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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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after the main credits the film starts on peoples feet like the other films before it. 

when Bruno is talking about criss cross murders if you really think about it since Guy is a tennis player when people view a tennis match, heads go side to side criss cross watching the bouncing ball. one person does the other persons murder. But hitchcock also lets the viewer get into the film, he sets the puzzle up.

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Strangers on a Train is dramatically different from many of the other films noir we've watched, in that it is so light and airy.  The scene begins in a crowded, bright train station.  We aren't immediately gripped by panic, as in Kiss Me Deadly.  The pace of this scene is so normal, passengers moving purposefully towards their destination, not the death knell pace like we saw in D.O.A.  

 

There is a vague sense of something about to happen as both sets of shoes are walking towards each other, two men on a crash course of sorts.  And the train turning down the tracks, gives a sense of something choosing a specific fate for these characters, a fate that is somehow out of their own hands.  

 

This opening is a perfect example of how Hitchcock doesn't merely operate within the bounds of film noir, but he takes those elements and makes them something completely different, something altogether his own.  We've discussed how film noir isn't really a genre, but I think a Hitchcock film certainly is in it's own genre.

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Ooooo, I do not trust those two-tone shoes! There is something almost immediately suspect about them. This movie does not have the dark, shadowy opening we have been used to seeing in film noir. It is more reminiscent of Laura in its depiction of people who are the opposite of seedy and suspect. But, there is something about the shoes, maybe the black and white, that begins to tell the backstory for us that something is wrong. 

 

The opening does remind us of noir in some ways, however. The terminal entrance is dark - closed off from the rest of the world outside. The feel is of a barrier between our noir world and the normal (bright) world outside. We are also told that what is about to happen was meant to happen because the road entrance to the station is very narrow (one car width) and one way. Such an entry gives indication that of a trapped path that is a bit ominous. The angles are also noir, from the angles of the station to the focus on feet.

 

I had never thought of Hitchcock as noir, but I guess he is, now that I think about it. He may not have been noir in the pure sense (if there is a pure sense), but he definitely weaves the angles and subtleties of storytelling in his films that is definitely noir influenced. If anything, he mastered what was best about noir and brought it into mainstream filmmaking.

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The beginning of Strangers on the train does not show anything which might cause concern or something close to the noir theme, except for one detail, it's a Hitchcock film, and, that, no viewer could ignore it in 1951, so that, immediately, even the most naive and rookie Viewer knows that something bad will happen... Visually we can find elements common to the film noir that we've seen... the furious pace, camera moves, angles of filming... but the tone, scenes that are shown at the beginning are not specifically noir.  When you advance the film, from crime, we see how visual and thematically found elements close to the noir, especially the image of murder reflected in the lens of the victim. We cannot regard to Alfred Hitchcock and his films as belonging to the "noir", many of his films, even though they relate to crimes, have elements of humor that away it from that dismal atmosphere so characteristic of the noir. Perhaps because of its subject matter, Vertigo is one of his films noir.  But at the same time, Hitchcock as a filmmaker always innovated techniques and visual resources, reason why, in many of his films are elements that are also common to the film noir. In short, as the great filmmaker who was, Alfred Hitchcock knew how to be fashionable and embodied in his works, without abandoning his personal touch, elements from other genres or streams, in this case, the film noir.

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Clothing and shoes make a dramatic contrast between Guy and Bruno, telling us a bit about their characters and place in the unfolding noir scenario. The shoes give it away at first. Bruno's two-tone pair indicate a certain flamboyance we soon see when he is seated, suggesting wealth (or a pretense) and a dissolute nature. Guy's Oxfords point to a busy, purposeful yet modest demeanor, a carryover from his own less-than-plush roots. The noir elements come following the credits as cabs enter from bright daylight into the cooler, dimmer light of Union Station. The inexorable movement of Guy and Bruno toward each other -- the "criss cross" -- lends an intriguing visual set-up to the narrative that soon follows, climaxing with their feet accidentally touching one in the club car. That sequence itself suggests a confinement that Guy later finds he cannot escape as the clearly off-the-wall Bruno presses his one murder for another scheme.

