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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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At the beginning of "Strangers on a Train", Hitchcock is presenting our two characters in rather happy light.  Just two guys going off on a train ride.  Though he starts with the feet as in a few of our previous noirs, he is just showing their differences in attire.  This gives us a hint into their personalities.  There is nothing overtly sinister about the opening.  As was mentioned in the daily dose there is a foreshadowing of the criss-crossing of two lives with the train tracks but mostly we are just introduced to our two main characters.

 

It is only later that the noir aspects appear.  (Possible spoilers, if anyone hasn't seen this movie)  As the conversation between the strangers continue, you start to get the impression that there is something decidedly off about Bruno Anthony.  An accidental meeting suddenly turns Farley Granger's character into "a disoriented individual facing a confused world he cannot accept".  For the rest of the movie, he is filled with desperation and dread.

 

As for Alfred Hitchcock being a "special case" with respect to film noir...  Alfred Hitchcock is my favorite director and I always consider him special. :D

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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?

 

I would venture to think most would consider The Face Behind the Mask as noir, along with being a crime drama.  Much of Lorre's early work...beginning with M, through Stranger on the Third Floor and Mad Love, etc...which all straddled noir if not fell entirely in it.  Lorre was naturally creepy...with appearance, his eyes, accent and quiet but suspicious voice.   His Johnny Szabo was also a tortured, sympathetic character, not quite the criminal mastermind of Lang's Dr. Mabuse, but clearly the smartest guy in the room made even more creepy by his use of his ill-fitting mask.  

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At the beginning of the clip, we see two men who are going take a train to their respective destinations. One is a conservative dresser and plays tennis, as evidenced by the plain shoes and tennis rackets he has.  The other man appears to be a flashy dresser as evidenced by his shoes and pin stripe suit.  But that's all we know about him at first.

 

The criss cross theme is strongly represented.  First, men getting out of the cabs are shot from opposite directions.  They approach the station entrance from opposite directions.  They both criss cross the pattern of the floor tiles as they walk.  They then wind up walking in the same direction to board the train.  Once in the car, they approach seats from opposite directions and even cross their legs in opposite directions. The criss cross of the railroad tracks has already been mentioned.

 

Unlike in Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitchhiker, these seem to be two ordinary guys who just happen to "bump into" each other on the train.  It happens every day.  There doesn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary, nothing amiss.  Even when Walker kind of pushes himself onto Granger (God, the tie is awful but it is an attention getter), it doesn't seem all that unusual.  So many of us have had the experience of sitting next to a too chatty person at the airport or on the plane itself.  There's no fear, anxiety, desparation as in the other two films.  There's no warning at all of the danger in which Graner is going to find himself enmeshed.

 

The use of light and shadow is noir, for sure.  I love the way the shadow of the train seems to slowly engulf the tracks in front of it a portent of doom!

 

Because I'm so new to the study of film in general and film noir in particular, I don't feel especially qualified to comment on the last question about Hitchcock's work. 

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Hitchcock's opening rhythm for Stranger's on a Train is much more subdued than Kiss Me Deadly or The Hitch-Hiker. It has a soft quality of building up the story where as the other two movies start out with quiet a loud "bang" if you will. It still draws you in though through the architecture and the light just like it was any other normal day except that we know that it won't stay that way. It has more of a realism in the opening sequence as if it was gining you a peek  in the life of the characters.

Showing the first minute or so with just the view of the players walking and emphasizing the difference in the shoes is a noir characteristic and is telling a special story all on its own. We know right off that one is reserved and one is more likely to try anything. Then moving into the conversation you can feel a tension between them right after they make eye contact. Mr. Fancy shoes has an edge about him that makes you think he is going to force himself into this persons life and it is not going to end easy. It certainly wouldn't be noir if someone wasn't making bad decisions because he is going to invite him right in.

I love Hitchcock but I have to say that when I think of his movies I have never put them in the same category as other noir movies. I am not sure why really because they do have wonderful noir qualities about them.  Maybe it's because I loved him first. The more I am educated on noir though I am beginning to change my mind.  When I think of all his movies that I have seen there are camera angles, shadows, desperation, lighting and dialogue that all fall into this style of moving making.

