Jump to content

 
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...
Dr. Rich Edwards

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

Recommended Posts

I've seen Strangers on a Train about 3 or 4 times, but I've never noticed the opening before. Seeing the two pairs of shoes and trying to figure out the different impressions I was getting from them made me do some research.
The type of shoe Bruno is wearing is called a black and white spectator shoe, popular in Britain around the 1920s and 30s. It was considered a style too tasteless for gentlemen, preferred by loungers and "spectators."

The fact that Guy Haines is a tennis player and Bruno is wearing spectator shoes is an additional (and delicious) criss-cross in this opening scene.

I've never thought of Alfred Hitchcock as a film noir director, even though his choice of subject matter is often "noirish."  His films are too idiosyncratic and not dark enough to really feel like noir. And his most subversive film - Pyscho- was made after the classic film noir timeline.

  • Like 6

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Unlike last week's DDs, I see no desperation here. These two men aren't pushed by anything except the clock/departure of the train. Both men initially walk diagonally. The train tracks split, which means to me we are going someplace slightly off course. It is important to notice we don't see faces initially, adding to the idea that everything is based upon chance. In the world of noir, as we well know, one wrong turn/decision changes everything and seals fates. I also notice the absence of shadow. To me this is where Hitch is above the rest. Like all great illusionists, Hitch is the captain of misdirection. We see one thing but it's actually something else. This perfectly fits with noir.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There were two things that struck me in today's film clip. The first was the arch casting the long shadow on the characters coming in to the train station. They're quite literally enveloped in darkness, which gives us an uneasy feeling as Hitchcock foreshadows that something will happen. 

 

The second thing was the train tracks and the numerous, different ways the train could go. Hitchcock uses trains in many of his films (The Lady Vanishes and North by Northwest, for example), but I took the view of the train going down the tracks as a symbol. Much like any human being's life, each track is a different path and a different choice. Where can the train go? What's different about each track and where each track leads? I can't help but hark back to last week's discussions on Existentialism, particularly about randomness and how one choice can have extraordinary and almost extreme consequences for the characters involved. This, plus the earlier foreshadowing, tells us as an audience that whatever is coming in the story won't lead to anything good. 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hitchcock's rhythm and purpose was not only to create suspense -- and he was the "Master of Suspense" -- but to suggest a duality between the two characters who meet on the train. In order to do this, Hitchcock used elements of film noir, including 1) the contrasting light and dark slanting stripes across the screen, 2) the focus on the mens' feet and luggage, which give them an air of anonymity, and 3) the clear contrast in their clothing.

 

I noticed the music seemed to underscore Bruno's tendency toward an excessive, even bizarre, style of dress, as opposed to the music used for Guy, who is dressed more conservatively.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I generally do not consider Hitchcock's films to be noir, though "Strangers on a Train" might actually qualify.

 

To me, one of the important traits of the noir protagonist is that he has crossed the line somehow ("I did something wrong once"). It may be a big thing, it may seem minor, but this transgression sets the protagonist up for whatever happens to him. This may be too limiting of a definition, but there it is.

 

In Hitchcock's world, the protagonist generally gets into trouble for no good reason, perhaps because he is mistaken. But "Strangers" could fit my noir definition because Guy does seriously consider doing away with his wife, and this gets him embroiled in Bruno's actions.

 

But even in terms of style, Hitchcock is somewhat outside of the noir mainstream. In the opening we see today, the shots of moving feet, the directional lines on a collision course, etc. could all come from any noir director. But note the music. In a standard noir film, we'd expect the scoring to be building up the suspense. In "Strangers" the scoring is actually kind of playful. Hitchcock wants us not to feel too nervous about Bruno yet (we'll get there soon). One can almost imagine him smiling, anticipating the fun he is going to have putting us through this.

