Release Date: October 9, 2012
Studio: Warner Home Video
Packaging/Materials: Blu-ray EcoBox
Running Time: 1:40:48
AVC: 1080p high definition 1.37:1
DTS-HD Master Audio: English 1.0 / Dolby Digital: French 1.0, German 1.0, Italian 1.0, Castellano 1.0, Spanish 1.0, Portuguese
English SDH, French, Spanish, Castellano, German SDH, Italian SDH,
The Feature: 4.5/5
A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet. Or, he’s a murderous psychopath intent on destroying your life, which is the scenario director Alfred Hitchcock lays out in his classic psychological thriller based on the Patricia Highsmith novel.
Starring Farley Granger as amateur tennis star Guy Haines and Robert Walker as the charming-but-sadistic richie rich Bruno Antony, the film begins with the two men literally bumping into each other on a commuter train to New Jersey. Bruno seems to know all about Guy, namely his separation from his trampy wife Miriam (Laura Elliot) and his dating Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), the lovely elder daughter of Senator Morton (Leo G. Carroll). Guy has ambitions to marry Anne, but it’s an impossibility if Miriam won’t agree to a divorce.
Bruno divulges some familial woes of his own, specifically his frustration with his tyrant of a father. Presenting the idea as sort of a party game, Bruno suggests the two solve each others problems by committing the perfect murder – Bruno kills Miriam for Guy; Guy kills Bruno’s father for him. With no history of association between the two men, the police have no suspects.
Not surprisingly, Guy laughs off the proposal as a twisted joke, but Bruno is deadly serious. Tracking down Miriam to her home in Metcalf he stalks her while she’s out on a date, and strangles her to death. He delivers a token of his crime to Guy the same night, and blackmails him – if not into agreement to kill Bruno’s father, but at least into silence when the police begin their investigation into Miriam’s murder. As Guy tries to find a way to clear his name, Bruno continues to apply pressure, taking Guy’s compliance as a foregone conclusion.
There’s not much to criticize about “Strangers on a Train.” Featuring a love-to-hate-him villain, Hitchcock’s usual masterful pacing, and a (literally) head-spinning finale, the film is the director at his best, even with knockouts like “Rear Window,” “Vertigo” and “North by Northwest” as follow-ups. Though Bruno’s concept of a perfect murder is anything but, and the character winds up doing things that compromise his own scheme, full-fledged psychopaths aren’t known for being master planners or executors. Any apparent holes in the story wind up being entirely consistent with the character Highsmith created and Hitchcock and Walker brought to life for the screen. The concept of unconnected strangers being able to hatch a plot would certainly require some adjustment into today’s surveillance-saturated world, but it’s the only thing dating a film that is otherwise timeless in its storytelling and execution.
Video Quality: 4/5
Presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, the transfer is framed at 1.37:1 and features generally solid blacks and strong contrast, with the flat looking title sequence being a notable exception. Overall sharpness is decent, though there are a handful of moments where things look a touch hazy or soft (Guy’s confrontation with Miriam in the record shop, for example). The picture also has some mild physical defects – a mid-frame scratch, some flecks of dirt, and what seems to be some missing frames at one point. Grain, however, appears intact with no signs of noise reduction or other excessive digital tinkering. Though overall the transfer gives a strong showing, a few noticeable issues remind us of the film’s age.
Audio Quality: 3/5
Noticeably raspy or noisy moments mar otherwise clean sounding dialogue in the 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The recording exhibits decent depth and dynamic range, though it lacks breadth due to a highly centered sound stage. Like the video transfer, the audio is a solid effort with some occasional, distracting flaws.
Special Features: 4/5
The bonus material ports items from the 2004 DVD release, the most interesting of which are the commentary, 30-minute documentary and the entire preview version of the film.
Audio Commentary: Cobbled together from a host of interviews – everyone from Peter Bogdanovich to Hitchcock himself – the track covers every conceivable topic and is a worthwhile feature for its in-depth history and analysis.
Preview Version (1:42:57, SD): Running a couple minutes longer than the final release version, the cut, sometimes referred to as the “British version,” includes some additional character overtones and slightly different ending. Some may balk at the standard definition video and Dolby Digital audio presentation, but it’s understandable given the feature’s un-official, un-finalized status.
Strangers on a Train: A Hitchcock Classic (36:44, SD): Including many of the same participants from the commentary, the piece also includes some of the same information, making it a viable option for those not interested in the commentary’s time commitment.
Strangers on a Train: An Appreciation by M. Night Shyamalan (12:43, SD): Reminding us that at one point his opinion carried some clout, Shyamalan describes how the film inspired him to be a filmmaker.
Strangers on a Train: The Victim’s P.O.V. (7:22, SD): Kasey Rogers, who played the ill-fated Miriam and was billed as Laura Elliot in the film, talks about her experiences on the production. Some of the more amusing anecdotes involve her having to work blind because of the very thick glasses she was wearing.
The Hitchcocks on Hitch (11:20, SD) Surviving members of the Hitchcock family comment on various clips of home movie footage.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Historical Meeting (1:08, SD): Random footage of the director greeting some people in period costumes.
Theatrical Trailer (2:34, SD)
The Film: 4.5/5
Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 3/5
Special Features: 4/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4/5
Warner Home Video delivers a respectable high definition presentation for one of Hitchcock’s best suspense films, though some may argue the film deserves better. Though I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with them, the sub-$15 street price and the inclusion of all previous bonus material make it an attractive title, whether as an upgrade from DVD or as a first time purchase.