Hitchcock has something extra though.  I can't quiet put my finger on it yet but I think Hitchcock has a special style all his own. I don't guess I have answered the last question very well but it has given me alot to ponder. I like that.

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Most of the comments to this discussion have concentrated on the "criss-cross" design of the opening sequence. But just as important are the observations of several commentators to things being in "twos," "pairs" and "doubles." In Francois Truffaut interview with Hitchcock, the master commented on his "fascinating design" of "criss-cross" "pairs" and "doubles" saying, "One could study it forever." Even Hitchcock's cameo appearance was playful to the theme in that he carried a double bass.

 

I agree with most that Hitchcock is a special case when it comes to his place in the study of film noir. His noir films, "Shadow of a Doubt," "Notorious" and "Strangers on a Train" adapt nor stylings to Hitchcock's own special method of manipulating his audience. Even "The Wrong Man" with it's true story of a trapped innocent man illustrates Hitchcock's special place in the film noir community. Hitchcock unfortunately failed with an attempt at an amusing film noir in color in broad daylight with "The Trouble With Harry."

 

In fact, not mentioned at all in this course is color and daylight in film noir, most significantly, "Leave Her to Heaven," featuring one of the most frightening femme fatales in all of noir. And while I'm being slightly off topic, I point to one magnificent film noir that features neither crime nor a femme fatale: Max Ophuls superb "Caught" with Robert Ryan in arguably his most terrifying performance.

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– How does Hitchcock's rhythm and purpose differ in this opening sequence from other films noir such as Kiss Me Deadly or The Hitch-Hiker?

 

All three of these films begin with fateful chance encounters.  Both Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker begin on dark highways at night and involve a person being picked up by a passing car.  This plot device immediately puts the characters in a closed situation where they have to interact with each other.  In both Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker the situation quickly turns to fear and menace.  Christina Bailey is running in fear of the people who tried to lock her away in an asylum and s afraid of being picked up by the police and returned.  The clip we analyzed in The Hitch-Hiker was not actually the opening scene of the film.  In the context of the whole film, by the time we see the legs and feet of Emmett Meyers standing by the side of the road before Roy and Gil pick him up, we already know he is an escaped convict who has a gun and has already killed three other people who gave him a ride.  Hence, it is only a question of time before the menace he represents emerges.  There is a strong element of chance involved.  Roy and Gil are two normal guys off on a fishing trip when they happen to pick up a homicidal convict on the run.  Mike Hammer may not be such a normal guy, but he usually makes his living by investigating marital infidelity – a far cry from chasing “the great whatsit” in the mysterious box that kills so many and almost kills Hammer in the end.

 

The title of Strangers on a Train already tells us what to expect.  This will involve train travel, not a pick-up on a dark highway.  Like the other two films, this will involve an encounter between strangers.  But Hitchcock builds the tension slowly from innocent strands of everyday life instead of plunging us right away into the realm of fear and menace.  The opening scene takes place in broad daylight, beginning at Union Station in Washington, D.C.  Hitchcock uses visuals and the supporting musical score set up the story; no words are spoken until at 2:22 Guy Haines says, “Excuse me.”  We see the shoes, trousers, and luggage of two men emerge from their taxis at the station and begin walking purposefully through the station to board their train.  The two different styles of shoes, clothing, and luggage help us to identify and begin forming an impression of the two characters even before we finally see their faces and hear their voices.  Man A has a pinstripe suit and two-tone wingtip shoes.  He appears to be a bit of a dandy.  Man B is wearing slacks and a sport coat with more conservative dark shoes.  He appears to be a tennis player from the two rackets he is bringing with him.  After the two leave their taxis, there are three pairs of shots of the two going through the station, crosscut A B A B A B.  At times the musical score almost sounds as if it could have been written to accompany two trains gathering steam and beginning on a collision course.  This is followed by a shot of the intertwining railroad tracks outside the station, shot from a moving train as it winds through the various tracks and switches on its way out of town.  To me this is a metaphor for the complex intertwining of the paths that bring ordinary people into contact with each other.  Inside the train the camera again begins following the legs and shoes of the two men, first A as he passes through a salon car and takes a seat on one side, then B as he happens to take a seat opposite A.  In doing so, B’s right shoe brushes the right shoe of A, and B excuses himself, thus initiating the chance encounter.

