Strangers on a Train (novel)

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First edition (publ. Harper & Brothers)

Strangers on a Train (1950) is a psychological thriller novel by Patricia Highsmith. It was adapted as a film in 1951 by director Alfred Hitchcock.

Plot summary[edit]

Architect Guy Haines wants to divorce his unfaithful wife, Miriam, in order to marry the woman he loves, Anne Faulkner. While on a train to see his wife, he meets Charles Anthony Bruno, a psychopathic playboy who proposes an idea to "exchange murders": Bruno will kill Miriam if Guy kills Bruno's father; neither of them will have a motive, and the police will have no reason to suspect either of them. Guy does not take Bruno seriously, but Bruno kills Guy's wife while Guy is away in Mexico.

Bruno informs Guy of his crime, but Guy hesitates to turn him in to the police. He realizes that Bruno could claim Guy's complicity in the planned exchange murders; however, the longer he remains silent, the more he implicates himself. This implicit guilt becomes stronger as in the coming months Bruno makes appearances demanding that Guy honor his part of the bargain. After Bruno starts writing anonymous letters to Guy's friends and colleagues, the pressure becomes too great, and Guy murders Bruno's father.

Subsequently, Guy is consumed by guilt, whereas Bruno seeks Guy's company as if nothing had happened. He makes an uninvited appearance at Guy's wedding, causing a scene. At the same time, a private detective, who suspects Bruno of having arranged the murder of his father, establishes the connection between Bruno and Guy that began with the train ride, and suspects Bruno of Miriam's murder. Guy also becomes implicated due to his contradictions about the acquaintance with Bruno.

When Bruno falls overboard during a sailing cruise, Guy identifies so strongly with Bruno that he tries to rescue him under threat to his own life. Nevertheless, Bruno drowns, and the murder investigation is closed. Guy, however, is plagued by guilt, and confesses the double murder to Miriam's former lover. This man, however, does not condemn Guy; rather, he considers the killings as appropriate punishment for the unfaithfulness. The detective who had been investigating the murders overhears Guy's confession, however, and confronts him. Guy turns himself over to the detective immediately.

Theatrical and radio adaptations[edit]

Playwright Craig Warner acquired the stage rights to Strangers on a Train in 1995, and subsequently wrote both theatrical and radio adaptations of the story.

The West End production of the play is scheduled to run from 2 November 2013 to 22 February 2014 at the Gielgud Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, London, and stars Jack Huston, Laurence Fox, Miranda Raison, Imogen Stubbs, Christian McKay, and MyAnna Buring. It is directed by Robert Allan Ackerman and its seven credited producers include Barbara Broccoli. The radio version was recorded and broadcast by the BBC, and released on CD in May 2004[1]

Like the Hitchcock film, the Warner versions respect Highsmith's homosexual subtext,[2] however, the radio version more closely follows the plot of the novel - although there are several differences in the denouement. Guy's eventual confession is to Anne, not to Miriam's lover. The detective succeeds in solving the original murder plot and confronts Bruno with the details, but declines to take further action (feeling that both men will spend the rest of their lives punishing themselves with guilt and fear). The devastated Bruno — with his security destroyed and realising that he will have no support or love from Guy — then kills himself in front of Guy by climbing onto a railway track where he is killed by an oncoming train. Anne persuades Guy to put the whole matter behind him and to resume his interrupted architectural career.

Influence in popular culture[edit]

Both Highsmith's novel and Hitchcock's film have been referenced, imitated, and parodied in films such as Throw Momma from the Train, Once You Kiss a Stranger..., Dead End, Bollywood's Strangers, the Telugu film Visakha Express, and the Tamil language film Muran and television shows such as CSI, Law & Order, Due South, Arthur, Peep Show, Castle, Robot Chicken, and The Simpsons. J. D. Robb's 2008 book, Strangers in Death, references both Highsmith's novel and Hitchcock's film as NYPSD Homicide Detective Eve Dallas attempts to solve two seemingly unrelated murders. Noted Italian horror and thriller director Dario Argento paid homage to this (and several other Hitchcock films) in Do You Like Hitchcock?

Sonic Youth's song "Shadow of a Doubt" lyrically references Strangers on a Train.

There is a 2009 episode of the ABC series Castle that loosely follows the plot of the novel, which is mentioned in the episode.

In a 2013 episode of the BBC series Death in Paradise, a murder motive runs from the same idea - the two men met each other at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and then both arranged to kill the other's partner.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Information on May 2004 BBC audio releases, retrieved November 18, 2008
  2. ^ McGilligan, Patrick (2004). Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. New York: Harper Perennial. ISBN 978-0-06-098827-2. p. 442

External links[edit]