannister was riding past in a carriage in The Lady From Shanghai, of Joe spotting Jeff Markham's name on a gas station in Out of the Past, or Jim Collfax randomly pulling into one and finding The Swede changing oil in The Killers.   In Strangers on a Train we have two guys touching shoes, but we know, right-off, that Bruno's a little too friendly, a little too interested in Haines despite telling him "I don't talk much, you go ahead and read."   Walker's delivery, and his continuing interest in Haines' as he reads over his shoulder foreshadows how dangerous 'chance' meetings can be.        

 

This is the kind of thing Hitch did all the time.   I also suspect Aldrich's "Great Watsit" was a tongue-in-cheek nod to Hitch's often-used "MacGuffin"; just a little more open-ended.   But I would agree that Hitchcock is sort of in a niche all his own.   He used many noir elements in his films, but no one else really did what he did --- fusing genres and styles in a very unique way that no one else ever duplicated.        

 

.         

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A grand archway lit in the opening leading out into the city, with cars parked facing inwards. Coming in or going out? A sense of a criss cross pattern in the entrance of the train station during the credits. A cab pulls in and a pair of fancy black and white wing tip shoes and pinstriped pants enter to light, jovial music. Another cab, and this time, a plain monotone shoe and pant; accompanied by a plain suitcase and tennis rackets. Both walking with authority and ease in time to the music. It's interesting how much you find about these characters just through their shoes, pants, and luggage. The shoes themselves seem to be their own character. Next we see the criss cross pattern of the train tracks. Which way? Right or left? This time, right. Is this forshadowing of what is yet to come for our two characters? The two paths of Bruno and Guy meet, first with a bump of the toe. When Bruno finds out who Guy is, he suddenly has an interest in him. There's something uncomfortable about Bruno; he's the kind of person that insists on talking to you and won't take a hint about wanting to be left alone.

 

"Oh, I certainly admire people who do things" - Bruno. He seems to be the kind of person that had everything handed to him and has other people do things for him. What is he going to want Guy to do?

 

"I don't talk much, you go ahead and read" - Bruno, as he nudges closer to Guy and peers over his shoulder.

 

There's no despair or hopelessness in this clip, like in Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker, but rather an ease and fluidity. But you know something is around the corner. Why else would these two characters, these strangers, be the main focus and then have them meet? What is to come out of them meeting. I, like many people, have seen Hitchcock's films and I never thought of him as film noir. But before this class, I didn't know much about the subject and now I can see how he could be considered as film noir. I'm interested in seeing his films again with a whole new perspective. There could almost be a whole class dedicated just to him because he definitely had his own style.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hitchcock's rhythm seems much more relaxed. It's as if you know exactly how and why everything plays out and he will get there when deemed necessary.

 

I would say for lack of a better word, Robert Walker comes on as a femme fatale with Farley Granger as the innocent.  This presents people in different roles than normal, which is par for the course for Hitchcock.

 

I wholeheartly agree that Hitchcock is a special case with noir.  He was presenting and using noir techniques in most of his films.  So even though most aren't considered noir, Hitchcock was a major innovator in the field.

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The rhythm in the opening scene is set by the music which changes from sweeping and grand elements to a pulsating, dramatic and suspenseful mood  to a stacato-playful tone, all timed to shots of the two characters movements as they move towards an eventual meeting on the train. The purpose at this point is not sinster or evil as are the opening scenes in Kiss Me Deadly or The Hitch Hiker.  At this point the film could be a melodrama or a romantic film not a noir flm.

 

The scenes did have noir elements in terms of style re the contrasts in light and dark, low camera angles, shots that do not initially show faces of the actors, and shots of architectural features and of everyday objects (shoes, clothes, luggage) that give meaning to the characters. The clicking of the train wheels along with the shots of the tracks suggest movement into the future where adventure will produce surprises. The opening shot does what it is intended to do--gain the attention of the viewers and make them feel that so far the film has delivered on its promise.