  • Like 5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Having seen Strangers on a Train, the film certainly has elements of noir infused. However, I get very little of that from this opening sequence. Yes, the criss-cross motif--which is apparent in the legs walking in opposite directions, the railroad track, and even with one character crossing his legs--conveys a sense that something is askew (foreshadowing the dark events to come). Despite that, though, the film's music is a bit whimsical, the pace doesn't feel as frenetic as it does in a film like Kiss Me Deadly, and at least one of the characters is jovial--none of which is characteristic of noir. In short, this isn't dark (err, noir)--at least not yet.

 

With this in mind, I would agree that Hitch is a "special case" in the study of noir. With Strangers on a Train, he "breaks the rules" by introducing the audience into a world that doesn't feel immediately dangerous. Later, the tone shifts and we find ourselves embroiled in a story of manipulation and murder. Hitch has long been my favorite filmmaker, and this film is one example of what he does best: suspenseful storytelling.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ah Hitchcock! My all time favorite director! He is indeed The Master of Suspense.

 

What I like about the opening sequence is its different approach away from the chiaroscuro, straight lined images that we usually see in films noir. Here, it's an image straight out of a Tamara de Lempicka Art Deco painting; the arches, the curved street, the streamline moderne taxi cabs.

 

This is immediately followed by the contrasting pattern of each characters' arrival.

  • Bruno Anthony in his shiny spectator shoes contrasted with Guy Haines's drab loafers.
  • Anthony's cab opens with a suicide door. Haines's cab is your standard door.
  • Anthony emerges at a platform that is darker (tunnel). Haines emerges from a lighted platform (uncovered).
  • Approach to the departure gate from opposite directions (Haines stage left and Anthony stage right)
  • Approach to their seat from opposite sides of the train.
  • They sit opposite each other.

The train tracks suggest a coming together and a splitting apart on two occasions much as their meeting on the train and after.

 

There is also this theme that appearances can be deceiving and this goes for both characters. Anthony is dressed high class but this contrasts his personality. Whereas Haines is somewhat plain, he is climbing the social latter. Haines seems to lead more of a double life where he is trying to leave one social status for another but all the while still living each simultaneously.

 

As far as film noir techniques, there is the light/dark aspects as related to each character. In this film, we have more of an homme fatale. There is also the internal conflict of the protagonist; but is there really a protagonist in this film? I would say no.

 

I think Alfred Hitchcock is a man of his own. He doesn't really follow a standard; rather he takes one, makes his own which in turn becomes a new standard. He deserves a separate category.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree that Alfred Hitchcock should be a special case when it comes to considering film noir directors. And if we are to believe, as Foster Hirsch said, that Hitchcock is a noir stylist, then we may also believe that film noir is a style, not a genre or movement. "Strangers on a Train" is a great film to make my case; it's a thriller, but the look and feel is also noir.

 

This short opening sequence holds many motifs of film noir including heavy shadows, framing devices (the large arches at train station), the use of music and bold/interesting compositions (railroad tracks crisscrossing each other). Although we don't see it all in this short opening, the film also employs character motifs of film noir: people on the move (train), the role of fate (two men walking toward each other), a fatal mistake and revenge (a man wanting his father dead).

 

But there are differences from other noir films, too. It's daytime, though there are shadows. There is not the typical noir feeling of heaviness and malaise - at least not yet. Though the music starts out dramatic, it takes on a playful tone as we are introduced to two characters - or two pairs of feet would be more accurate, another light touch. A cab pulls up to the railroad station and a pair of black and white wing-tipped shoes step out of the car. Another cab and another pair of shoes: this time they are black. This is the first clue about the two characters: one wears flashy shoes, the other a more sensible pair. The "feet" then walk toward each other - first in the train station, then, after we see miles of criss-crossing train tracks, on the train. The lives of these two men are about to crisscross and collide. Mr. Wing Tips sits first, crosses his legs and then is joined by Mr. Sensible Shoes who does the same and accidentally taps Mr. WT's shoes under the table. Their fates are locked and lives will be changed forever.