 

Is Hitchcock a special case when it comes to noir? I think so. One doesn't equate SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943) with say, Robert Siodmak's PHANTOM LADY (1944), both done for Universal, but SHADOW has more than its share of what became noir visuals, from the opening shot of Joseph Cotten lying on the bed in his boarding house to the scene in which he and Teresa Wright share an uncomfortable moment in the cafe, punctuated by the entrance of the waitress (Janet Shaw, the cabby in THE BIG SLEEP, I believe) and her longing over the ring, which points to a certain hopelessness for that character. Hitchcock did not fully embrace noir but found it useful, as he does with STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, which has a pretty neat scene when later in the film, Guy and Bruno meet at night on opposite sides of a grilled fence. When he returned for the last time to black and white with THE WRONG MAN (1957), his trademark cameo comes prior to the credits as he stands at the rear of a long shot, his shadow commanding attention as he briefs us on the nature of the film. He employed the semi-documentary approach for THE WRONG MAN. Scenes of Henry Fonda's imprisonment are nightmarish, with the rest of the film reflecting a muted winter light. Most effective and quite 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 rhythm of this sequence suggests that we are being led to a meeting of relative equals in terms of narrative status-as opposed to the imbalanced relationships in Kiss Me and the Hitchhiker. The back and forth of the walking feet, left/right, left/right, also suggests a volleying rhythm, similar to that in a tennis match, a Hitchcockian pun given Guy's profession (he's also holding his racket in the scene) and the tennis match scenes we see later in the film.

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AH has always had a wonderful sense of humor to offset the horrific aspect of human nature.  I have always loved that about his work.  The light tone in Hitchcock films is always a set-up.  Humans are ridiculous and can't be trusted no matter how "light" things seem on the outside.  The guy with the two-toned shoes is creepy all around because of his overt "friendliness."  This sets Hitchcock apart from other film noir directors, in that he brings a sense of humor about light contrasting the dark into his work.

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One difference I noticed between this scene and the daily doses from last week is that you get the feeling that Hitchcock very obviously wants to tell us something with the the shoes and pant legs. The other films from last week want to tell us something too with their openings of feet, but it just feels so much more obvious in this scene.

 

Just like the openings from last week, there is a lot of movement in this scene. It starts with the car pulling up to the curb, the 2 men walking and then the movement of the train. That seems to be a common element among some films noir.

 

Once we see these 2 characters interact on the train, we can tell their personalities are just as different as their shoes. We can learn a lot about Bruno based on his whole outfit. With Farley Granger's character, his clothes reflect his quiet and modest personality.

 

 

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One thing we almost always get from Hitchcock that we don't usually find in other noirs is moments of humor. Those are immediately obvious in the use of music and the deliberately dandy-ish clothing we see Bruno wearing. Hitchcock punctuates his suspense with moments of humor that distract and relax us so that the next sequence can build an even higher level of suspense. With many Hitchcock movies we are well into the action before we really have an idea of what is going on. That is certainly the case here where there is no real hint of anything sinister in the offing. We are seeing a 'chance meeting' between two strangers on a train heading north out of Washington D.C. It is only later that we will learn that it might not have been chance.

 

Another element of SOAT that was noted by another poster is that there are implications that at least one of the male leads may be a homosexual. Bruno's rather flamboyant attire is certainly a signal to an early 1950's audience that we may be dealing with someone different. With the earlier Rope and this movie we can't help but feel that Hitchcock seems to have a fascination with homosexual characters at this point in his career. Why, I'm not sure. Possibly, because of his Catholic upbringing, homosexuality seemed especially deviant and a natural place for finding inherently strange characters.

 

One final note that many people are unaware of is that Hitchcock, early in his career when he was still primarily an art director and scenic designer, spent some time at UFA in Germany and picked up some of the German expressionist ideas that we have talked so much about with respect to film noir. These ideas certainly stayed with him throughout his career, even if not always obvious.

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Hitchcock learned a lot from his readings of Shakespeare. His use of comic relief is notable in all his films - but he usually takes it a step further.

