Strangers on a Train is an American psychological thriller produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It was shot in the autumn of 1950 and released by Warner Bros. on June 30, 1951. The film stars Farley Granger, Ruth Roman and Robert Walker, and features Leo G. Carroll, Patricia Hitchcock and Laura Elliott.
This film is number 32 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills.
Amateur tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) wants to divorce his vulgar and unfaithful wife Miriam (Laura Elliott), so he can marry the woman he loves, the elegant and beautiful Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), daughter of a senator (Leo G. Carroll). While on a train to meet Miriam, Haines meets Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker), a forward stranger who recognizes Guy from gossip items in the newspapers and knows about his marital problems. During lunch in Bruno's compartment, Bruno tells Guy about his idea for the perfect murder(s): he will kill Miriam and in exchange, Guy will kill Bruno's father. "Criss-cross", he says. Since both are strangers, otherwise unconnected, there is no identifiable motive for the crimes, Bruno contends, hence no suspicion. Guy hurriedly leaves the compartment but leaves Bruno thinking he has agreed to the deal. Guy accidentally leaves his cigarette lighter behind, a gift from Anne to Guy, which Bruno pockets.
Bruno heads to Guy's hometown of Metcalf and follows Miriam and her two beaux to an amusement park, where he briefly illuminates her face with Guy's lighter, then strangles her to death. Guy's problems begin when his alibi — an inebriated college professor on the same train as Guy — cannot remember their meeting. But they increase exponentially when Bruno makes repeated appearances into Guy's life as he seeks to remind Guy that he is now obliged to kill Bruno's father, according to the bargain he thinks they struck on the train.
Bruno sends Guy the keys to his house, a map to his father's room, and a pistol. Soon after, Bruno appears at a party at Senator Morton's house and hobknobs with the guests, much to Guy's apprehension and Anne's increasing suspicion. He demonstrates how to strangle someone while preventing them from screaming: with his hands around his "assistant's" neck Bruno looks up and sees Barbara, Anne's younger sister (Patricia Hitchcock). Her eyeglasses and resemblance to Miriam trigger a flashback for Bruno to Miriam's slaying, and he loses control of himself and begins to strangle his subject. After a moment he faints, and the frightened party guests pull him off the hysterical woman. Young Barbara rushes to her sister and tells her, "His hands were on her neck, but he was strangling me." It is Anne who puts together the facts of the crime, and after she confronts Guy, he finally admits the truth.
Guy finally agrees to Bruno's plan over the telephone and creeps into Bruno's home at night. When he reaches the father's room he tries to warn the older man of Bruno's intentions, but it turns out to be Bruno who is actually waiting for him, aware that Guy's sudden change of heart would suggest betrayal. Bruno tells Guy that because he will not complete his end of the bargain he should be blamed for the murder which "belongs" to him — so he will frame Guy for the murder of Miriam.
Anne visits Bruno's house to tell his mother (Marion Lorne) that her son is responsible for the death of a woman. Bruno's mother does not believe Anne and fails to understand how dangerous her son is. Bruno overhears the conversation and lets Anne know that he has the lighter and plans to plant it at the scene of the crime during the night to implicate Guy. Anne reports back to Guy and the two devise a plan for Guy to beat Bruno to the scene of the crime after he finishes a tennis match that would be too suspicious for him to cancel.
Guy wins the tennis match but takes much longer than expected; likewise, Bruno is delayed when he drops Guy's lighter down a storm drain and must recover it through sheer strength of will, stretching his fingertips down the drain. Guy arrives at the park while Bruno is still waiting for sunset. The two men struggle on the carousel, which spins out of control and crashes after its operator is accidentally hit by a bullet the police shoot at the fleeing Guy. Bruno is mortally wounded in the crash but still murmurs to the police that Guy is guilty, only to meet his comeuppance at the last moment of his life. When he dies the chief of police finds the lighter clutched in Bruno's hand which finally exonerates Guy. An amusement park employee who remembered Bruno's previous visit confirms that Bruno was in fact the murderer.
Guy and Anne are seen reunited on a train home, free of Bruno's influence and secure in their future together. A friendly clergyman seated opposite them asks Guy if he is Guy Haines. Guy begins to reply, but remembering this is the way Bruno started their fatal conversation, he changes his mind and quickly leaves the club car with Anne, leaving the man perplexed.
Hitchcock said that correct casting saved him "a reel of storytelling time", since audiences would sense qualities in the actors that didn't have to be spelled out. In his book-length interview with François Truffaut, Hitchcock/Truffaut, Hitchcock told Truffaut that he originally wanted William Holden for the Guy Haines role, but Holden declined. "Holden would have been all wrong—too sturdy, too put off by Bruno", writes critic Roger Ebert. "Granger is softer and more elusive, more convincing as he tries to slip out of Bruno's conversational web instead of flatly rejecting him."
Warner Bros. wanted their own stars, already under contract, cast wherever possible. In the casting of Anne Morton, Jack Warner got what he wanted when he assigned Ruth Roman to the project, over Hitchcock's objections; the director found her "bristling" and "lacking in sex appeal" and said that she had been "foisted upon him." Perhaps it was the circumstances of her forced casting, but Roman became the target of Hitchcock's scorn throughout the production. Granger diplomatically describes it as Hitchcock's "disinterest" in the actress, and said he saw Hitchcock treat Edith Evanson the same way on the set of Rope (1948). "He had to have one person in each film he could harass", Granger said.
Kasey Rogers (Miriam, credited as Laura Elliott) noted that she had perfect vision at the time the movie was made, but Hitchcock insisted she wear the character's thick eyeglasses, even in long shots when regular glass lenses would have been undetectable. Rogers was effectively blind with the glasses on, and needed to be guided by the other actors. In one scene, she can be seen dragging her hand along a table as she walks; this was in order for her to keep track of where she was.