 

As the film progresses it takes on the much darker tone of film noir - both visually and emotionally - and the theme of "crisscross" becomes much more prevalent. To say more would spoil it for others who haven't seen the movie yet.

 

@toniruberto

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

   Htchcock works his masterful technique of setting up his audience in the beginning scene of "Strangers on a Train ". Unlike our recent noir movies, this segment opens with an innocuous location; an architecturally perfect, busy train station in Washington D.C. during the day. Passengers arrive and move around in a leisurely fashion, unlike our past films, no one is in desperation. Hitchcock utilizes music with a humorous tone when he introduces our first set of shoes, flashy spats accompanied by pin striped pants. This character carries cumbersome luggage. Initially we can take him as a joke.

As part of his criss-cross theme in this movie, Hitchcock conversely introduces the other set of shoes, classic comfortable slip-ons. This character seems to play tennis and travels with light luggage.The next shot continues with the criss-cross message showing the arriving train moving along the interlocking tracks within a perfect POV. Both of these characters come from opposite directions of the train station but end up in the same place. They first meet when Bruno sits, crosses his right leg then Guy sits, crosses his left leg and accidentally taps Bruno's foot. That's it!! They cross paths and their lives will change forever.

     Hitchcock sets up the first scene beautifully by focusing on the light entering through the archway into the darkened station. He also uses low level camera angles at first to specifically introduce the two protagonists. Ordinary objects have special meaning. Tension quickly enters the story when Bruno's brash and intrusive demeanor "moves in". Hitchcock slowly prepares for the suspense that will inevitably follow.

     I believe that Alfred Hitchcock is a special case in film noir. He has developed his unique style by providing information to the viewer in a paused, slick manner. He uses dark suggestive humor and subtle hints to prolong the suspense. His theory of the search for the "McGuffin"....that mysterious object that sets the whole chain of events in motion, is his own. Sometimes it is noir and other times it is just Hitchcock.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh, Strangers on a Train! One of my most rewatched movies when I was little. These days, though, knowing what I do about Hitchcock, I find it harder to enjoy his movies.

 

But on to the discussion at hand:

 

1) I love the way that the two sets of feet are moving so forcefully directly at each other. You expect them to bump into each other . . . and then they totally don't. Their meeting comes from an innocent little foot tap.

 

2) I think it's significant that it's Guy who initiates (accidentally) their encounter. It plays into that fear that you never know how a small action might invite chaos (and even murder) into your life.

 

3) Hitchcock really did his own thing, in my opinion. I think that he was always interested in crime/thriller type movies, and he used noir styling when it suited him and when it suited the mood of his movies. I don't consider him a noir director, per se, but I have no problem classifying some of his movies as being films noir.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

-- How Hitchcock's rhythm and purposes are different from other films noir such as Kiss Me Deadly or The Hitch-Hiker:

 

Rather than beginning with a shocking event to throw the senses of the viewer off-kilter (such as a woman throwing herself in front of a car or a madman pulling a gun on a driver), Hitchcock begins SOAT with upbeat music and a routine daytime setting, with familiar, repeated sound patterns (footsteps, train wheels on rails) rather than with foreboding music and jarring noises, making his approach far more subtle than either KMD or THH. Setting the story in a busy train terminal and comfortable rail car the underscores the fact that what will unfold “could happen to anybody,” which brings its own sense of discomfort as the story unfolds. In many noir films, it’s clear from the opening frame—or even before the credits—that danger is afoot, but here the danger is not readily apparent.  This may echo the threat of Communism and the widespread belief that the Communist threat could be “hidden in broad daylight.”

