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Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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This week's Daily Dose theme is "Film in the Postwar Era" and we begin this week with the special case of Alfred Hitchcock as a film noir director or a noir stylist. 

 

The Daily Dose will be delivered by email, Monday morning, July 13, 2015. 

 

You can also get this Daily Dose here: https://learn.canvas.net/courses/748/pages/daily-dose-of-darkness-number-21-criss-cross-opening-scene-from-strangers-on-a-train

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-- 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?

 

Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-hiker immediately overwhelm the viewer with dread, fear and characters embroiled in conflict. Hitchcock takes a more leisurely pace in introducing the dark elements of the story.

 

Hitchcock introduces two characters whose paths are about to cross using a study in contrasts. His first character is dressed flamboyantly (multicolored shoes, pinstripe pants, lobster tie with his name on it)apparently in an effort to draw attention to himself. He has no boundaries. The second character, filmed in such a way that his path crisscrosses the first, is conservatively dressed, controlled, private and reserved. The viewer knows from the moment that their shoes touch that the movie is about to bring them together. The music established a humorous and playful mood with repetitive musical expressions designed to tweek the viewers curiosity.

 

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

 

Much is hidden and much is revealed symbolically. Elements of Noir style include use of close ups showing only briskly walking feet, camera angles which cross the paths of characters, and a lengthy and nonverbal introduction the first scene. As the credits roll, suspense is introduced by the musical score. The brightly lit archway as the taxi enters perhaps emphasizing that the film is going to move towards darkness.

 

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

 

So far, we know only that demographically, Hitchcock does not seem to fit into certain arbitrary categories. This does not, however, render him unique. If he is to be considered a "special case" this must reflect his work. More investigation is necessary.

 

Sent from my iPhone

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I don't think of Hitchcock as a film noir director all though he was but more of a noir stylist as in Rebecca and Criss Cross. He used a noir style in most of his thrillers like Suspicion and Notorious. I can't label him in the noir genre but just good old fashion thrillers.

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  I enjoy most any Hitchcock film, "Strangers on a Train" included, but don't consider this iconic director's films "noir." From his early British silent work, Hitchcock's personality was the reason for seeing the film, like reading an Agatha Christie mystery or even, dare I say, listening to a Mozart symphony. He was an auteur, an artist whose work is so distinctive as to render it without compare.

 

I've commented before: I think defining "noir" is like Justice Potter Stewart's Supreme Court opinion on obscenity, "I know it when I see it."  

 

Hitchcock's film presence, even literally in every film, is so overriding one cannot integrate wholly into the film other than to be gripped in the wonderful suspense, but not for the petty human frailties and neuroses necessary to identify with the characters, their fears, dark thoughts and actions.

 

Hitchcock was wonderful. His films, at least to this viewer, ain't noir.

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From the opening of "Strangers on a Train" we are given information about the personalities of the characters by the showing of their shoes.  One is certainly more conservative and an athlete.  Not only is criss cross shown by using train rails (Hitchcock liked to use trains in his films) but in the accidental meeting of the two characters by the crossing of legs.  There will be other examples throughout the movie.

 

What makes a Hitchcock film different is his use of humor.  In this film it is primarily through the character of Bruno's mother but there are  other touches in the film.  I read somewhere that Hitchcock didn't really consider "Rebecca" to be a true Hitchcock film because of it's lack of humor.  It was part of his signature. 

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-- 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?

 

It's showing innocuous everyday life, Washington D.C., the train station, cabs arriving dispatching commuters, travelers, etc. who enter the station for their destinations. There is no foreboding darkness, no shadows just a study of feet & shoes, a pair of trendy two tone shoes which stand out, a pair of sportier shoes and a set of tennis rackets. It starts off as the normal sane world we like to think we live in.

 

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

 

The low angle shots of the two main characters shoes. The train departing the station shows a low angle point of view of the station approach yard emphasizing a myriad amount of turnouts (switches) suggesting that life and the future has many random directions to choose and that we have no real control of what those choices may bring.

 

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

 

He's a sort of special case in Crime/Thriller/Suspense films in that it seems that he emphasized story over conventional Noir stylistics, but since Noir isn't a genre anyway he can't really be blamed for that, he was more interested in voyeurism, building tension and maximizing anxiety through framing and editing. Some of his films are more noir-ish than others.

