Guy Haines (Farley Granger) meets Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) on a train and Bruno has the idea for a perfect murder. If two people, who ostensibly have never met, swap murders there will be no apparent motive and nothing to link each to the other's crime. Guy humours Bruno, largely to get rid of him, but Bruno actually carries out the murder of his wife, and then expects him to return the favour. This is the basis of Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers On A Train.
Packed with great set-pieces (the tennis match, the climactic carousel ride), stunning technical shots (we see Miriam Haines' murder through her own glasses) and a superb villain in the form of Robert Walker's Bruno Antony, Strangers On A Train was a return to form for Hitch after three relatively disappointing films both in terms of critical and commercial reaction (Rope, Under Capricorn & Stage Fright).
Hitchcock expertly toys with the audience's emotions throughout the film. Although Bruno is a murderer, we feel more sympathetic to him that we do to Guy at times. After all, Guy would like to have done it himself and shows little emotion at his wife's death. A great moment comes when Bruno decides to blackmail Guy; having kept Guy's lighter he intends to place it at the scene of the murder and whilst we, as viewers, desperately want Guy to finish his tennis match in time (and escape the attentions of the police) in order to give chase to Bruno, we also hope that Bruno, who drops the lighter down a drain on his way to the scene, manages to grab the lighter and continue on his journey. It's also true in general terms that Hitchcock's camera seems to prefer the charismatic and flamboyant Bruno to the more stoic and, well, dull Guy.
As ever with Hitchcock, the film was very different from the Patricia Highsmith novel upon which it was based; in the book Guy actually kills Bruno's father and Bruno's main motivation is not the death of his father but his hope of an amorous relationship with Guy, a strand of the story firmly pushed to the background in the movie, although there are intriguing nuances that hint at it.
A great initial idea, a tight script, a superb villain, some cracking set-pieces and the suspense and tension cranked up to the maximum. Whatever way you look at it, Strangers On A Train is a great slice of Hitchcock action.