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The Times (06/Aug/1951) - New films in London: Strangers on a Train

(c) The Times (06/Aug/1951)



The plot of Mr. Alfred Hitchcock's new film Strangers on a Train (Warner Cinema) is well suited to the remarkably efficient technique which he has evolved to create and sustain an atmosphere of suspense; it also provides him with several comic incidents of the kind which he knows how to introduce neatly and exploit to the full without making them seem in any way a digression.

It is, of course, all done by tact and timing. The main character in the film is a homicidal maniac, and the plot is that he does a murder for somebody else and then by threats tries to induce this person (he happens to be a famous tennis player) to do a murder for him. Up to a point it is a situation of farce, but it is not treated as such; Mr. Robert Walker's extraordinary power of suggesting by minute indications an unbalanced mind is too terrifying to allow epigram to prevail over emotion. Even the actual comic relief contributes at once to the terror and the tension. The maniac's mother (Miss Marion Lorne) is herself a little disjointed in mind; this forms an admirable pretext for slightly surrealist humour, though at the same time it gives the maniac a family background appropriate to his disorder. The film contains some of Mr. Hitchcock's most brilliant experiments in time; perhaps the most remarkable is a scene where, very slowly, a hand reaches down to rescue an all-important clue which has been dropped through a grating in the street while, in the background, very rapidly and with great precision, a game of professional tennis is being played. If Mr. Hitchcock's timing has a fault, it is that he is sometimes so conscious of his own talent for nourishing suspense that he in fact keeps it alive a little too long; an instance is the final scene where the murderer is pursued on a roundabout which is made to whirl far too many times before he is caught.

At the Warner Cinema there is also to be seen McBoing-Boing, a short cartoon film which is part of a new series designed to exploit the humour and eccentricities of a young boy who, though unable to produce human speech, makes a name for himself by reproducing any and every sound effect used in radio. The animated drawings are competently executed, but in no way original or imagmative. The humour is essentially American.