 

 

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Since beginning this film noir class, I view film from a very different perspective. I especially enjoy watching them for certain clues that set the film up. It's almost like the first few minutes of the film set the viewer up and the viewer isn't even aware it's happening. Such is the opening scene of Criss Cross. Now that I look for details that inform the viewer of "things to come". Dress makes the man. It does in this opening sequence. Personalities are unfolded by fancy shoes and expensive suiting vs plain shoes and plain suit along with tennis rackets that are important enough to take along on a trip. One personality discloses a man that invades another's personal space, rather overwhelming when Farley is attempting to read and this stranger pops up very close beside him, too close. In addition, just the title alone is reinforced with the words criss cross. Crossing legs of the characters, train tracks crossing in the opening sequence and two strangers crossing paths. This opening sequence is not one I would "label" as noir. I don't have a feeling for dread or darkness. Hitchcock is leading us on a tale. We are intrigued by what's to come.

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I have very little to add to the observations of the others in this thread except to say that I think Hitchcock brings a Catholic sensibility to his movies.  Noir is described as being rooted in existential angst.  God is dead and life is meaningless.  Hitchcock was raised in the Catholic faith.  Many of his films, noir and others, include Catholic iconography.  I think Hitch wanted to reveal the 'sinfulness' and human vulnerability in all his characters and also compel the audience to face the guilt within themselves.

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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?

 

The opening sequences of Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker paid no attention to any varied patterns. Neither presented a visual stimuli. Both lacked a variety in scheme. Whereas in Hitchcock’s opening there exist a linear design arranged in a crisscross manner.

 

A cab comes into the frame from the left. We see a gentleman step off and the focus is on his pin-stripe pants with elegant back & white oxford shoes. Cut to another cab and a man stepping off wearing a less impressive dress pants with less savvy shoes. Cut to man 1 walking right to left focus still on his pants and shoes. Then to man 2 walking left to right with the same attention. Cut again to man 1 walking away from us (full view) then entering a railroad station a conductor seeing him go by. Moments later man 2 follows him in as well. We now see from a trains POV the rails crisscrossing each other as the train shifts direction and travels across three tracks lanes. Next we see man 1 walking right to left taking a seat and crossing his legs (pants and shoes only). Man 2 does the same from left to right sits across man 1 and bumps his shoe while attempting to cross his legs. A definitive rhythm to the entire sequence.

 

Hitchcock’s purpose in the opening was to make a distinction between each of his lead characters. One dresses more suave than the other. One is obvious timid while the other is more outgoing not shy to make conversation with a stranger. He hints of an eventual meeting between them as he suggests movements that eventually will intersect each other.

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Wk 7 Strangers on a Train

 

-- 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? Nowhere is there the sense of desperation and danger that’s in the other two.  It’s got a lighter, almost whimsical quality.  The rhythm, though deliberate, seems easier,  the music strong and fun.  We know it’s ultimately going to have dramatic heft because it is Hitchcock, but we don’t see it from the get-go. We are thoroughly engaged nonetheless.

 

-- What are the noir elements that you notice in the opening of this film? Either in terms of style or substance? The noir thing here is how imagery tells you what’s going on, or what you might expect.  Revealing a little at a time, Hitchcock is establishing two sides of a person, yin and yang, masculine and feminine.  He gives us lots of clues as to these two men’s personalities and how they will interact. Bruno is effete.  He craves attention and is flashy, flamboyant in dress and physicality: his spectator shoes, his suit made of fine fabric; his gait when he walks, seems to skim the surface of the ground as his hips sway ever so slightly; when he sits down in the train he crosses his leg with aplomb as if making a statement, his wrist is limp hanging off the side of the armrest, he’s got a tie-bar gift from his mother and a snappy hanky in his jacket pocket.  Guy is a jock.  He’s wearing an outfit that won’t attract any attention.  Dark colors, bulky wool fabric on his sport coat. Dark cordovan shoes.  No pocket hanky. Carries a tennis racket, and when we see him walking in that long shot—it takes a while for us to see him after we see Bruno.  He’s not in a hurry.  His gait is firm, his knees bend as he steps, and he digs into the ground.  When he crosses his leg it’s a different move and intention than Bruno’s.  He makes contact first.  Masculine.  Bruno responds.  Flirting.  Subtle. They seem to make up one whole person.  Guy’s not talking.  Bruno can’t seem to be quiet.  And he tops it with “I don’t talk much.  You go ahead and read.”  Before they get on the train we see the train in motion, ostensibly pulling in.  There’s a lot of convergence and “criss-crossing” of the tracks. A plot foreshadowing.  We do not see them completely until they make contact; when Guy kicks Bruno.  They are only “elements” (hands, legs, feet) until they connect.  Then we see them.  Then they are a whole person.