 

In Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker fear and evil come crashing in out of the darkness to change the lives of people going about their innocent business.  In Strangers on a Train Hitchcock is very slowly weaving a web that will ensnare his characters in nefarious activity, but the plot will evolve much more slowly and subtly, thus underlining to the viewer that fearful things can develop right under our noses in everyday circumstances.

 

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

 

I’m not completely sure, but I guess that the opening shots of the main characters’ legs and shoes can be considered low-angle shots, something that could qualify as a stylistic element of noir.  If I had to find something in this opening sequence that stands out as belonging to a film noir and not, for example, to the beginning of a comedy, it would be the shot of the railroad tracks, which to me seems symbolic for the fateful intertwining of two random people.  Dimitri Tiomkin’s score, while it adds to the visual storytelling on screen, does not signal to me in this opening sequence that this is going to be a film noir.

 

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

 

I do not think that Hitchcock should be considered a “special case” in the discussion of film noir any more than Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann, Robert Wise, Raoul Walsh, or John Huston should be considered special cases.  They all made some great films noir during the 1940s and 1950s, but they all made other great films both during and after that period.  While Hitchcock may be considered the “master of suspense,” that does not mean that he was not also a master of the noir style or did not use some of the same themes, in particular that of the ordinary innocent person being ensnared in a web of fate beyond his control.  If anything, perhaps his endings were not dark enough to be compared with the best of film noir.

 

P.S. on 14 July 2015

 

After thinking about the clip again overnight, it occurred to me that the opening sequence emphasizes the convergence of the two strangers visually after they exit from their respective taxis.  Man A (Bruno Antony) moves always from the right side of the frame toward the left side, and man B (Guy Haines) moves from the left side to the right side of the frame.  They go more or less straight when they pass the gate to the platform, but once on the train, A comes from the right and B from the left until they take their seats.  The first time we see both men in the frame together, A is on the right and B on the left.  This is the case until Bruno hops across the aisle to introduce himself and sit beside Guy.

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I would venture to think most would consider The Face Behind the Mask as noir, along with being a crime drama.  Much of Lorre's early work...beginning with M, through Stranger on the Third Floor and Mad Love, etc...which all straddled noir if not fell entirely in it.  Lorre was naturally creepy...with appearance, his eyes, accent and quiet but suspicious voice.   His Johnny Szabo was also a tortured, sympathetic character, not quite the criminal mastermind of Lang's Dr. Mabuse, but clearly the smartest guy in the room made even more creepy by his use of his ill-fitting mask.  

I must be looking at the wrong lists. I only found a couple that include it...

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Hitch is a very special director not special case.  His Shadow of a Doubt, is by far best of his film noir.  One of his personal favorites, Shadow of a Doubt, is all noir, even the ending(after you think about it).  Strangers on a Train, is visually thrilling and outside the happy ending leaves you just shy of lighting effects, but remains one of our best films.  Patricia Highsmith's the talented mr ripley is also very neo noir.  The locations shots/jazz/imagery/subjects just better than this one.  

 

Hitch's use of color and scores and advancements in film, have redefined genre's and film altogether.  I believe his best work is in color and the use of it, but the master of suspense, is by no means a special case to be considered, he is one of the best at all attempts, his happy endings are not as perverse as some but delivers lasting taste of sickness that stays in our diets today.  

 

Uncle Charlie death is just as perverse as any great noir's, although you think it's a happy ending, nobody knows who he really was...............great noir great film great director 

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First saw Strangers on a Train at the Redford Theatre a few years ago. Naturally the climax of the film is still haunting me to this day, but that's another post.

 

This starts off WAY more slowly than Kiss Me Deadly or The Hitch-Hiker. Both walk at a normal pace towards their destination, the train.

The two passengers come from opposite directions and seem to be heading towards each other. You almost expect them to collide and end up grabbing the wrong luggage in the confusion, but instead they head to their trains and don't meet until later.