 

Yes, Hitchkock should be a special case of noir film, because his films would be readily obvious even if not identified in the film credits as a Hitchcock film. They have a unique identifable style, or may qualify as a sub-genre of its own. That sub-genre would be described as a crime thriller with strong psychological and philosophical underpennings with a touch of humor. The tight but complicated story line is carried off by exotic and memorable characters supported by knock out musical scores well suited to the film mood and by cinematogphaphy so finely tuned that it capivates the audience without the audience even realizing it.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Unlike the films we saw last week, there is not an immediate sense of dread when the opening credits roll.  Although the cinematography makes good use of shadows and contrast, the music is upbeat, almost peppy.  Only the name Hitchcock gives us a clue that we’re in for a twisted tale.  As with other films noir, Hitchcock waits to show us our leads’ faces, letting us draw our own conclusions from their clothing (clothes make a man).  The intercutting of the two characters getting on the train establishes the idea that their meeting was meant to be.  Coincidence and fate are all themes that we’ve seen in film noir.  Bruno and Guy’s feet bumping reminds me of another scene on a train in a Hitchcock movie.  When Cary Grant comes into Joan Fontaine’s compartment in Suspicion, he bumps against her and says, “Oh, I beg your pardon, was that your leg?”  Here the feet bumping is more obviously accidental, but it still has some erotic overtones (feet brushing against each other under the table).  Bruno’s interest in Guy is clearly more than just the friendly admiration of a fan.  They are opposites: one athletic, one idle, one modest, one flamboyant, one straight (although Farley Granger was gay in real life), one coded gay, and they are pulled together by chance.

 

I agree Hitchcock is a special case.  His films tend to have more optimistic endings that feel more natural than the tacked-on happy endings in some films noir.  A friend, who is also taking the course, and I were discussing this a while back, particularly regarding Vertigo and Psycho.  Although Vertigo has a lot of film noir elements, and Scotty is pushed to his absolute moral breaking point, it ultimately feels more gothic than noir.  Psycho begins much like a film noir, but Hitchcock turned the genre on its head not once but twice with Marion Crane and Arbogast’s deaths.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We open on a medium shot of the train station arched entry.  I only knew it was a train station because of the film title.  I assume this would have been more recognizable to filmgoers of the time.  The arch is brightly illuminated while the interior is shadowy.  Our POV is the shadowy interior so we're already in the darker world.

 

A cab pulls into the station a porter enters frame from the left and opens the Diamond cab company door.  Out comes a leather suitcase followed by a pair of lace up patent leather cap toed spectators that starting walking left.  

 

Quick cut to a cab at the moment of curb arrival a porter enters the screen from the right.  Out come two tennis rackets and suitcase followed by a pair of lace up conservative wing-tipped brogues.  Brogues walk left to right.  A fancy guy and a regular guy.

 

The pace of walking and music quickens as we cut back and forth between spectators and captoes.  We already have a set of screen left activity associated with spectators indicating bad guy stuff and screen right activities with brogues indicating good guy stuff.

 

Cut to low angle (come to think of it we've been low angle this entire time) shot of first spectators then brogues going through the train station turnstile. We're watching from being and going with them.  Quick cut to a medium close up of the railroad tracks running from top to bottom of screen.  We, as the  viewers are on the journey with brogues and captoes.

 

On the train car brogues and captoes find seats, across from each other.  Their shoes touch and our view comes up.  I can't remember who we see first now (I think it's brogues, Farley Granger).  Through this accidental contact Bruno (captoes) decides too introduce himself and then, again moving right to left moves over to Farley's side of the table.  Too close for such a casual meeting.  

 

Bruno says he admires people who do things (a gentlemen or leisure or someone who makes money by not working).  He tells Farley to go ahead and read as he won't talk much but shows a disconcerting interest in what's being read.

 

 

-- How is Hitchcock's rhythm and purposes different in this opening sequence, from other films noir such as Kiss Me Deadly or The Hitch-Hiker?.

 

First I think they're the same in they all start with chance encounters.  That said, while Kiss and Hitch-Hiker begin with an air of desperation and danger, Strangers begins casually, nonchalantly even a little humorously.  So I think Hitchcock's story is telling us that the encounter with trouble can start off in a light and non-threatening way.

 

-- What are the noir elements that you notice in the opening of this film? Either in terms of style or substance?

From a style standpoint the lighting of the train station entry reminded me of Jane Greer's entrance in Out of the Past.  The use of clothing to indicate character.  The use of low angle shooting and the creation of enclosed space throughout the sequence.  The chance encounter.

-- Do you agree or disagree that Alfred Hitchcock should be considered a "special case" in discussion of film noir? Why or why not?