 

-- Do you agree or disagree that Alfred Hitchcock should be considered a "special case" in discussion of film noir? Why or why not? I agree.  He uses what might be considered film noir conventions, e.g., high-contrast lighting, gobos casting shadows, odd angles.  However, since the material is so well thought out, all these noir elements become integral, organically integrated into the entire piece.  In many of the film noirs we’ve seen so far, these noir “devices” are used to elevate an otherwise normal story (detective, horror, western, etc.,) to something else.  Hitchcock is a “special case” because he re-invents, synthesizes noir elements as his own.  He takes the “essence” of a clichéd noir device and elevates it to an art form.  The elements become one with the art.  They don’t just embellish the art.  

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Strangers on a Train opens with two sets of feet, belonging to each of the film's main characters. Hitchcock cuts back and forth from one set to the other. This is an implication of the two characters becoming intertwined within the story. While Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker do both open with sets of feet, neither film opens in such an indirect manner. They both get right to Main Character A, meeting Main Character B, etc.

 

I also must add both leads in Strangers on a Train are voluntarily heading in the same direction via train. Upon their initial meeting, a friendliness between the two blossoms. This is not the case in Kiss Me Deadly or The Hitch-Hiker. These films find the main characters being forced into a situation right away; whether it's Christina fleeing from the mental institution, or the two men being forced to comply with the hitch-hiker's demands. Therefore, there is a definite lacking of camaraderie in these situations.

 

Although Bruno and Guy aren't shrouded in darkness or obscured by shadows, their faces aren't revealed until almost two and a half minutes into the opening scene. This teeters on the idea of mystery, which poses several questions. Which of the two can be trusted? Who is the protagonist? Who is the antagonist? It's this meeting really accidental? This question can especially be posed due to Bruno embodying such awe for Guy and his accomplishments. Another great aspect in the cutting of the pairs of feet are the shoes, in particular, the black and white pair.

 

Bruno's shoes suggests two sides. Is he good or bad? Maybe both? Could he flip at any moment? Guy's shoes are one solid color, which indicates a knowing of oneself. He's comfortable with himself, comfortable with his life. He knows his likes and dislikes, and isn't ruled by anyone. Bruno is probably the opposite, due to his mentioning of satisfying his mother by literally wearing his name on the inside of the suit jacket. This is reminiscent of a young child writing their name on the inside of their belongings. Bruno probably has no sense of himself. His identity is ruled by his mother- a classic element of Hitchcock. (The domineering mother.)

 

I think of Hitchcock as a masterful cinematic director who is clearly capable of creating such intensity with his suspensefully elemental effects. But, I wouldn't directly refer to him as a director of film noir. Speaking on filmmaking in general, Hitchcock is in an arena of his very own.

 

He definitely did contribute to film noir. Strangers on a Train does qualify for this genre, and there are other films of his that absolutely contribute to the style of noir. Hitchcock's films contain some of the noir elements, but I tend to think of them in a genre of their own: The genre of Hitchcock.

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Some of the narrative and visual devices that movie directors once used to set the scene and to place characters on a collision course aren't that familiar with today's viewers -- passenger trains, hitchhiking, phone booths.

 

Many younger viewers have never been on a passenger train, picked up a hitchhiker or used a phone booth. Yet those devices aren't problematic even today if the thematic thread works, as it does in "Strangers on a Train."

