THE WRONG MAN/STRANGERS ON A TRAIN: A FESTIVE DOUBLE BILL OF ALFRED HITCHCOCK THRILLERS REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
THE WRONG MAN. (1956) DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY ALFRED HITCHCOCK. BASED ON THE BOOK ‘THE TRUE STORY OF CHRISTOPHER EMMANUEL BALESTRERO’ BY MAXWELL ANDERSON. MUSIC BY BERNARD HERRMANN.
STARRING HENRY FONDA, VERA MILES AND ANTHONY QUAYLE.
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. (1951) DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY ALFRED HITCHCOCK. BASED ON THE 1950 NOVEL BY PATRICIA HIGHSMITH. SCREENPLAY BY RAYMOND CHANDLER. MUSIC BY DIMITRI TIOMKIN.
STARRING FARLEY GRANGER, ROBERT WALKER, RUTH ROMAN, PAT HITCHCOCK, LEO G. CARROLL, MARIAN LORNE, JONATHAN HALE AND LAURA ELLIOTT.
I love these two Alfred Hitchcock movies. One of them is about a man wrongly accused of a crime, robbery to be exact. The other is about a man who is being blackmailed into committing a much worse crime, the crime of murder, by a psychopath with whom there is simply no reasoning. Because he’s a psychopath, haha. They’re both cracking little films which would each make for terrific festive viewing right about now.
Henry Fonda turns in an understated powerhouse of a performance in THE WRONG MAN as Manny Balestrero. The film is based on a true story, by the way, a fact of which Mr. Hitchcock makes us cognisant at the beginning of the film.
Manny is a nightclub musician whose salary barely keeps a roof over his little family’s heads and food in their mouths. He seems like a decent quiet man and a good caring husband to his missus Rose, played by Hitchcock actress Vera Miles, and their two little boys.
When Manny, in a terrible case of mistaken identity, is accused of holding up an insurance office, his life takes a distinct turn for the nightmarish. Henry Fonda does a brilliant job of showing us Manny’s quiet desperation. It looks to us like Manny is in shock as the police take him in for questioning, charge him and put him in a holding cell until he can be arraigned.
The police station and courtroom stuff is exceedingly well done. As this is based on a true story, there’s no wickedly Hitchcockian twist at the end but THE WRONG MAN remains one of the best films ever made about a man wrongly accused of a crime he not only didn’t commit, but wouldn’t even have ever dreamed of committing because it was just so out of character for him. The cops really did finger ‘the wrong man’ for this particular crime.
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN is a case of ‘You do my murder and I’ll do yours.’ Farley Granger and Robert Walker are utterly superb as the two titular strangers who meet on a train journey.
Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is a well-known tennis player whose bitchy wife Miriam won’t give him a divorce to marry the love of his life Anne Morton, a Senator’s daughter.
Well, in all honesty, why should she if she doesn’t feel like it, especially now that Guy’s making a few quid on the tennis circuit? I’d hang in there for dear life if I were her. I actually think that Miriam’s a much maligned character in this film. As Guy’s wife, she’s got rights, hasn’t she? Not that anyone ever acknowledges them…
Bruno Anthony, the aforementioned psychopath, is a mentally unstable idle layabout who thinks that the death of his rich but overbearing father would be the answer to all his prayers.
By the end of the train journey, Bruno, unaware and uncaring of how sick his mind actually is, thinks that he’s persuaded Guy to do a ‘criss-cross,’ beautifully-parodied in one of THE SIMPSONS’ Treehouse Of Horror Halloween episodes. It means ‘You do my murder and I’ll do yours.’
Bruno fondly imagines that he has arranged for Guy to bump off his, Bruno’s, old man while Bruno himself will murder Guy’s unfaithful wife Miriam. Guy dismisses Bruno’s nonsense as the ramblings of a lunatic, but when the bespectacled Miriam turns up dead, he suddenly finds himself having to sit up and take notice of Bruno’s wild ravings…
Farley Granger, you might remember, played Philip, the weaker of the two college-boy murderers in Alfred Hitchcock’s ROPE (1948), in my opinion one of the best films he ever made.
As Philip was a nervous wreck throughout the whole of ROPE, we never really got to see him smile. In STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, we get to see how handsome Farley Granger really is and what a gorgeous lopsided grin he’s got. ‘Twould melt the knickers off a nun, that would.
He does a great job of portraying Guy’s desperation as he unwillingly gets more and more entangled in Bruno’s mad plan. Robert Walker turns in no less of a masterful tour-de-force as the madman to whom other people’s lives don’t matter a jot. They are merely inconveniences to be swept out of one’s way when necessary.
I love the scene when Guy’s girlfriend Anne goes to see Bruno’s mum in an attempt to straighten things out. Mrs. Anthony, having presumably been caught between her domineering husband and insane son for years, is so steeped in denial that it would take more than the slightly vapid Anne Morton to reach her. The Anthony house is magnificently-furnished and old, by the way.
I adore Leo G. Carroll’s presence here as the stuffy Senator, but it’s always genuinely surprised me how he was okay with his beloved eldest daughter taking up with a married man who was then suspected of his wife’s murder. And him being such a stickler for the proprieties!
And he should certainly have spanked his younger daughter Barbara for her constant cheeky interruptions, so unbecoming in a female of the time but, then again, maybe Barbara’s real-life father Alfred Hitchcock might not have liked that idea so much…!
Hitchcock’s cameo in this film is rather delightful, by the way, and the scene where Bruno attempts to retrieve Guy’s lighter from a storm drain is deliciously suspenseful.
There you go, anyway, dear movie buffs. Two great old Hitchcock films for you to enjoy over Christmas and New Year along with the remains of the eggnog and the selection boxes. Happy New Year and may all our 2017s be filled with brilliant films, new and old.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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