 

The criss-crossing of the tracks as the train exits the station has you wondering what track it will take and what kind of journey it will be.

 

Bruno's spectator shoes (official name for the "gangster type" shoes and pin stripe zoot suit almost looks out of fashion for 1951, as that was a popular look primarily in the 1940's.

 

Guy is dressed more business like with his plain black suit and black shoes.

 

When the two finally meet in the club car, the meeting is accidental as Guy brushes Bruno's shoes as he sits down. He thinks he can just relax and enjoy his book....but no.

 

You can tell Guy is quickly uncomfortable when Bruno sits down next to him and flaunts his gaudy tie at him. Bruno swears he doesn't talk much after that, but he is a BIG FAT LIAR. We know we have just taken the wrong path along with Guy.... 

 

 

Is Hitchcock a special case? Possibly. He mainly did pure suspense throughout his career. Recently I saw Dial M for Murder at the Redford Theatre and it also has some hints of noir in it as well. But when Psycho came it was considered the death knell for noir, according to Eddie Muller in his book Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir.

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Unlike last week's DDDs which moved in a linear way, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN's opening shows two people moving towards each other in a criss-cross or, more accurately, an upside-down Y pattern. Til they meet, the two sets of legs appear as mirror images of each other. Same camera angle, same composition and framing for each one, similar musical passages even. The score hits a new, darker note in the shot where they finally meet under the table. This shot, so to speak, forming the single leg of the "Y".  If we know the plot, we know that the "criss cross" idea is at its center.

 

The patterns of the railroad tracks, the venetian blinds are elements of the noir style, though not exclusive to it. Also the concept of "doubles" appears in noir often. To me, some of Hitch's movies are very much noir, for instance this one and SHADOW OF A DOUBT, and I'd place much of his oevre in that large and richly diverse "crossover" neighborhood of movies which mix strong elements of noir with other cinematic streams. 

 

One unique thing I see consistently in Hitchcock's movies is that seamless integration of blackest humor, his perfect way of eliciting a chuckle without interrupting the prevailing mood of foreboding or suspense. I think Bruno's lobster tie did it here. ^_^

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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? In Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker, we also saw only feet or legs at the beginning, but with much more of a feeling of dread. In both of those cases, the first person we saw was desperate in some way, and the sound track added to that feeling, but the feeling in this clip is much lighter because of the music – and the story so far. The music emphasizes the deliberate way the protagonists approach their goal, much like we see in D.O.A. but, again, much more light-hearted.

 

-- What are the noir elements that you notice in the opening of this film? Either in terms of style or substance? Use of light and dark - the car comes out of the light into a darker space – like “Out of the Past.” The angle of the shots of the railroad lines criss-crossing echo the theme and make us feel like we are on the train, at the beginning of a journey. The shadow of the train feels like it will overcome the entire shot. The music changes as they board the train – not deliberate anymore, but more confused and suggestive of something evil to come. The blinds behind one of the protagonists on the train are a much-used noir element – they often signify bars and suggest a future that is closing in. 

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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 rhythm and purposes of the opening scenes in Strangers On a Train are very different from that of Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch Hiker. The opening scenes in Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch Hiker are full of tension and the wonder of what will happen next. However in Strangers On a Train everyone is calm and relaxed. There is no tension.

 

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

In the opening scene we see in the foreground, the dark passenger drop-off area and in the background there is the vehicle entrance that is bright and sunny and maybe even over exposed. As the 2 passengers are dropped off from their taxi we see only their feet and shoes. One passenger has saddle shoes with very bright white areas. The music seems to announce each passenger as they exit the vehicle and then the music beat keeps up with passenger's walk pace. The camera angle is very low. As the train leaves the station, it goes through several rail switches with rails criss-crossing everywhere. Something is going to happen.

 

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

There is no need to consider Strangers On a Train a "special case" of film noir. The first few minutes have several film noir traits such as low camera angles, dark shadows, and high contrast situations. It's just that there is no overall tension that the viewer can sense.