 

I have to say he is a special case, but not because of this sequence.  If I didn't already know Hitchcock so well I don't know that I'd see him as a special case.  I knew who Alfred Hitchcock was when I was 10.  He had a TV show.  What other Director did?

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hitchcock's rhythm is much more relaxed, and the pace of the film is considerably slower than Kiss Me Deadly, or The Hitch-Hiker from last week. Early on in those films, danger is openly established, while here it's more concealed. I like that we're put in the same position as Bruno and Guy, not meeting each respective character until they meet each other. The element of the chance meeting is textbook Noir, and it's also featured here. Alfred Hitchcock is my favorite director of all-time, so I would be inclined to say he's a special case, as I regard him to be in a class of his own. He doesn't fit those two groups of directors as detailed in the Daily Dose, and his specialty was suspense, so I guess that does set him apart. 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We open on a medium shot of the train station arched entry.  I only knew it was a train station because of the film title.  I assume this would have been more recognizable to filmgoers of the time.  The arch is brightly illuminated while the interior is shadowy.  Our POV is the shadowy interior so we're already in the darker world.

 

A cab pulls into the station a porter enters frame from the left and opens the Diamond cab company door.  Out comes a leather suitcase followed by a pair of lace up patent leather cap toed spectators that starting walking left.  

 

Quick cut to a cab at the moment of curb arrival a porter enters the screen from the right.  Out come two tennis rackets and suitcase followed by a pair of lace up conservative wing-tipped brogues.  Brogues walk left to right.  A fancy guy and a regular guy.

 

The pace of walking and music quickens as we cut back and forth between spectators and captoes.  We already have a set of screen left activity associated with spectators indicating bad guy stuff and screen right activities with brogues indicating good guy stuff.

 

Cut to low angle (come to think of it we've been low angle this entire time) shot of first spectators then brogues going through the train station turnstile. We're watching from being and going with them.  Quick cut to a medium close up of the railroad tracks running from top to bottom of screen.  We, as the  viewers are on the journey with brogues and captoes.

 

On the train car brogues and captoes find seats, across from each other.  Their shoes touch and our view comes up.  I can't remember who we see first now (I think it's brogues, Farley Granger).  Through this accidental contact Bruno (captoes) decides too introduce himself and then, again moving right to left moves over to Farley's side of the table.  Too close for such a casual meeting.  

 

Bruno says he admires people who do things (a gentlemen or leisure or someone who makes money by not working).  He tells Farley to go ahead and read as he won't talk much but shows a disconcerting interest in what's being read.

 

 

-- How is Hitchcock's rhythm and purposes different in this opening sequence, from other films noir such as Kiss Me Deadly or The Hitch-Hiker?.

 

First I think they're the same in they all start with chance encounters.  That said, while Kiss and Hitch-Hiker begin with an air of desperation and danger, Strangers begins casually, nonchalantly even a little humorously.  So I think Hitchcock's story is telling us that the encounter with trouble can start off in a light and non-threatening way.

 

-- What are the noir elements that you notice in the opening of this film? Either in terms of style or substance?

From a style standpoint the lighting of the train station entry reminded me of Jane Greer's entrance in Out of the Past.  The use of clothing to indicate character.  The use of low angle shooting and the creation of enclosed space throughout the sequence.  The chance encounter.

-- Do you agree or disagree that Alfred Hitchcock should be considered a "special case" in discussion of film noir? Why or why not?

 

I have to say he is a special case, but not because of this sequence.  If I didn't already know Hitchcock so well I don't know that I'd see him as a special case.  I knew who Alfred Hitchcock was when I was 10.  He had a TV show.  What other Director did?

 

i should proof read these things.  I meant "cut back and forth between spectators and brogues"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Strangers on a Train is one of my favorite Hitchcock films, but I don't automatically think of it as a noir.  Perhaps it's the obvious Hitchcock style - there's an almost playfulness in how he sets up his opening scenes (not to mention his own appearances in them).  I also think, as others have said, he's more visual than verbal in his initial storytelling.  But certainly he's using many noir staples in this film.