 

With Hitchcock we are often presented with lighthearted scenes that we know are going to betray us as viewers. We watch them with a sense of dread, wearing smiles on our faces. We know that, excuse my pun, the other shoe is going to drop, as it does in Strangers on a Train.

 

We get the 1951 view of travel, which was exciting and fun and done with style. You didn't show up to the ticket counter in your sweats or yoga pants.

 

The two characters seem interesting and Bruno may be attracted to Guy Haines, which can be deduced by his being a mama's boy (this is 1951 after all). Is Haines a little tired of the adulation? He just wants to settle in and read a good book - what could be better on a long train trip?

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I noticed a difference in tone between this opening and the openings of "Kiss Me Deadly" and "The Hitch-Hiker".  While the technique is similar, the upbeat music set a lighter tone, as if they were walking to the beat.  The many passengers hustling and bustling around the train station made this clip different from the other clips in which the characters were alone on a dark, deserted, scary road.  So I think we will all be taken by surprise as the plot progresses. 

 

I thought it was very funny how Bruno begins the conversation and pretty much dominates it, yet he tells Guy "Go ahead and read, I don't talk much."  Really, Bruno?  I highly doubt it.

 

In answer to the question, "Do you agree or disagree that Alfred Hitchcock should be considered a 'special case' in discussion of film noir?",  I would have to say that I agree.  Maybe I'm partial because I've probably seen more Hitchcock films than most of the "Summer of Darkness" lineup - they are broadcast more often and readily available in the mainstream.  But we expect as much drama, terror, suspense, etc. from a film noir as we would a Hitchcock film, and we certainly get it from both.

 

I'm looking forward to seeing this one.

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Hitchcock is a really strong personality, and he naturally puts his own spin on film noir -- the style, the genre, and the movement. As we follow in the footsteps of these two pairs of shoes, each pair the photographic negative of the other, we note that they are converging beneath a table in a train car. Just before the shoes and their wearers meet, we see -- from the point of view of the locomotive -- the train swerving to switch tracks and veering hard to the right. The hitchcockian touch, for me anyway, comes when the sequence cuts back to the shoes. The black shoes -- Guy's shoes -- brush against the white shoes -- Bruno's shoes -- and Guy's destiny veers into a new track. It has the same sort of feel as when Janet Leigh pulls into a certain hotel and when Jimmy Stewart looks into a certain apartment window. Destiny is swerving into an unexpected trajectory. Characters are going to discover a darker -- more noir -- side of their own desires. Pausing on that moment of the swerve -- that's part of the hitchcockian touch.

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It seems to me that Hitchcock has taken the opening noir shot methodology and quickened the pace. he's sped up the timing, action and tempo. he doesn't linger wither, the railroad track shot is short, the shot of the toes touching is short and the shot of the men getting out of cars is also short. so instead of using one long shot to establish the noir feel, he is using several and heightening the action for effect. it also is a tech ique for getting to the point of the story faster.

 

His rhythm is faster than most the two films we reviewed last week. there also is no obvious sign of forthcoming tension. we know these two sets of moving people will intersect but that is all we know. The fast rhythm indicates to us that there is stuff being set in motion.

 

The style of shooting people from the back, the use of lighting and shadows, the use of soundtrack music are all noir elements. there's also a sense in inevitability.

 

I think Hitchcock is a non Noir filmmaker who made genre films that fit the stories he wanted to tell. thus he is kind of a noir filmmaker. I would say he is a genre director who worked in several mediums on occasion. 

 

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I definitely agree that Hitchcock is a "special case" in the film noir canon.  Though many of his films including RebeccaShadow of a Doubt, and Strangers on a Train do carry many noir characteristics, I don't think that he himself can be fully considered a noir filmmaker.

 

Hitchcock was always referred to as "The Master of Suspense," and I think that is what each and everyone of his films does in some way.  No one of his movies possess the same kind of characteristics, but neither do all films noir.  Instead, they carry a generally "noir" feature that corresponds to their own genre or, in many cases, subgenre.  For example, a film noir like The Maltese Falcon is a crime mystery whereas a film noir like Mildred Pierce is a crime drama.  Though these two are very similar, they are not the same and neither are Hitchcock's suspense films.