 

 

 

 

 
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One unique thing I see consistently in Hitchcock's movies is that seamless integration of blackest humor, his perfect way of eliciting a chuckle without interrupting the prevailing mood of foreboding or suspense. I think Bruno's lobster tie did it here. ^_^

 And of course Bruno's line "I don't talk much. You go ahead and read". :)

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Hitchcock is his own genre; he combines so many elements in his films. There are several noir elements in this scene: contrasting lighting, unusual shots and angles, realism & formalism, etc. The shot of the train tracks when the train was pulling out reminded me of that French film from the first week of the course.

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Superb opening sequence! Like "Shadow of a Doubt," I do see the noir style reflected in "Strangers on a Train." I think it is difficult to see Hitchcock in the context of film noir for four reasons: Hitchcock is in a class by himself, like David Lynch. Also, Hitchcock is quintessentially suspense. Hitchcock admittedly was fascinated by the dark underbelly of the upper classes-- which Peter Bogdonovich reitered in an interview regarding "Dial M for Murder"-- where films noir usually focused on middle to lower ones. Some exceptions to this rule include "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers" and "The Big Sleep," but much of the classic film noir like "Double Indemnity" and "The Maltese Falcon," "Scarlett Street" and "D.O.A.," reflect more the struggles of the lower and middle classes. And, Hitchcock is so elegant, not at all gritty, as we are so used to experiencing in films noir. But, I would argue, I think that anything that Chandler touches must be crime and noir, much of his work not appearing in "Strangers on a Train" notwithstanding. The sophisticated, twisted plot and crime themes in "Strangers on a Train" most definitely reflect film noir. So glad this gem is included in our Doses this week, thank you!

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I enjoyed how the music changed as the film proceeded.  The cabs and the feet and the bringing forth the total figures but only from the back.  Then the meeting and how Walker seemed to take over the scene by crossing over to Granger's table.  Interesting too when the train is going it shows the criss crossing of the tracks.  The music though fit in each circumstance.  I never looked at this opening this way.  This course is giving me a deeper knowlledge and a further interest in Film Noir.  It is too bad it has to end.  

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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 overwhelms the opening, driving everyday sounds (car doors closing, shoes on the pavement) driving them to the background, opposite the prominence of the ball bouncing in M, or the footsteps, panting, and screeching tires in Kiss Me Deadly.  The music in this clip (Strangers On A Train) seems inappropriately (and to me, irritatingly) lighthearted, whereas the music in the opening of The Hitch-Hiker, complements the action and even offers some foreshadowing of the danger ahead.  The music in The Hitch-Hiker, while not in the background, certainly does not overwhelm the sounds of the car approaching or the car door opening/closing.


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

- Noir style can be sighted in the multiple diagonal train tracks, the shot of only lower legs, the reversal of the good guy cue (bad guy wearing white shoes, good guy wearing black—not unlike Lana turner dressed in white in the opening of The Postman Always Rings Twice).  Noir substance is evident in Guy Hanes chance bumping (literally) into Bruno Antony as cruel fate and/or validation of Profirio’s theory on existentialism influence.


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

- I disagree.  To quote Professor Edwards in Lecture #1, “Heist films, such as … Kansas City Confidential are a staple story told many times in the noir style.”  Based on that statement, one could tell that same staple story in a non-noir style.  Professor Edwards also tells us (in Lecture #2) that “film noir did not invent film shadows, or chiascuro lighting, or fog-swept streets, or night shooting.  Film noir just tended to use these visual strategies ….”  If one can tell a story either in a noir style or not, then, does noir “style” alone define a noir movie?

            Much of Gun Crazy occurs in the daytime, negating low-key lighting.   Much of Dark Passage and D.O.A. occur in daylight or in realistic indoor environs (apartment/hotel rooms).  I submit  that the substance of Strangers On A Train is what qualifies it as film noir, as does Gun Crazy, D.O.A., etc., but not as a “special case”.
               Although Alfred Hitchcock’s name appears above the title, other directors of “noir” films (Nicholas Ray, Ida Lupino) also directed non-noir films.  That director Hitchcock crossed over into noir in this instance does not in and of itself make Strangers On A Train a “special case.”