 

But I do adore this movie and will take any opportunity to watch even part of it again.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So - What is it with legs and people walking in all our Daily Doses?  Maybe we're supposed to be learning that films noir all start with people walking?  LOL


 


Hitchcock's opening is different than the other clips we've seen, in that it's not dark, threatening, or eerie.  The music isn't necessarily foreboding.  The scene sets up 2 men who end up on the same train, in the same car together.  And naturally enough, they strike up a conversation.  Could happen to anybody.  


 


But something about Bruno seems a little off - and I don't mean just that awful tie.  (Lobsters and his first name, really?)  He's just a little too friendly, a little too forceful in starting up an acquaintance.  Bruno realizes that his co-traveler is a tennis player that he saw play recently.  But is it really as coincidental and happenstance as he'd like us to think?  Foreshadowing when he says, "I certainly admire people who do things."


 


I don't agree that Hitchcock, or anyone else, should be considered a "special case" in film noir.  Just because a director isn't German or French doesn't mean he present the same ideas and philosophies.  Case in point:  Ida Lupino.  Hitch uses many techniques common to film noir, including lighting (and shadow), camera angles, and POV.  He also uses existential motifs, such as the non-heroic hero (Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window), alienation and loneliness (Anthony Perkins in Psycho), chaos or paranoia (Stewart in Vertigo).


 


One final mention about Bruno's tie:  Lobsters have dangerous claws that they use on their prey.  When those claws are removed, the lobster is only temporarily "safe".  Lobster claws regenerate - much like Bruno in this film.  When Guy thinks he's finally rid of Bruno, the man reappears, more dangerous than before.  Beware friendly strangers in lobster ties.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hitchcock definitely uses many of the style and substance traits of film noir in the opening of Strangers on a Train.  We can clearly see from the shoes of both men that one is a quite a bit more fancy while the other is quite a bit more subdued.  The question is where are the shots of these two men's legs and feet going to lead us?  Undoubtedly to a crime of some sort probably murder.  I think Hitchcock is not just a special case in film noir, I personally think that Hitchcock does film noir quite frequently and as good as anyone else.  He has a great way of showing us what is going on with out actually showing us much like he did in Psycho.  This may be a little off topic but a  good example of how to ruin a Hitchcock film however can be seen in the remake of Psycho where they leave little to the imagination and show way more than Hitchcock ever did.  And yet the studios were worried about Hitchcock showing the inside of a toilet in Psycho, I think they would be probably die of a heart attack at the remake.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

From the beginning you see one car and then the other.  Bruno gets out of the first.  He is wearing flashy shoes and carries a plain bag.  Then you see the other cab, and Guy Haines gets out.  He has a couple of bags and tennis rackets.  You see Bruno's shoes walking to the left and Guy's walking to the right.  Then you see them following behind each other through the gate.  Then Bruno walks in to the club car and sits down.  Next you see Guy walk in and sit down, hitting Bruno's shoe.  Then you see how they are dressed.  Guy has a classic checked tie and a cardigan sweater with a jacket.  Bruno has a loud tie with lobsters and his name.  He mentions his mother (his idea is throw Momma from the train).

 

The train pulling out and the passing in front of us is like La Bete Humaine.  You also see that the characters are confined on the train.  The way Hitchcock brought the characters into the forefront using the cabs with the entrance to the train station out in the distance focuses the audiences attention.  You can also see they start off from Washington.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hitchcock definitely uses many of the style and substance traits of film noir in the opening of Strangers on a Train.  We can clearly see from the shoes of both men that one is a quite a bit more fancy while the other is quite a bit more subdued.  The question is where are the shots of these two men's legs and feet going to lead us?  Undoubtedly to a crime of some sort probably murder.  I think Hitchcock is not just a special case in film noir, I personally think that Hitchcock does film noir quite frequently and as good as anyone else.  He has a great way of showing us what is going on with out actually showing us much like he did in Psycho.  This may be a little off topic but a  good example of how to ruin a Hitchcock film however can be seen in the remake of Psycho where they leave little to the imagination and show way more than Hitchcock ever did.  And yet the studios were worried about Hitchcock showing the inside of a toilet in Psycho, I think they would be probably die of a heart attack at the remake.