 

My point is exactly this: if Hitchcock falls into any style or genre it would be "suspense."  Under each of his suspense films are different subgenres.  While Strangers on a Train may be a film noir, Rear Window is more of a thriller.  Because Hitchcock occasionally uses noir as a subgenre but often uses other subgenres below the overlying "suspense" genre, he is consequently an exception, or "special case," to the film noir genre itself.  

 

As you can tell, I am a huge fan of Hitchcock and find that his types of films could be classified just as much as films noir could be!

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Hitchcock is in a class unto himself. His set up in the opening of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN is slow boiling, simmering leading us to the two men that are the stars of the story

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Having seen Strangers on a Train before (and feeling indifferent about it), it was interesting going back and seeing how this might relate to the film noir style. Interestingly, although I had never thought about Hitchcock's films as having the potential to be noirs, it did not surprise me that of all his films, this might fall under that category.

 

Some of the noir elements that I notice are the low camera angles. Hitchcock uses Guy and Bruno's shoes to introduce both characters and, naturally, build suspense. He does not rush into the story line, unlike Kiss Me Deadly. Instead, the Master of Suspense takes his time and slowly draws the audience into the first act of the story. I've always loved how he slowly draws his audience into his movies, particularly the way he does that in Psycho.

 

One of the noir elements that struck me was Hitchcock's use of mise-en-scene. Granted, the use of mise-en-scene is not limited to films noir, but as we discussed last week, there is a definite distinctiveness to it in films noir. Hitchcock, who was a very visual director, seems to heavily rely on the character's costumes to give us an indication of who these men are. Guy, the famous tennis player, is dressed rather conservatively, in a dark suit, muted tie, and plain shoes. By contrast, Bruno is dressed in a pinstripped suit, complete with an ostentatious monogrammed tie, and (perhaps most important) are bold. Even though there is not much said between these two characters during this brief scene, the audience has begun to get an idea of who these men are, and how they are contrasts of one another.

 

I think it is plausible that Hitchcock be considered a "special case" in film noir canon. He seems to follow the basics of the style, though of course with his unique twist, as the curator's notes said. For instance, I would argue that his films are definitely influenced by German Expressionism, because early in his career, as many of us know, he worked in Germany's UFA studio. Other than that, his films will often employ a detective as a storytelling device (though not a requirement of films noir as we have learned, many people associate film noir with the detective story). However, just as it is very difficult to place films noir in a single and distinctive box, it is also difficult to pigeonhole Hitchcock's films. The work he did in many of his films added to the things that could be accomplished in film noir, and he occasionally made a noir film, yet he could not be wholly considered a film noir director.

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One difference I noticed between this scene and the daily doses from last week is that you get the feeling that Hitchcock very obviously wants to tell us something with the the shoes and pant legs. The other films from last week want to tell us something too with their openings of feet, but it just feels so much more obvious in this scene.

 

 

 

I think so too, though I can't quite put my finger on why. There's just so much more information packed into the Strangers opening than any of the other noirs, including a sense of humor. There's more to look at, more detail. The color of the photography is different, it's a richer, cleaner, sharper black and white (might be because Hitchcock movies were better stored and restored). There seem to be more scene cuts maybe? We got the long following shot in so many of the movies, DOA, Gun Crazy, Kiss Me Deadly, it became a trope. And it's a real difference; Hitchcock is very very formal. He's in control. You get no hysterical Cloris Leachmans. And nothing against those long following shots, they are some of my favorite things, but I bet one reason they were used often is that they were less expensive, less to set up and dress and light, and Hitchcock had bigger budgets. 

 

Or maybe I'm reading too much into it because I know it's Hitchcock.  

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The story is in the shoes: Guy (an eternally uneasy Farley Granger) has respectably priced shoes, the kind of pair a man wears when he has money but isn't concerned with being flashy. Our buddy Bruno (the criminaly forgotten Robert Walker), on the other hand, is all about showing off. With what can only be described as a dandy pair of bowling shoes, Hitchcock has fully formed the personalities of both men before a line of dialogue or even a glimpse of their face. That's why he's the Master of Suspense, I suppose.