 

A parallel example from literature might be Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises." Have most readers who encounter the novel been to a bullfight? Maybe not. But the book, published in the 1920s, remains timeless and seems contemporary in large part because of the narrative flow and character development. Hitchcock had that same touch.     

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


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


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


 


Strangers on a Train!  One of my favorite films. I've watched it loads of times and I am thrilled it's being discussed.


The opening differs from the other films in that it is not doom and gloom like the other two films.  There is rhythm in the way the two men walk. Even to the differences in footwear.


 


Noir Elements: The shadows in the beginning.


Special Case: I viewed this film opening with fresh eyes. No, to me this is not a noir opening, because it is care free. I've seen most of Hitchcock films and they all have the Hitchcock touch where when you watch them enough times, you can tell a hitchcock film because they all have for the most part suspense thriller comedy, some more, some less, but hitchcock is so hitchcockian (lol) his film's are not noir to me


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FINALLY! One of my most favourite films of all times (with possibly the most beloved director of all times!). Hitchcock does deserve a special place in the Noir realm. His films are filled with dread, violence, darkness of the human mind, uncertainty, etc., but I feel that his approach differs to the rest of Noir directors. Taking the opening scene of Strangers on a Train into account, which doesn't necessarily inflict the anxiety or terror on the viewer straight away, unlike the opening of Kiss me Deadly, D.O.A. or Caged for instance. There is some suspense present, but it is slightly alleviated with the daylight or "non-threatening" music, which gives almost a "carefree" tone to the beginning of the film, allowing us to breathe freely for a moment, at least until the real dread comes...

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-- 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?

 

The music makes the scene much lighter in tone. Even the shadows and dark places do not play as darkly as Kiss Me Deadly or The Hitch-Hiker. In fact there doesn't seem to be any danger lingering anywhere as of yet. We are being lulled into a feeling of safety but that is one way Hitchcock can trap the viewer.

 

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

 

Stylistically I see the crisscross references especially in the tracks in particular. They literally crisscross over each other. I'm not feeling the emptiness or despair as of yet.

 

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

 

I find it hard to throw Hitchcock into the noir topic so suddenly especially since he was the master of suspense and the clip clearly does not show the dark tones to follow. He is a special case because he probably broke the mold in terms of film noir style and substance. His redirection and our classification becomes even more broad in his arsenal of cinematic trickery. If we dissect specific films it will be easier than to look at Hitchcock generally. I think we'll need to break down the year and the topic with each Hitchcock to make it relevant to film noir.

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-- 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?

 

The music makes the scene much lighter in tone. Even the shadows and dark places do not play as darkly as Kiss Me Deadly or The Hitch-Hiker. In fact there doesn't seem to be any danger lingering anywhere as of yet. We are being lulled into a feeling of safety but that is one way Hitchcock can trap the viewer.

 

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

 

Stylistically I see the crisscross references especially in the tracks in particular. They literally crisscross over each other. I'm not feeling the emptiness or despair as of yet.

 

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

 

I find it hard to throw Hitchcock into the noir topic so suddenly especially since he was the master of suspense and the clip clearly does not show the dark tones to follow. He is a special case because he probably broke the mold in terms of film noir style and substance. His redirection and our classification becomes even more broad in his arsenal of cinematic trickery. If we dissect specific films it will be easier than to look at Hitchcock generally. I think we'll need to break down the year and the topic with each Hitchcock to make it relevant to film noir.

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I think the rhythm in this scene is different because I don't feel the foreboding nature and darkness that I felt in the other two films. Here the music is light and almost humorous and there are no dark corners that I'm looking into for something evil lurking.  We know it's coming but not yet.

 

The beautiful shot of the entrance arches is so noir to me.  The low angle shots of the legs getting out of the cabs and walking in the station, the shots of the people from behind entering the station never seeing their faces.  The shots of the train tracks reminded me so much of the shots in La Bette Humaine.  

 

With the introduction of our two characters I find the set up of two opposites. The flamboyant, almost feminine like Bruno Antony rambling on about himself and the modestly dressed, private tennis player Guy Haines.  As these continue their story as two opposing forces we will see the introduction of evil and good.

 

I believe Hitchcock should be a special case for film noir.  I don't find all of his movies have the elements of film noir in it while I believe others do.  So I do agree with many of you on this discussion.