 

Hitchcock pulled the audience along with the characters into suspense.  When you thnk of the opening of "North By Northwest," you see all this humanity walking up and down the street, going into the subway, and going in and out of buildings.  Hitch tried to get on a bus as his signature appearance in this film.  Then we are drawn to Grant and his secretary rushing out of a building and into a cab.  The action is fast moving as in the start of Strangers.  The music in both films is really important to create the increasing tension of what happens to the characters.  Both of these films show characters who find themselves in nightmarish situations all by happenstance.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Alfred Hitchcock is definitely a “special case” in film noir. Hitchcock is known for suspense, that is what you expect to see when you go to a Hitchcock movie, and to see if you can find him in his film. A director such as Anthony Mann is known well for many types of films: noir, westerns and even epics such as Fall of the Roman Empire. In Fall of the Roman Empire Mann is making a film that Hollywood would use to counter the problem of television on the “big screen”, 70mm in Technicolor, with big name stars from around the world.

 

Hitchcock would be more like Disney in using his suspense television series to bring people to see his theatrical releases on the big screen, not just the small screen. He would use the techniques of noir, the criss-cross of tracks leaving the train station, as we saw in our first week. We always expect and Hitchcock always gives us more.

 

The opening as in many movies we have seen with just feet and legs showing, yet here we have the flashy two-tone shoes of Bruno (Robert Walker) and the staid tied mono dress shoe of Guy (Farley Granger) walking into the station, then through the train, both sitting at the same table in the club car and guy hitting Bruno's foot, crossed over his leg, as he crosses his own legs. Hitchcock builds suspense and anticipation here that we will see fulfilled throughout the film.

 

We also have the Warner Brothers' style here, as well as Hitchcock's own style. He uses trains to great effect as the main mode of travel outside the city, as he does in North by Northwest at the end of the film as the train enters the tunnel: a substitute for sex, which he can not show on the screen. In the beginning he uses the taxis bringing the two men to the train station as the main mode of transportation in the city. Showing the mobile and existential ideas that will allow the agreement they will discuss one seriously the other jokingly.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

I don't agree that Hitchcock, or anyone else, should be considered a "special case" in film noir.  Just because a director isn't German or French doesn't mean he present the same ideas and philosophies.  Case in point:  Ida Lupino.  Hitch uses many techniques common to film noir, including lighting (and shadow), camera angles, and POV.  He also uses existential motifs, such as the non-heroic hero (Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window), alienation and loneliness (Anthony Perkins in Psycho), chaos or paranoia (Stewart in Vertigo).

 

 

 

So I post my comment above, then read comments from others.  Most of you are saying that Hitchcock is a "special case", while my answer above says he's not.  I read the question as asking if Hitch should be considered film noir at all.  In reading your responses, I see that may not be what was asked.  So I'd like to clarify my statement.  

 

Hitch is everything that film noir is.  But he's also an amazing storyteller, which is what captures us and makes us watch his films again and again.  Is he a special case?  Yes, in the fact that he uses film noir techniques in his own way, with his own innovations, to tell the story his way.  

 

But wait - isn't that what film noir is all about?  Innovation?  So how can we say that he is not a special case, for doing just what the basics of this style suggest?  

 

So here I am, arguing with myself that no, he's not a special case; but yes, he is; but then again, no, he isn't.  Maybe that's what "special case" means - something we really can't define or answer.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Talking about Hitchcock as the master of suspense goes without saying. But what is also characteristic of this English filmmaker, but nevertheless frequently overlooked, is that his art of suspense matches with a very specific cinematic universe that emerges from the perfect control he exerts on the viewers' expectations concerning the movie's plot, spiced up with a unique combination of dark humour and noirish style. So, the kind of disturbance Hitchcok wants to inflict on his audience is different from the unsettling effect we may find in other films noir such as Kiss me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker: instead of wanting to make us afraid of what is going to happen, provoking in us the same feelings of danger, rush, paranoia and frenzy that the characters experience, through fast-paced scenes and well-known noir motifs, he'd rather make us his complices, playing with our emotions at a more complexe level, as if we were in a priviledge position where we know more than the characters but still can't do nothing about it.