 

-- The noir elements I notice in the opening of this film?:

 

The unconventional perspective of showing only the feet and legs of the main characters is one element, and use of framing (the taxis) in architecture and blinded windows (on the train) is another, and the fact that two people from different classes/backgrounds (as is evident from their clothes and shoes) are being brought inexorably together; but the most effective is the shot of the train tracks from the front of the train. The tracks are in a clear pattern, forming an X or criss-cross, and the train tellingly switches away from the track we’d expect to follow and on to another course, suggesting that events will unfold that are not what we expect either (except of course that we expect suspense from the master of suspense). It’s great.

 

-- Why Hitchcock should be considered a "special case" in discussion of film noir:

 

In addition to the fact that as English director working with a uniquely American film tradition (I’m dutifully trying to avoid the terms genre, type or category), Hitchcock nevertheless elevated noir to new heights of both style and substance, he should be considered a special case because of his subtlety and carefully crafted approach to noir. He deftly combines noir style (light, shadow, framing, camera position) and substance (discomfort, paranoia, claustrophobia, confusion) but without hitting viewers over the head with any of it; to the contrary, he deftly presents a noir that viewers don’t even suspect is noir, so the joke is on us…yet another Hitchcock twist. I was already a fan of Hitchcock (he just made great movies, with tight plots), and I appreciate his work all the more after viewing this film’s opening within the context of this course.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The rhythm is different from the onset with Strangers on a Train as opposed to Kiss Me Deadly, for instance. The rhythm here is methodical as opposed to the chaotic energy of the beginning of Kiss Me Deadly. Both men have a destination, a schedule to meet, and they both arrive at the train station with plenty of time to catch their train, not rushed. The have time to relax on the train; it's very leisurely. Kiss Me Deadly begins with one character not knowing where she is going -- she just knows she has to get away, and she is shoeless, clothes-less, totally vulnerable.

 

The noir elements of Strangers on a Train are the train station itself with dark corners, although shown in broad daylight. The shot of the feet and shoes, no faces, so film noir-ish. The movement of the train itself, as it leaves the station; the music builds with anticipation, almost ominous as the train switches tracks on its way out of the city.

 

I agree that Alfred Hitchcock should be considered a "special case" because he has elements of noir, but he has his own style.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

 

Here are a few discussion starters (though feel free to come up with your own):

 

-- 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?

 

SOAT is very different from the other 2 films in the fact that the music is more livelier. The two characters seem to be a contrast of each other. This is demonstrated in their choice of shoes and ties. This, in turn, makes the scene non threatening to the viewer. I believe that the purpose is different because he is introducing 2 characters to us that will play instrumental roles in each other's lives. In addition, this scene includes a multitude of people going about their everyday lives, daylight, the city. The others were on open stretches of the highway at night with only those characters involved.

 

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

 

The Black and white filming, the director and/or cinematographer low angle of filming, the tight shots of the scene and most importantly the lighting of the scenes.

 

-- 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 never considered Hitchcock as film noir because when I watched these films in the past, they all seem to have a particular "look and feel" about them. This includes how they are shot, angles, the use of light and shadows. I think he make draw upon sone of the elements but not noir specifically.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Daily Dose of Darkness #21: Criss Cross

(Opening Scene from 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?

I get the sense that these characters in Strangers on a Train are people going about their everyday business. Anyone in the audience could be boarding that same train. Another detail I notice is the use of the music. It seems to add some touches of humor to the opening scene in the way that it accentuates the actors’ movements. For example, big horns introduce Bruno and his white-and-black shoes. Then lilting strings accompany his walk toward the train. I’ve always thought that Hitchcock had a sense of humor about the macabre, and a sense of humor can be very unsettling when it is contrasted with the violence to come.

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

“I certainly admire people who do things.” An odd comment or bit of flattery coming from Bruno, but the first time that I notice anything “noir” is when Bruno introduces himself into Guy’s personal space. He picks up Guy’s hand, even though it’s not offered, in handshake. He mentions wearing the nameplate tie clip because his mother gave it to him, but his mother is nowhere to be seen. He sits right next to Guy. He says that he doesn’t talk much and won’t interrupt Guy’s reading, but he stays in his position next to Guy, almost leaning into him. Contrary to what he says, I’m sure he’ll be chatting up a storm. All of these actions are one right after the other and are, I believe, designed to overtake Guy, in a sense.

