Gift Giving in "Strangers
on a Train"
a commentary by Tony McRae
Let's look at Bruno Anthony's good side. Throughout
Hitchcock's "Stranger's on a Train" Bruno shows an uncanny
perception of other people's needs. And in a certain sense, he
wishes to be helpful. Here are a few instances:
- Once he and Guy Hanes strike up a conversation on the train,
Bruno offers to buy them each a drink (which Hanes at first
refuses than changes his mind). Soon after, in his
compartment, he proposes that each of them do away with the
other's "problem": He, Bruno, will dispose of
Guy's wife so he'll be free to marry Ann Morton, the senator's
daughter; and in return Guy can murder Bruno's father.
Bruno proposes this in all seriousness, as though they were
exchanging telephone numbers. Guy thinks he's nuts, an
effete playboy who has nothing better to do than to indulge his
fantasies. He's willing to play along.
- Bruno: "We do talk the same language, don't we?"
- "Sure, Bruno, we talk the same language."
- "You think my theory's okay--you like it?"
- "Sure, Bruno, sure. They're all okay."
Though Guy's answer is condescending and dismissive (1),
Bruno doesn't take it that way. He's zeroed in on the
one obstacle to Guy's happiness--his wife who refuses to
give him a divorce.
- Back in his home Bruno's mother expresses her concern for her
son's future. Bruno, who clearly loves his mother,
assuages her worries by joking with her. "You're a
naughty boy, Bruno...you can always make me laugh."
- In the amusement park he quickly intuits that Marion is
looking for excitement. She blatantly comes on to Bruno.
To him this woman is a slut, one of those people whose death
would be of no consequence. The killing of Marion is
Bruno's generous gift to Guy. It is not a selfless act--he
does want Guy to kill his father--but he does put himself on the
line without guarantee of fair exchange.
- Bruno is not without feeling however. As he is leaving
the amusement park he helps a blind man cross the street. (2)
- Outside Guy's apartment in Washington, DC, Bruno gives Guy
"a little present," his wife's shattered glasses.
Though Guy thinks he's crazy, Bruno is patient--he has time on
his side Guy will come around. All he needs is a
- His subsequent shadowing of Guy is persistent but not
mean-spirited, that is, until Guy starts calling him a
"crazy fool." Bruno is genuinely hurt.
After all, he has given Guy the gift he dearly wanted, his
freedom to marry Ann. He simply wants Guy to return the
favor, certainly not unreasonable from his perspective.
- A short time later, at a Washington cocktail party, a matron
is entranced with Bruno and his theories about murder.
When he offers to show her the best method for doing away with
someone she is eager to loan him her neck. The fact that
he loses control and almost strangles her to death is not so
much his fault as that of Barbara, Ann Morton's sister, who
bears a striking resemblance to Marion. Bruno simply gets
carried away. (3)
- Even as he lays dying at the end of the movie, he maintains
that it was Guy's murder. "I'm sorry, Guy. I
want to help you. I did what I could do."
Seen from Bruno Anthony's point of view everything he does is
reasonable and fair. No doubt he proposes this crisscross of
murders as a means of getting rid of his father, but he also admires
Guy and sees his murder as a gift to his new friend.
When Guy refuses to go along with the arrangement Bruno is hurt.
"I don't like being double-crossed," he tells Guy.
"I have a murder on my conscience...but it's not my murder.
Some critics have alluded to Bruno's sexual proclivities.
He's clearly a Momma's boy, and his admiration for Guy verges on the
homoerotic. Robert Walker's Bruno is wonderfully insinuating,
with just the right amount of sexual frisson to call our attention
to Farley Granger's influenceable nature--it didn't take much for
Bruno to get him to drink after a firm refusal.
(Hitchcock originally hoped to get William Holden for the role of
Guy Haynes, but Holden's strong personality would have undercut a
key element of the film, the Doppelganger motif in which the line
between good and evil becomes blurred, especially in the mind of
Guy. "You've got me acting like a criminal," he
tells Bruno.(4) And why not? He knows Bruno has gotten
him out of an unsolvable situation. Now if only he would go
away. Bruno's solicitous so-what-are-friends-for? expression
tells us he won't be that easy to dispose of.
As with most gifts the giver builds up what Pierre Bourdieu calls
"symbolic capital." In Bruno's eyes, Guy has no
choice--the only honorable thing he can do is fulfill his part of
the bargain, that is, to repay Bruno by killing his father.
Hitchcock enjoyed putting his heroes in such situations not
because he wanted to knock them off their pedestal--well, maybe
there is some of that in his films--but rather he was convinced they
somehow brought these predicaments on themselves. Do we wind
up rooting for Guy Haynes in this picture? I certainly don't.
Bruno Anthony is wacko but Hitchcock never shows him up; rather he's
likeable, friendly, funny. Just don't take that drink he
my other views of "Strangers on a Train"
click images to enlarge