That's an ironic touch about this idea that I clearly identify in the opening sequence of Strangers on a Train and that I also find in the fatalistic ideology typical of the film noir. In this particular scene, Hitchcock achieves it through the cross-cutting from one man's walking to the other, highlighting the parallel between the shoes and the luggage as key-objects of the scene, and juxtaposing the symbolic image of criss-crossing railroad tracks to the shots of the characters in motion, in opposed, converging directions. However, I don't agree that the shot of the railroad seen from the train would be a POV shot of a character, but more an image that fonctions as a visual motif to the viewer, foreshadowing what's going to happen - the two characters' inevitable meeting - we just don't exactly when. Of course, they end up sitting at the same table... by chance or on purpose, that's what we don't know. Once again, Hitchcock strikes us with his strategies, in this case, of blurring the distintion between what happens by accident and what is intentionnal, by showing the first "contact" of the two male characters as a casual kick under the table.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

-- How is Hitchcock's rhythm and purposes different in this opening sequence, from other films noir such as Kiss Me Deadly or The Hitch-Hiker?

 

Hitchcock is emphasizing the differences in the two men catching the train and in doing so, the different personality and social status of each man.  Man #1 arrives in a cab, has expensive luggage and fancy shoes, indicating that this man is vain (the loud, fancy two toned shoes), likes luxuries (expensive luggage) and is well off .  Man #2 arrives in a cab, has a simple overnight bag, tennis racquets and wears plain sensible shoes.  We see he is not concerned about “flash” through his shoes and that he takes care of his feet – those shoes look really comfortable -- that and the tennis racquets indicate his athleticism.

 

As the scene progresses, both men are walking in tandem, with Man #2 slightly behind Man #1, until their arrival at the gate – then we only see Man #1 pass through the gate.  Where did Man #2 go?  No tennis racquets in sight.  I messed this  up - they are each walking with their own porter - not side by side like I thought.  And, I had the cars wrong - it's two cabs, not a limo and a cab.  That's what comes of watching a 3"x3" screen and low volume b/c I'm at work and have no private office... (but my original version was kinda interesting)

 

Is this foreshadowing that these two will not be in tandem for long as was implied by this scene?  Throughout this sequence neither man seems to be aware of the presence of the other man.  The rest, as they say, is history, as Bruno Anthony recognizes Guy Haines, tennis player, and strikes up a conversation with him on the train.  Bruno seems intrusive, cloying and even this early on in the film, dangerous to Guy Haines.  

 

There is little dramatic suspense or tension in this opening except for the fact that both men are catching a train.  Unlike Kiss Me Deadly or The Hitch-Hiker Hitchcock takes his time, he does not throw the audience into a shocker of an opening.  Instead he builds, allowing the audience to see what he wants them to see about these characters.  

 

-- What are the noir elements that you notice in the opening of this film? Either in terms of style or substance?

 

The style of this scene is film noirish in the use of low camera angles (visual level is at the ground), use of symbolism through the train tracks in the station yard (paths crossing, uncrossing and crossing again) and keeping the suspense going by not showing the two men’s faces until the end sequence of the scene, when Bruno strikes up the conversation.

 

-- Do you agree or disagree that Alfred Hitchcock should be considered a "special case" in discussion of film noir? Why or why not?

 

Foster Hirsch’s article from Film Noir discusses the similarities of Hitchcock’s style to film noir – confined spaces, maintaining distance from his characters and catastrophic fates.  These elements and other film noir characteristics are nearly always present in a Hitchcock thriller.  However, as Foster Hirsch mentions, Hitchcock drolly plays with the plot and characters for his and the audience’s amusement.  I agree wholeheartedly that Mr. Hitchcock is indeed a “special case” not just in the discussion of film noir, but in any discussion of film across all genres.

  • Like 5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In "Strangers On A Train," the characters are walking purposefully toward their train connections.  Shoes are emphasized as shoes are made for walking.  The characters mostly walk together, but the paths of the two men criss-cross so that there is a point of their actually meeting. Fate or coincidence?  In "Kiss Me Deadly," the one character is running down the highway as opposed to walking.  The other character is stationary in a car, but the car is speeding down the road.  Their paths cross at the point when the woman steps in front of the car.  In "The Hitch-hiker," The one character is stationary, thumbing a ride from the side of the highway.  The other two men are stationary in a car that is moving down the highway.  The car stops at the side of the road, and the hitch-hiker climbs in.  At that point, the men's paths criss cross, and the story begins.