—Do you agree or disagree that Alfred Hitchcock should be considered a special case in discussion of film noir?

I think Hitchcock’s films can be considered film noir, but I also think what sets Hitchcock apart is the sense in his films that evil can be done by anyone. His characters are people who are doing what they do almost every day, and their routine is upset by chance occurrences. I must confess that I’m not a big fan of defining categories sharply. I suppose the contrast between humor and everyday circumstances on the one side and the violence on the other is the clearest indication that Hitchcock can be considered noir, for me anyway.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

          Unlike the films noir that we have been seeing the opening of this film lacks the histrionics and the hysteria so common to the genre. Here everything appears “normal” although being a Hitchcock film we know that something is up already. And if we have seen the film, or if we know the work of Patricia Highsmith, from whose novel this is taken, we know that what might seem normal is in fact a coded homoerotic set up: here we have a sexual predator assaying the ability of the other to be his victim. While such a relationship might suggest an unhealthy coupling in the present day, we must remember that at the time the film was made homosexuality was a crime: thus, a crime of some description is being suggested.


            Noted for shooting from story boards and for his elaborate visual motifs, Hitchcock is in true form here by showing us two similar young men with each having a different screen direction …one enters left and goes right, one enters right and goes left. Finally they sit opposite one another in the club car as if by chance. However: since each is recognizably a famous film star chance should be more properly described as contrivance. They play footsey, smile, and say hello to one another and then the predator, already sure of his “man” squeezes into the seat next to him. Pleased, the “man” smiles knowingly and like a good victim falls silent.


            If nothing else Hitchcock is a master of contrivance …he is not one of my favorite directors. The shot of the tracks as the train leaves the station is a case in point. Union Station in Washington DC has about 25 gates for boarding trains. Leaving and arriving at the station all of these tracks are reduced to two …one north and one south. It’s a bit of an over interpretation to read into this shot a criss-cross of motives rather than just the beginning of a journey, etc. But because it is Hitchcock …we must. Yawn. You see what I mean. (The Raymond Chandler comments regarding Hitchcock, on the TCM Strangers page, are right on.) 


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?

To me, I believe that Hitchcock’s rhythm and purposes differ in this opening sequence from other films noir like Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker in several ways.

 

Although Hitchcock’s opening sequence does track the shoes and legs of the main characters like in Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker, Hitchcock’s rhythm and purposes are completely different.

 

I believe that his tracking of these two main characters is to show how similar yet different the men are. Also the background music is more whimsical and his camera movements are set up to mimic that both of these men are busy individuals.

 

To me, I believe that from the openings of the other films, the audience can tell that they’re watching a movie.

 

However, with Hitchcock’s film, I think that Hitchcock’s subtle use of camera work and themes lure the audience into the opening action of the psychological thriller that is masqueraded as an ordinary day.

I also believe that this subtle approach allows the audience to drop their guard at least until the main character’s feet literally bump into each other.

 

I also think that the commonplaceness of meeting a stranger on a train or commute is what makes this story so terrifying because it seems like Hitchcock is trying to set up a “This could happen to you too” story.

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

In terms of lighting and stage, I noticed several noir elements in the opening of this film.

 

Although they are subtle, these elements range from the comparison and contrast of the two men to the framing of where the men sit on the train.

 

Guy Haines, the amateur tennis star, is more conservative and more affluent than the more streetwise and charmingly shady Bruno Anthony.

 

I believe the characters dialogue about Bruno’s necktie even highlights the difference in their personalities and backgrounds.

 

I believe this also expresses the difference in the types of characters that inhabit the world of 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 believe that Hitchcock should be considered a “special case” in discussing film noir because although he uses elements found in the film noir style, his approach is subtle when compared to the other films we have discussed.