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  Yes, I LOVE Strangers on a Train! I always thought that Bruno Anthony was the scariest Hitchcock villain, even scarier than Norman Bates. While, yes, Norman Bates did creepier things than Anthony, Bates was relatively easy to catch once the events in Psycho started snowballing. Unlike Bates, Anthony is smart, sophisticated, witty, and charming--and also a ruthless murderer, making him a textbook case for a sociopath. He comes from a rich family and can do whatever the hell he wants, and the only way the good guys can catch Anthony is when he's dead.

 

 I love the contrast of Haynes's and Anthony's shoes, and how it reveals their characters. Anthony's shoes are more stylish and ostentatious, while Haynes's is more simple and understated like the everyday man. The idea of opposites meeting, whether you call it protagonist vs. antagonist or pride vs. modesty, aligns well with the idea of a criss-cross, symbolized by the train tracks. 

 

 I believe that Hitchcock should be treated as a "special case" in film noir because he is a tour de force of his own. While he borrowed many elements from noir, he has his own creative universe of rules and tropes, such as the Hitchcock Blonde (which is not in Strangers on a Train, ironically and I don't believe you really see until his films in the mid-to-late 1950s), the Hitchcock Villain (Bates, Anthony, and the titular but unseen Rebecca), overbearing if not evil mothers, and the Hitchcock cameo. The details and nuances of Hitchcock and his films could be a course of its own, if not an online course. 

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I agree with other posts that a great deal about the characters is told in the opening scene so I would like to start with the last question first - Is Alfred Hitchcock a special case in film noir? I would have to say yes. Prior to this class I never would have considered Hitchcock films noir but now I do and this clip is a good illustration.

 

Hitchcock uses the technique of hiding things while still revealing things. For example showing us the shoes and the suitcases tells us one is flamboyant and one is conservative, however he still hides the faces and the motives of the characters. We saw this technique in other niors such as Kiss Me Deadly. We also saw the point of view of heading down the tracks which is reminiscent of driving down the road, something seen in many niors.

 

What I think makes Hitchcock different, especially for the period when this movie was made, was that as he didn't jump right into the action such as movies like The Hitchhiker. But then he didn't need to. By putting his name over the title everyone knew something bad was going to happen to some character. People intrinsically know that suspense has to be built and they're going to a movie by the master of suspense. Therefore they're willing to take a slow build up because that is part of the suspense. Kind of like waiting to see what that special present is that you know is hidden in the house somewhere.

 

I also agree with other posters that his humor made him a different case. His movies are never as dark as most other film noirs. He explored questions mentioned in the last module such as choice and diving into the absurd but by adding humor he gave us a break and let the ideas seep into our subconscious. It also made it seem more real, for example we've all met chatty strangers that will sometimes say odd things. ( although thank goodness I've never been asked to do a criss cross). He would also sometimes pull this quirky characters out to the extremes edges of reality so we would think they are so odd and funny they couldn't be dangerous, but then we found they were very menacing. To me this seems to have a very off kilter, things are not right with the world noir feeling.

 

It gives it all a bit of a "this could happen to you" feel. Even making a cameo in his movies gave it more of a sense of reality. Our subconscious told us Alfred Hitchcock's a real person so this is really happening. But then that's just my psych 101 take on it.

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One of the things I have been awakened to by this course is how important the opening scenes are. I am wondering how the opening scenes of "Strangers on a Train" compare to the novel on which this film was based. As yet, I have not read the novel or watched any of the film except for the Daily Dose clip.

 

I suspect the opening of the film is quite different from the book. I say this because it is such a visual way of showing crisscrossing and is something that would be very difficult to achieve in text alone. In the film, we see alternating (crisscrossing) shots of the two men exiting cabs and entering the train station. Then we see crisscrossing railroad tracks and then the alternating shots of the men in the train as they approach closer and closer - a shoe bump, a conversation, then Bruno crossing over to sit next to the tennis player.