 

The most prominent noir element in this opening is the odd camera angle.  The camera is pointing down at people's feets and luggage as opposed to being pointed at their heads.  We judge the characters not by their looks, but by their sense of fashion and manners.  The one man has fanciful taste with his wing tip shoes and nice pants and personalized tie.  The other man dresses ordinarily with standard-looking shoes and non-flashy suit.  The one man is eager to strike up a conversation where the other man tends to want to stay quietly to himself.  The train station is huge with massive arched doorways, perhaps with a nod to German expressionism.  The POV of the train tracks show that we are on the move, crossing over to a second track, possibly with a nod to "La Bete Humaine."

 

Hitchcock is known as "the master of suspense."  His films demand a study all to their own. His camera angles and dream sequences and character portraits would be called "Hitchcockian" before being called noirish.  I would say his contribution to film noir is, in fact, a special case.  Hitchcock himself is a special case.  I would say that he uses the film noir vehicle but creates his own style that is at once noirish but transcends to become Hitchcockian--a true master.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The very first image reminds me of Out of the Past with the darkened, indoor foreground but the well-lit, outdoor background.  All that is missing is Kathie walking through the archway.  The attention to the mundane, the name of the taxi cab company and the beat-up suitcase are very noir in helping setting the tone, which then cause the shiny, new shoes to stand out (as the owner steps into a dark gutter).  That attention to the mundane is played again, only this time it is dreary shoes stepping into a better lit gutter.  At a minute and twenty five seconds, the audience can see the conflict coming just by the lighting and the shoes without ever seeing the actors’ faces.

 

(On a side note: I find it amusing that Mr. Boring Shoes has tennis rackets.)

 

Mr. Shiny shoes walks from a patch of light into dark; cut to Mr. Boring Shoes walking from a patch of shadow into light.  One walks right to left.  The other walks left to right.  The audience can sense a meeting coming, a fortuitous one without a bit of dialogue or facial expression. 

 

And yes, the shot moving along the crisscrossing tracks continues the theme.  Where as in other noir films, like Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker, the audience has to wait to find out what is going to happen with these characters.  The openings are the hooks – an invitation, if you will, to invite the audience along on a journey of discovery.  However, with Strangers On A Train, the opening is nothing but foreshadowing.  The audience knows these two sets of shoes will cross paths.  It’s been told to them through the visual effects that I described above.  The hook is now what happens when these two meet.

 

I think, at least with Strangers On A Train, Hitchcock should not be considered a “special case” in the discussion of film noir.  As far as I can tell from the clip, he hits too many film noir notes without any misses:  low key lighting on the opening sequence, focus on the environment, study of ordinary objects to give meaning, and appropriate musical score.  This is a film noir movie.

 

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Although Hitchcock's opening begins with the darkened entrance to the train station and has that sense of foreboding that opening sequences of film noir typically do, Hitchcock infuses it with a sense of humor that is lacking in the serious, gritty movies we usually consider film noir. The light, almost comical music as he obviously contrasts the two men as they exit their vehicles. It is almost like Hitch is acknowledging the device and saying to us, "I know it is becoming trite, but I am manipulating you this way anyway." He is using devices that so many others had used, but gives this nod to the audience. Hitchcock appears in all of his movies, and in this way seems to put his stamp on things like this throughout his films.

His subjects are still terrifying, still alienated, still chaotic and paranoid, but Hitchcock's settings seem more ordinary and less threatening at first. He contrasts the seemingly bright and innocent world with the terrifying underbelly where most film noir plunge us into the darkness from the beginning.

Even the darkened entrance of Strangers on the Train, shows light coming from the outside, illuminating the beauty of the great archway, and the music behind seems more inviting than foreboding. It is like getting on the roller coaster ride with happy, music playing and brightly colored cars, but you know it is a roller coaster with thrills coming just by having the Alfred Hitchcock name in the opening credits!

The archway and shadows and light signals a dark and different story ahead. The shoes and luggage contrast sets the stage that these are two different types of men - one well dressed and dapper with his spats, large heavy luggage and pinstriped suit, the other with his practical, more casual shoes, tennis racquets, athletic dress and efficient leather bag. The music is light, comical as it introduces the two men. Walker (Bruno) wears pinstripes with a lobster tie with his name emblazoned across it. His tie and his personality are disarmingly open, but the lobsters have claws and serve as a warning as does his pinstripes. The train tracks crossing showing the train as it shifts direction, is a foreshadowing as is the feet as they enter the train, cross and bump into each other. It is random, but fate has brought them together and the story takes off just as the train leaves the station.