 

To me, I believe that Hitchcock has his own unique brand of suspense that uses or employs similar elements that can be found in the film noir style but with very different purposes behind his usage of them.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with Foster Hirsch's statement that Hitchcock is "pre-eminently a noir stylist." I take that to mean that while the content of Hitchcock's films often transcends the boundaries of noir, his visuals--the lighting and the composition of the frame and so on--are akin to the visuals we have seen in films noir. The noir penchant for bold, almost abstract geometric patterns is often found in Hitchcock's film. Here, the overhead images of the train tracks merging and diverging at the start of Stranger's On a Train are not completely unlike the geometric images of the agricultural fields seen from above at the beginning of Border Incident. The idea of introducing a character from the feet up is something we've seen repeatedly as well.

 

Hitchcock's preoccupation with abnormal psychology and aberrant behavior is another element that his films share with many films noir. We recognize that there is something "off" about Bruno even before he proposes his murder switching scheme to Guy. I think that Hitchcock simply incorporates psychological themes into his films more skillfully than in some of the films noir we've seen this summer on TCM.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have to admit that to me, the films of Alfred Hitchcock are almost a genre in and of themselves.  While I do think that some can be considered noirs, he had such a distinctive style, both visually and thematically, that his films are just identifiably his. 

 

The opening of Strangers on a Train has what could be a very noir opening.  As others have stated, there is a focus on the feet and legs of our two main characters, much like the opening of Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker.  It could also be seen as similar to the opening of D.O.A., where we follow a man who is nothing more than an outline of a man through the opening credits.  Like Frank in that scene, here are two men who are headed to a very specific place, one that will change the course of their lives.  However, these men don’t exist in the shadows or feel isolated from their surroundings.  Even from just their feet you can see the distinct personalities of these two men emerging.

 

What makes this scene stand out, however, is some of the Hitchcockian touch.  The feeling of dread that permeates the openings of all the other aforementioned films is absent here.  The music has an almost whimsical tone that seems as if it is setting up the meeting of the leads in a romantic comedy.  One aspect that sets Hitchcock films apart from many of the other noirs is his rather droll sense of humor, clearly evidenced in his choice of music.  It is the start of a sexual attraction that we are seeing here, even if it couldn’t be dealt with openly in the script.  The romantic comedy-ish set up subtly places that thought into the viewer’s mind, perhaps without them even being explicitly aware of it at this point.  I can’t help but feel that the use of this music was a little joke on Hitchcock’s part.  There is also comedy in the actions of Bruno, i.e. him encouraging Guy to get back to his reading, even though it is clear to the audience that he will be interrupting him again in a moment.  This also serves to distract the audience from the more predatory moves that Bruno makes.  While Hitchcock was very good at creating suspense, he has chosen to almost misdirect the viewer up to this point, saving the suspense for later.

 

 

The there are a few subtle clues of the more ominous events to come is the slight change in music when we see the train lock onto its course.  That is a more typical noir moment, as it shows that our two leads are now locked into their collision course and are now headed towards the fate that this chance meeting will bring.   This is a very noir use of the train metaphor (like Double Indemnity).  The other clue of what is to come can be seen in the traditional venetian blind shadows that are often used in noir.  It is significant that these shadows fall on Bruno, but not on Guy.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hitchcock's opening seems to be very muted. This is done in a way though where is lures the viewer into a passive submission to the happenings in the movie. It pulls us in and doesn't bore us. It's easy to see the themes of criss-cross with the men apparently walking towards eachother towards the train station. Then the track shots show all the rails crossing over and shows how they have become interlocked.

It doesn't show the tension in an obvious way which is unlike the other noir films but it does have clips that show only partial clues. Such as the shoe shots. That is similar as noted and noir-esque.