 

The opening does not seem intense or scary at the noir level like "Kiss Me Deadly" or "The Hitchhiker," which begin at night and fling the viewer headlong into the action. It is a much more subtle opening, kind of reassuring, with bits of humor tossed in (e.g., Bruno's tie). But that seems to be Hitchcock's way - I am thinking of how the audience is lulled into calm and then suddenly shocked when Janet Leigh is stabbed in "Psycho." Hitchcock didn't telegraph his shots of darkness. 

 

I suspect the novel did start with the two strangers having a conversation on a train. This used to be a popular way to get things started in novels. James Hilton started more than one of his novels by having strangers converse with each other in club cars of railroad trains, and many other novelists used that device. For modern American audiences, this seems dated, since Americans do not ride trains as much now as they once did, but I can see how it is a great location to incubate a story!   

 

I enjoyed seeing things in this opening clip I had almost forgotten about, such as the presses on the wooden tennis racquets, and Bruno's spectator shoes. Tennis racquet presses disappeared when racquets went metal. I suppose spectator shoes are still being sold, but it has been years since I have seen anyone wearing them. Ha ha, I have always liked the way they look, but I never bought a pair because I have always thought they are too flamboyant and fancy for a Mid-Westerner like me. By the way, how cool is it that when Bruno says "I certainly admire people who do things" he is wearing spectator shoes?

 

I look forward to watching this film on July 17!

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I agree with many of the previous comments, but have a few, hopefully additional, thoughts.

 

Imagine the same opening, but with a different score. Score was always an important element of a Hitchcock film. The music here is very light and jaunty. Imagine this opening with a darker, more foreboding score. If it had, I believe those of us who are having a hard time slotting this film into the noir category would be swayed, because ...

 

... there are so many noir elements here! The cab going from light into darkness; the mannered camera angles, cutting the two characters off at the knees, making us size up these two men by how they choose to dress; the self-conscious intercutting between them as they walk toward their fate; the multiple symbolism of the train veering from the straight path, and "crossing over," and of paths crossing. Further, going to Professor Edwards' lecture last week, we see how a single, fateful moment (the simple bump of the two men's shoes) sets the course of the story on a darker path; also the Freudian psychology on display here: the flamboyant Bruno is a narcissist (his flashy clothes, his gregariousness, his taking up so much room with his leg that his more conservative counterpart *has* to bump into him in order to cross his legs) and is also probably a homosexual (the way he speaks and gestures when he mentions pleasing his mother would have been code for such at that time). Homosexuality (which Hitchcock frequently employed in his films) was often unfortunately viewed at the time as tantamount to moral degeneracy -- it wouldn't be removed from the American Psychiatric Association's DSM as a mental disorder until decades after this movie was made. All of this in a few minutes of film certainly mark this movie as belonging in the noir vein.

 

However, that music. It's humorous. That's Hitchcock. 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.

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I've seen this film a number of times but never given it any thought as to it being a Noir until now. Hitchcock was famed for his suspense movies in whatever period of time he was operating, all of them laced with a certain amount of humour and I think if there's any Noir in this movie it's cinematographic touches (in this clip, the non-traditional shots of legs and backs of the two characters until they intersect) and ideas he might have borrowed from the genre/style/movement to give his movie relevancy to the film-going audience of the day. I feel the modern equivalent would be a Speilberg or a Ridley Scott movie: they borrow ideas and looks from other genres but you can still see a movie that is recognizably theirs. 

 

It's a great film though and I'm looking forward to re-watching it again with my newly Noired eyes! 

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SPOILERS

i agree! The thing about Bruno is he is the type of wierdo that you don't take seriously because he is so goofy, but he sneaks up on you and then the light bulb comes on! i gotta getta get this creep out of my life. He's the friendly stalker type

  Yes, I LOVE Strangers on a Train! I always thought that Bruno Anthony was the scariest Hitchcock villain, even scarier than Norman Bates. While, yes, Norman Bates did creepier things than Anthony, Bates was relatively easy to catch once the events in Psycho started snowballing. Unlike Bates, Anthony is smart, sophisticated, witty, and charming--and also a ruthless murderer, making him a textbook case for a sociopath. He comes from a rich family and can do whatever the hell he wants, and the only way the good guys can catch Anthony is when he's dead.