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While I’m not the biggest Hitchcock fan (I think he has little concern for a logical plot or plausible endings), I certainly think he is worthy of his name about the title. He had great control of the mise en scène. I may be wrong about this, but my understanding is that he storyboarded every shot and rarely wavered from his well-thought-out plan. He was the king of “showing” over “telling.” One can certainly see this in the opening of “Strangers on a Train.” The credits roll over another noir archway, bright in the background and shadow in the foreground. With the U.S. Capitol visible in the background (Hitchcock loved American landmarks) and the taxis in the foreground, anyone could easily identify the location as Union Station in Washington, DC. Of course the tennis rackets and the bi-colored brogue shoes add instant exposition too. I hadn’t recalled that it was Guy who sits down across from Bruno and accidently kicks his foot. I’ll have to watch the film again, because my recollection was that Bruno had planned to use Guy from the start. I suppose they truly are strangers on a train. In any case, the story relies on that old conman’s maxim, “you can’t cheat an honest man” and the fact that both men are a less-than-honest will drives the story. Sure Hitchcock’s noir had a signature style and most of his films wouldn’t be regarded as noir, but I certainly think this one qualifies.

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The opening scenes from Strangers On A Train is accompanied by a rousing score by Dimitri Tiomkin which becomes almost whimsical during the low level shot of Bruno Antony’s (Robert Walker) two tone shoes in contrast to Guy Haines’s (Farley Granger) more standard foot ware.  There is a sense of everyday normalcy in the activities of leaving a cab and heading for a train as compared to the more ominous, somewhat desperate activities in the opening of both Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker, where a panic stricken Cloris Leachman leads the viewer down a dark desolate highway and William Talman a lone stranger also on the side of a darkened highway flags down an unsuspecting passerby.  It’s a standard technique of Alfred Hitchcock to create a rhythm of a tranquil environment populated with normal everyday characters.  This is Hitchcock’s way of putting the viewer into a relationship with an “everyman” story.  The purpose in shooting the low level shots of shoes moving towards the train are filmed diametrically opposed, one pair moving from left to right and the other from right to left metaphorically leading to a collision of personalities, morals and existence. 

 

I would agree that Hitchcock is a special case for noir discussion in the very way he avoids the typical noir tools of darkness, dread and outright evil by illustrating how any innocent (everyman) can be drawn into the same world of desperation and contact with evil doers even in broad daylight and without any of his/her own doing.  Much like Edmond O’Brien’s character in D.O.A. who is totally innocent but still functioning in the darkness of noir story.  Hitchcock disarms his audiences placing them and his characters in normal surroundings and only through twists and turns in the story do his characters fall into the nastiness of films noir.  He is a special case in his style of cinematic storytelling and it may not be film noir but if it is, Hitchcock enters through the back door!  And he does not knock!!! 

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Train tracks are a symbol for the journey this chance encounter creates between Bruno and Guy. Train tracks seem to cropped up earlier in the course in La Bete Humaine. The unusual two-toned shoes were also interesting. As the camera pans down low to the ground we see people moving about. They're all wearing non-descript shoes. Nothing stands out. But Bruno's feet tell us he's not like everyone else. I saw this "shoe thing" before in the movie "The House on 92nd Street." In that movie Mr. Christian also sported slightly unusual shoes. It's odd how these simple things should draw our attention and yet the pace at which the world moves allows these feet to blend right in.

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Tough question on whether or not Alfred Hitchcock should be considered a “special case” relative to his inclusion as a film noir director.  The question itself suggests that he’s not by asking us if we should make a special exception for inclusion.

 

I’ve seen most of Hitchcock’s films but to answer this question properly, I would have to go back and rewatch them solely in the context of whether or not they’re film noir movies.  Sounds like fun, especially in the light of what I’ve learned from our course, but I’m not going to be able to do that in the next twelve hours, so excuse me if I wing it a bit.  There could be some mistakes or omissions.  Please feel free to correct or add additional information!

 

On the inclusion side of the argument, many Hitchcock films involve crime, e.g., The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Sabotage, Rebecca, Foreign Correspondent, Shadow Of A Doubt, Notorious, Rope, Strangers On A Train, Dial M For Murder, Rear Window, Vertigo, North By Northwest and Psycho.