 

I think Hitchcock should be in a special category. The way people discuss him and how his films have such a signature to them I think he defies genres such as noir does in that it transcends and holds its own.

 

Mark

 

 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What is absent from the opening scene from Strangers on a Train from those we have recently viewed is that sense of panic, or strife. We are not running in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, but we are in an ordinary train station, in the daytime, simply walking to board the train. Nothing particularly dark or sinister, or foreboding here. This is an example of realism in later film noir that aims to show the honest truth in the real world. The movies' openings are alike however, in that our first glimpse of the characters are their feet (also true of Phyllis in Double Indemnity).
 

Despite the everyday-ness, there is however an immediate clash of character, only apparent in the contrasting shoes; one is white while the other is black. Although the two characters are doing the same exact thing, boarding the train, they seem to walk in opposite directions. One is shot walking left, the other shot walking right. When they finally sit down to stop, these opposing footwear forces literally collide. Upon further inspection of the shoes, however, they are actually quite similar in style. 
 

Hitchcock certainly used noir elements in his films, but as a whole, I believe his work to be uniquely his in a changing time. The Twilight Zone, for example, is a conglomerate of film noir meets sci-fi, meets TV. Hitchcock has a foot in noir, but he could move and change in such varying directions that he can't really be pinned down. He seemed to enjoy being artistically elusive.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The differences between Hitchcock with Strangers on a Train vs. Kiss Me Deadly or The Hitch-hiker is a virtual 180 degree turn. There is nothing about this opening sequence that is dire, distressful, or anxiety ridden. It is clear that there are two "walks" of life being presented in the contrast of the shoes. I love how Bruno's pants cuffs are a little bit higher. They suggest a less masculine man perhaps and indeed that is what his body language and commentary eludes to eventually. 

 

But back to the contrast- no one is in fear of their life yet. The metaphors keep coming as Bruno's character boards the train. Every passenger has "Crossed Legs" and even he poignantly crosses his legs. As he is bumped into by Farley Grainger's character it is because Farley is crossing his legs.  If that wasn't enough, the scene before it should have spelled out the whole idea with the multitude of criss-crossing train tracks.

 

There are some noir elements. The taxis pulling into the station are coming in from a bright sunny day into a darker, almost underground station. Their are low angle shots as the camera displays the "criss-crossing" of people making their way throughout the station-another suggestion to the many possibilities of people whose lives may somehow cross paths. There is the mysteriousness in the identity of the two characters until the point of dialogue. Finally, while they are talking, there are the proverbial venetian blinds behind them. Moreover, in Bruno's demeanor is the forced handshake. He doesn't even give Farley's character a chance to make a decision about a handshake. 

 

Psychologically, which was Hitchcock's forte, is the suggestion of the Freudian conflict that Bruno has in weening himself from his mother. Clearly, this is not just filler dialogue. There is a reason mother was mentioned. "Oh, how I do so admire people who do things", are the words that so easily flow from Bruno's mouth. This suggests that his psychological baggage is at the forefront of his psyche whether he is aware of it or not, and he doesn't seem to be able to live his own life.

 

While the tone is different in Hitchcock's noir, the human implications are the same. Bruno is somehow desperate, but he isn't the down and out type so you wonder what "end of the line" he's come to. I imagine that since Bruno recognized Farley's character as a famous athlete, he also is aware enough of his public profile to have witnessed something of a weakness in him that he could attach to.  In true Hitchcock form, it seems that Bruno is slowly, subconsciously unraveling something sinister and building within him and he is progressively moving toward a point of no return. 

 

Hitchcock displays his noir style in a not so different way, but there is a less "street" attitude and tone within the puzzle of drama that is played out in his films. However, there is a definite commentary on society. I think both Dial "M" for Murder and this one feature a "tennis star" though I'm not sure about the reason. Perhaps there is a metaphor to the back and forth of dialogue the quick change of fortune or destiny that can occur within a tennis match as in life. Like an endless banter of words and actions that slowly and meticulously eat away at logic, reason, and sanity. 