 

Personally, I've always had a hard time coupling Hitch's films under the umbrella of film noir; I feel like they're too stringent of suspense (obviously) and his specific type of style - which is catered more for thrillers. But hey, it's tough to argue with a script Raymond Chandler contributed to, even though I'm sure he argued plenty. 

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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?


I notice a certain style and prestige Hitchcock takes him time with set up and characters and we don't see action right away or have a big introduction like in the two films mentioned above!. 


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


I loved the start the set up - one character clearly stands out, the other is just normal, but when the characters are sort of introduced it appears the more famous persons is the understated one.  I liked the opening with the train criss crossing thinking it was going one way and going another - perhaps hinting to what lies ahead.


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


I totally agree!  Hitchcock was a master of setting up scenes that you remember and keeping you intrigued.  Most of his films do touch on something dark or cause us to second guess something.  In my opinion as a fan of film he was a true original!.


 


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A slow buildup slightly hinting a tension between the two men is a different opening to the more dramatic ones of the previous noirs.

No gritty harshness presented, a lighter musical touch, not foreboding doom and a less expressionistic play with shadows further distances the atmosphere from core noir. In Hitchcock films you usually not have any feeling of the grim realities of society, it does not creep in. Noir maybe does not do this clearly either, but it works as a background, the world is not beautiful. Hitchocks films is often about the devilishness and the horror of the indiviual(s) where the society outside of that playground does not interfere, has no meaning.

The angle play and criss crossing staging in this film is not enough, I will say, making this scene a noir. Not so sure of the mise-en-scene contributing either, a no-noir director like Douglas Sirk is, to me, as distinctive. Long time since I have seen the movie maybe it advances the noir feeling later on. Come to think of it, long time since I saw any Hitch, so time to dive in and then maybe revise the above...

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(Wow, I can't believe it took me this long to figure out I should be posting here instead of creating a new topic. I feel kind of dumb.)

 

Alfred Hitchcock is known as the Master of suspense, and even in this simple opening scene, he does not disappoint. We identify people largely by their faces, and Hitchcock plays with this by focusing on the characters' feet here. We don't know who they are, or what they want, but the fact that we can't see their faces sparks curiosity. Hitchcock manages to set the tone for the film quite well, and accomplishes the most important job of an opening: to catch the audience's interest.

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In Kiss Me Deadly, Christina was in a panicked hurry.  She was escaping and wanting to get as far as possible from the place she was being kept, either as a patient or prisoner.  In the Hitch-Hiker, the hitcher is the one who is in a hurry, though he doesn't look it.  He quickly gets the upper hand on two men, with just one gun.  And in this opening sequence, all the people are in a hurry to get on the train.  No one wants to miss it.  I think that Bruno was always looking for Guy though.  I think he may have been following him a little.  And when they are in the same car together, Bruno strikes up an acquaintance with his fellow passenger.  I don't know where Bruno gets the idea that Guy would be interested in such a deal though.  Guy is a professional athlete, not a killer.  There doesn't appear to be a lady in distress or a man.  It's a run of the mill opening at first, which puts the audience off the track.  Until Bruno makes his proposition to Guy, no one knows that this is a noir film.  So Hitchcock hides in plain sight, the noir of this film. 

 

I'm not sure.  Rebecca, Strangers on a Train, Marnie, Vertigo, Rope, Rear Window and a few others, have the elements of noir in them, thought they may not be obvious from the start.  Which I find genius.  This style of noir film, keeps the audience guessing and it can also be a little frustrating because we want to know the facts from the start.  And Hitchcock has a way of keeping that from you and heightening the suspense of the film.  It looks to me to be a hard thing to keep doing, but he did it for several films. 