Bruno, immediately imposes himself on Granger's character, ingratiating himself and crossing over next to Granger leaving him no personal space, folding his hands in front of him, criss-crossing his fingers three times. Granger is open, friendly, but more reserved and a bit taken aback as he is obviously unaccustomed to having to fend off people. He does not know how to repel this other man's advances and opens his book in an attempt to create some emotional space. His tie has diamond shapes on it, like the Diamond cab that brought Walker. He is as innocent as the cab and is going to be "used" by this man as a "vehicle" for Walker's will.

Masterfully done, Hitch! 

As far as Hitchcock being considered a "special case," I wouldn't go that far, although his style is different and more A-list. His films are dark without being too dark. They have humor and are more palatable sometimes than the starkness of some of the others, but Orson Welles films also employed these things, as well. Hitchcock's irony and use of formalism and realism, his brilliant use of motifs and camera angles, his dark characters who blend in with regular, seemingly nice people (which increases that sense of randomness of evil and paranoia that is so dark) are all film noir. As a matter of fact, I see Hitchcock as more typical film noir with his own personal twists, like Welles.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In the clips we saw from Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker, there was immediate sense that the crap was hitting the fan, whereas the opening scene of Strangers on a Train creates a mood of tension and mystery, leaving the viewer to wonder what (likely not so good thing) is about to happen.

 

Strangers on a Train seems to be almost an homage to noir in a stylistic sense. I never noticed those high contrast feet walking along that diagonal floor as foreshadowing before, but now that it was pointed out, all I can say is WOW! And the shot from the train of the train tracks ahead, when they come to the place where the tracks split off, made me tense up physically for a second. I'm not sure exactly why that happened, but I bet Sir Alfred would be happy to hear it. Substantively, the seemingly random manner in which Guy and Bruno meet is a noir staple, and Robert Walker's magnificently creepy portrayal of Bruno puts the audience off  balance immediately upon sight of him.

 

Alfred Hitchcock has to be spoken of as a special case in any conversation about him, period. He is the Da Vinci of filmmakers. That very first title shot, I kept wishing for the titles to go away so I could gaze upon the loveliness of it's composition unimpeded. And once it got to the Dimitri Tiomkin title, I paused the clip and marveled at it's almost illustrated appearance when viewed as a still shot. Then I was even more blown away when I unpaused it and it still looked hand drawn when in motion.

 

And, off topic, there is something that has been on my mind, and I wonder if anyone else has anything to say on the subject. When listing noir movies from 1941, most folks don't count The Face Behind the Mask. But when I watched it recently (since I started this class), I couldn't help but say to myself "If this ain't noir, I don't know what is." Any clue as to why this movie isn't considered noir?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Christine is running down the middle of a highway in search of a ride in KISS ME DEADLY. Emmett is standing at the side of a road by the stolen car in THE HITCHHIKER. The beginning of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN opens more less auspiciously. A taxi # 1020 pulls into a train terminal to let off his passenger. The man departs the cab with a expensive looking suitcase. He wears fancy white and black shoes and stripped trousers. I cannot see if he tips the cab driver. The second cab # 1975 pulls up, and a second man exits. The man is wearing plain shoes and slacks. He definitely tips the cab driver. A railway employee helps the second man carry a plain suitcase and two tennis rackets. The first man also had assistance carrying his suitcase to the train. Hitchcock shows a scene where the tracks cross criss cross. We next see the first man Bruno Antony sitting in the club car. The second man Guy Haines sits across from Bruno and accidentally touches his shoe while crossing his leg - criss cross. Bruno is a pushy guy, and he immediately begins a conversation with Guy. Guy wants to read his book, but Bruno tries to flatter Guy by telling him that he recognizes him from his tennis play. Bruno is beginning to seem rather strange especially when he shows Guy the gaudy tie with his name imprinted explaining it was a gift from his mother.

 

The opening scene of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN was shot by cinematographer Robert Burks. SOAT was the first of twelve films that Mr. Burks shot for Hitchcock thru Marnie. The exception was PSYCHO.He won the Academy AWARD for TO CATCH A THIEF.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

New Members:

Register Here

Learn more about the new message boards:

FAQ

Having problems?

Contact Us