Anybody who has ever stood anywhere close to me by know knows I am a great fan of classical movies. I have a video library of films I have obtained on DVD or recorded off the cable, and there are many titles I have seen more often than Elizabeth Taylor ever got married. Some of these are really good, and they easily count as artistic treasures, so it is difficult for me or anybody else to admit, reveal, herald some obvious flaws.
Here is what a good film requires:1. A good story 2. good photography 3. good acting 4. and not least good direction
Considered one of the best directors of the twentieth century is British-born Alfred Hitchcock. He started his career in England directing such dark classics as Jamaica Inn and The 39 Steps, and he wound up in the U.S., turning out such classics as Psycho and Rear Window.
But it is Strangers on a Train I want to discuss, because, despite its standing as one of the crime thrillers of all time, it also contains one of the most absurd action sequences ever put on the screen by a serious director.
It is likely Strangers is the first of Hitchcock’s films that I ever remember seeing, although it was not for years that I knew or cared who directed it. The plot is tricky enough. Farley Granger plays a tennis star with a broken marriage, and he desperately needs to get rid of his wife so he can move on to Ruth Roman (who would not). On a train the tennis star meets rich psychopathic playboy Robert Walker, who proposes an exchange of murders. The tennis player is supposed to kill the psycho’s father, and the psycho will in turn kill the tennis guy’s wife.
Anyhow, the tennis star thinks nothing of the conversation until he learns that the psycho has murdered the wife. Who’s he going to tell? He’s in a jam. He can’t kill the father, but the psycho insists and applies pressure. He has obtained the tennis guy’s cigarette lighter and goes to the scene of the wife’s murder, an amusement park, to plant the lighter.
With the police following him, Granger heads for the murder scene to retrieve the lighter before the police can discover it. The climax of the movie comes when Granger and Walker struggle on the merry-go-round in motion. Now here comes the part that should gag every half-way realist in the audience. The police arrive, and somebody points out the two men fighting on the merry-go-round and says something like “There’s the murderer.”
Here it comes.
A policeman draws his revolver and lets fly a shot at the supposed murderer. That is the murderer on the moving merry-go-round packed with riders, including small children among a crowd of people milling around the amusement park.
Of course this is necessary for the plot finale, because the shot hits the merry-go-round operator who falls and pushes the speed control to full on. The merry-go-round then goes out of control while the two men continue their fight, and it finally crashes and kills the real murderer.
I was a mere child when I first saw all of this and did not give it much thought. Now I cannot but help wondering, “What was he thinking?” Not the cop, because he was only a pretend cop drawing his salary as a bit player in the film, but the director, Alfred Hitchcock. So much for reality.
Writer Mark Twain is noted for saying something like “Of course truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction needs to make sense.” Only sometimes, it would appear.