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Having seen Strangers on a Train numerous times, it never really crossed my mind that this could be considered an example of film noir. You always get a preconceived notion of what film noir is and this film seemed to defy those tropes. Anyways, in this sequence, Hitchcock focuses on the shoes of Robert Walker's character as he is on his way to boarding a train. His shoes are well shined, very bold and easily stand out amongst a crowd. We can already get a sense of the kind of character we will see being portrayed. Bruno is a very slick, manipulative character who ends up mistaking an innocent conversation for a gateway into killing Farley Granger's wife. We follow both characters as they make their way towards their interaction. This approach by Hitchcock allows us to know these characters without the spoken word.

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 Last weeks examples opened with lone figures, and a sense that something "bad' was going to or already had happened. The atmosphere was tense. In this opening from Alfred Hitchcock"s "Strangers on a Train" we don't get an immediate sense of urgency. Some noir elements, such as the low-angle camera shot and the anonymity of exposing only the feet, force us to become detectives, gaining insight into the characters by observing the type of footwear and luggage that they prefer, the pace of their stride and how they sit when they finally settle into the Pullman car. On the one hand we have a pair of "Spectator" shoes, and a set of well-worn luggage telling us that this is a person who makes good use of it. On the other hand we see a pair of plain brown oxfords, the type that men wear to the office, implying a working man. But his set of high-end, textured leather suitcases, which  appear to be quite new, seem inconsistent with that. Each pair of shoes strides along to a score that sounds somewhat playful. As the "spectator" takes a seat he crosses his legs and assumes a somewhat slouched posture. When the brown oxfords turn up in the same car they sit directly across from him and accidently bump feet, the result of reading a book. The spectator is just that- he fixes his gaze on this other fellow and then announces his recognition of said fellow as a tennis celebrity. He further reveals himself to be a "spectator" when he states, "I admire people who do things." The existential theme of the "chance" meeting is in full swing as the spectator attempts to become familiar with the unsuspecting tennis pro, showing him the necktie he is wearing, revealing personal information and referencing his mother. As he continues to insinuate himself into some kind of deeper relationship with Guy, at first Guy recoils but ultimately surrenders to the relentless Bruno. As with most of our noir protagonists, Guy has no idea how his life will be thrown off-course by this accidental foot-bump. While many of Hitch's films employ visual and narrative techniques associated with noir, I feel that he is in a "genre" by himself. Although we know that his work must have been "inspired" by others who came before him, I think that his work become more of an influence, raising the standard for all genres. As a result the term,"Hitchcockian" has been added to the lexicon of the English language.

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While still opening with a travel motif, Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train” does not convey the sense of danger and urgency shown in “Kiss Me, Deadly” and “The Hitch-hiker.”  The rhythm is more buoyant, the music introduces two different male characters with similar, but noticeably different, light-hearted themes.  The comically bumptious third musical theme could be called the “Cabbie’s Theme” as it puts musical distance between the working class taxi drivers and the two more socially upscale main characters.   It’s Hitchcock so we know menace and suspense are waiting, but this opening reveals very little about what lies ahead.  The villain and the protagonist are indecipherable at this point.

The usual noir touches are in evidence.  Under the titles is a shot of a dark, cavernous train station interior looking out into bright sunshine, similar to “Out of the Past” shot from inside of the cantina into the brightly lit town square which introduces Kathie. 

Faces are hidden here, too; feet, legs, and luggage are used to introduce the two characters.  The vertical lines made by the legs and shadows of the men as they walk to the trains, cross cut with one another from opposing directions, presage if not a human train wreck, at least a momentous encounter.  The barred conductor’s gate to the trains, followed by the tracking shot of quickly converging and diverging rail lines being overshadowed by the enormous unseen train engine also subtly warn of the conflict to come.

As the legs wind themselves through the jungle of table legs, chair legs and human legs, the men sit opposite one another and we finally see their faces.  Behind each man is a window with a blind with its slats open.  This echoes the ominous, constricting lines used often in film noir, but with Hitchcock’s lighter touch.

Hitchcock could rightly be considered unique in the film noir firmament in my opinion because of the consistent tongue-in-cheek manner in which he presents tension filled, sometimes horribly gruesome stories.  He also seemed to set his characters firmly in at least the middle-, if not upper class echelons of society, a break from the gutter wallowers of the “normal,” expected noir mise-en-scene.

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