 

Some involve detectives or amateur sleuths, e.g., Foreign Correspondent, The Lady Vanishes, Shadow Of A Doubt, Rope, Rear Window, The 39 Steps, Vertigo and North By Northwest.

 

Some main characters face existential dilemmas or have deep insecurities and lack confidence in what they’re doing, e.g., Margaret Lockwood in The Lady Vanishes, Teresa Wright in Shadow Of A Doubt, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious, and Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo.

 

There are noir overtones in all of the above films, but somehow they don’t feel fully noir.  Perhaps it’s the lack of formal stylistic approaches to lighting and camera composition.  Perhaps it’s too many of the films have happy endings that reinforce or conform to traditional values, roles and goals for men and women.  Perhaps too many of the films that involve large institutions such as the FBI, CIA, military and government lack the darkness of institutional corruption.

 

If there is one Hitchcock film that I would consider, it’s Vertigo.  Jimmy Stewart is an ex-cop now playing detective.  He’s set up because of his fear of heights and exists solely to provide a credible alibi and court testimony.  He’s taken by a beautiful woman whose every action is designed to further the con.  The results send Stewart into a deep psychological trauma.  When he recovers and “solves” the crime, he’s traumatized again.  The end of the film, which contains the final value assigned to the film, is profoundly unresolved, dark and troubling.  Rather than a closed, neat or happy ending a la North By Northwest, Notorious or even Psycho, Jimmy Stewart’s character is in deep, deep emotional trouble.  We’re not at all sure what’s going to happen to him as he stands on the ledge of the bell tower.  He may have overcome his vertigo but in so doing scarred his soul for life.  That’s a cruel twist of fate that turns the resolution of the story problem on its ear.

 

Lastly, and this is a whole other discussion, many of Hitchcock most famous films are in color.  I have, to this day, an unanswered question as to whether or not a textbook, no doubt about it film noir film can be in color…

 

-Mark

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1.)   Unlike Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch hiker, Hitchcockc rythmn and purposed are different in this opening scene from Strangers on a Train in that we see each of these characters for several scenes sepearately before they meet.  The music and the quick cutting rythmn of these scenes seems to emphasize a light-heartedeness to the meeting that will soon change.  In Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitchiker the scenes begin with a much more ominous tone.

 

2.)  Noir elements which are present in this scene are the close ups on objects.  The close shots of the luggage and of the characters shoes. In terms of films noir substance,  the existentialist element of fate is used in this scene;  it is fate and destiny that these two characters, unknown to each other, will eventually collide.

 

3.)  Yes, I agree that Hitchcock should be treated as a special case in films noir.. Not all of his films are pure film noir , but rather a hybrid of several styles and genres.

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As you'd expect, masterful work from "the master."

 

The whole post-credits scene is designed to unsettle the viewer, from when the first taxi pulls up, nearly running into the camera (ie, the viewer), and later (again, from the viewer's POV), as the train suddenly lurches onto the other track, when you've been expecting it to go straight ahead.

 

We see no faces, only shoes, walking into the station, One pair is two-toned, resembling the spats of decades past, giving a hint that their owner is something of a dandy. When Bruno eventually introduces himself, the "mama's boy" image is reinforced by the childish tie he wears, apparently to please his mother.

 

The other shoes are sensible brogues, indicating that their owner is more down-to-earth and level-headed.

 

What a lot we learn about these two men in only a couple of minutes!

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Reflecting on Hitchcock’s masterful attention to detail, it’s interesting to note that, in this opening, Bruno enterers the screen from the right, while Guy enters from the left. Their movements toward and into this initial train car scene establishes the right half of the screen as Bruno’s, and the left half screen as Guy’s. We are made uncomfortable when Bruno encroaches into Guy’s space on the left.

 

In the track “criss-cross” shot, the train begins going straight ahead, then veers across the emerging complex tracks to the take extreme right path; towards Bruno’s side of the screen. Could this be foreshadowing that Bruno’s will steer this pair to his misguided direction?

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