 

 I

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If anyone ever wonders why Hitchcock is still revered as a filmmaker, a close inspection of any scene in any of his films should clear things up. He was a master at making sure no shot was wasted; every frame in the film comments on the story in some way, every prop and camera angle inform the viewer and add depth and dimension to every scene. He may have faltered in some films, and his care for plot did not always equal his care for presentation, but he seemed to have been born with an instinctual understanding of visual composition.

 

We get an opening that focuses on what the characters surround themselves with more than the characters themselves. We see their luggage, their clothes, their shoes, well before we see their faces. One man flashy and fussy, the other inconspicuous and laid back. It's amusing when we finally get to meet them that the famous one is quiet and unassuming, while the unknown character puts his name on his clothes and intrudes on everyone's surrounding(don't believe for a second he's going to let him finish that book).

 

And this is another film where Hitchcock is obsessed with trains. It enforces my oft-stated idea that trains(and travel in general, but especially trains) represent the irony of noir characters trying to escape their fate while also travelling straight into it. The train tracks make it look like you're going somewhere, but you're only going to a predetermined endpoint. Here, look at his shot of the tracks; The train is going straight, but does not continue that way. The train turns to the right, pulling the story off the simple straightforward path and into more tangled, darker territory.

 

I do tend to think of Hitchcock as a special case in noir, because I don't really think of him as a noir director. Certainly most of his films would fall into that category, but he doesn't have the same underlying fatalism, the same cynicism, common to the genre. There's also a slight remove from the emotional content of his films. Not a Kubrick-level remove, but Hitchcock would much rather thrill you than have you worry about the emotional well being of his characters. He's not trying to expose the bitter heart at the center of postwar America, he just wants to make you gasp, or laugh. He wants to entertain not educate.

Side note, for my favorite stupid joke Hitchcock ever put into a movie, and it also includes trains: the end of North By Northwest, where Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are on a train, and they embrace passionately, kiss, and fall back onto a bed, and then Hitchcock cuts to a shot of the train entering a tunnel. He was such a child.

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The opening of Strangers On A Train is the antithesis of the clips we saw last week:

  • There's no action during the credits - a simple location establishment shot until the credits are over and the first cab arrives. No plot points are taking place yet.
  • It's light and airy, not dark and scary, and there's no sense of dread or impending danger or doom.
  • The music is supportive of this being just a normal day in a normal place. Accessible, populated, calm.

 

Now once the credits are over, of course, we do get some noir elements:

  • We are introduced to the characters by seeing their shoes, their luggage, their gait. One is fancy and purposeful, the other a more relaxed and subdued man who  plays tennis.
  • Bruno and Guy wind up sitting across from each other by accident.
  • It is Guy who accidentally brushes against Bruno, although Bruno is taking up more than his share of space and Guy's leg crossing was contained.
  • Bruno is as flamboyant in personality as he is in his clothing style. Guy, even when identified as a tennis champ, is as reserved as his muted clothing.
  • Bruno has no problem invading the distance between them (sitting awkwardly close, the two handed handshake) but Guy is uncomfortable asserting his preference to be left alone, even when Bruno remains next to him rather than returning across the aisle.
  • The train tracks crossing routes - another random path is taken. Every step in life is unique - what if the train was scheduled to run on the original track? What if Bruno sat in the *next* car? What if Guy's cab was too late and he missed that train? We are at any point in life from both deliberate choices and random actions.

 

I don't know that you could call Hitchcock a special noir case as opposed to a suspense stylist, but in many of his classic films:

  • things seem to be fairly normal, but someone has a secret
  • the protagonist stumbles into the opportunity for trouble accidentally
  • someone makes a single bad decision that spirals out of control
  • the suffering protagonist finds that no one believes him/her
  • the villain is pretending to be someone they are not and usually a person of trust

I suppose you could consider some of Hitchcock's films noir, but frankly who could you properly call a "noir Director"? Lang, Dassin, Wilder, Preminger and Huston made many films outside the scope of noir. So I guess I would say Hitch was worthy of special focus only if we chose to review a section of his work that fit the bill, much like we would focus our noir appreciation of Bogart, Garfield, Mitchum and Lancaster to the appropriate filmography within their careers.

 

And I would have no problem isolating any of those names I mentioned for a week of deep focus!

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