 

  • Like 3

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?

 

 

The pace or rhythm and purpose behind that rhythm or the purpose that the rhythm seems to  suggest is one of mild mannered, laid back, calm, even run of the mill sort of a day. 

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

If any other names were on the opening credits, this would be just any other day at the airport; however, the style of showing only the shoes and luggage of the two main characters is a style and substance that points to spine chilling fair to follow...

 

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

 

ALFRED HITCHCOCK IS A "SPECIAL CASE", NO MATTER WHAT THE DISCUSSION IS, DON'T YOU THINK?

 

 

#NOIRSUMMER

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

For most of Hitchcock's Strangers On A Train opening sequence, only the protagonists' feet are shown.  Thus, greatly piquing our curiosity and creating an atmosphere of tension and suspense by not seeing their faces.  Whereas in Kiss Me Deadly or The Hitch-Hiker, we see the faces of the protagonists almost immediately.  The tension and fear is immediately sensed in Kiss Me Deadly or The Hitch-Hiker while Hitchcock's Strangers On A Train does not have that instant fevered pitched tension and fear; rather it is gradually built-up and then released or dissipated when we see the protagonists' faces.

 

The noir elements Hitchcock uses are the Warner Bros. house style of realism and grittiness; documentary realism via on location shooting; music and wardrobe to describe each protagonists personality or psyche (i.e. rich and frivolous vs. middle class and serious); many angular unconventional shots; and criss crossing tracks symbolizing fate or the fateful path leading to a grim fate (because this is a film noir).

 

Hitchcock is definitely a "special case" of film noir.  For each of his pictures, he is always inventing different ways of viewing things (i.e. the light bulb in the poisoned glass of milk to emphasize it in Notorious).  He worked mostly in "A" pictures after (his first version of) The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and when he got to Hollywood; worked with the best actors, writers, cameramen, producers, musicians, etc.; used music as a noir element to increase the tension, fear and suspense (such as the shower sequence in Psycho); and put trademarks in his pictures such as his "gallows humor" and a cameo of himself.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

From the stringed instruments of the score to the lines of the upholstery and shades on the windows, and of course the train tracks, the opening scene is heavy with visual criss crosses. Even the diamond we see on the cab and the floor of the train station is shape made of criss crossing lines. The meaning in a film noir is fate, lives paths crossed, and it lends a strangely ominous feel to the two character's first meeting despite the upbeat music and their lighthearted exchange.

  • 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?

The opening scene takes place during the day, in a crowded train station (then inside a train). We're not in the middle of the night on a deserted road. The opening in Kiss Me Deadly or The Hitch-Hiker is made to create immediate tension whereas it's not as obvious in Strangers... Tension builds up more insidiously, through details like... clothes.

Sorry, it might be only me but the costume designer created here a huge contrast with Guy Haines whose style is elegant yet low-key and Bruno. Bruno's clothes are flamboyant: pinstripe suit, (awful) tie with big patterns, cuff links... and especially his spectator shoes. Spectator shoes were associated with lounge lizards during the 1920s and 1930s. They were probably outmoded at the time the movie was shot but they're instantly recognizable: you identify Bruno as a wealthy, lazy man even before you see his face thanks to these shoes.

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

The diagonals (when Guy and Bruno enter the train station) are clearly the biggest noir element in this scene. Thanks to this almost choreographed sequence, you can tell these two are going to meet (there's a sense of inevitability in this scene) but the diagonals also convey the idea of a potential clash between them.

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

Alfred Hitchcock having a different culture (he's neither from Central Europe nor an American film maker), he is in my opinion a special case. The way he tells us the story is different. There are noir elements in Strangers but this movie doesn't come down to its noir elements, there's Hitchcock personal style.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


© 2020 Turner Classic Movies Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved Terms of Use | Privacy Policy
×
×
  • Create New...