XI. Two Trains (first posted 1-6-13)

Strangers on a Train: the title alone can lead in one of two directions: In the first scenario, directed  by Billy Wilder, Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck happen to be in the same train-car in post-war Germany. They strike up conversation, at the end of which, she calls him a horrible man, and they part ways, unamicably. It then turns out that she is a consultant for a military reconstruction firm and her boss is – surprise – Gregory Peck! As she softens him and he hardens her, the two eventually fall in love. In the second scenario, the Strangers on a Train that actually did get made, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Farley Granger and Robert Walker meet on a train. Granger wants out of his marriage to Laura Elliott, Walker hates his mother (classic Hitchcock, you say). They discuss the hypothetical possibility of one person taking care of the other’s problem, and while Granger sees this as a purely speculative, hypothetical discussion, Robert Walker takes the proposition seriously. He kills Laura Elliott, whose given name was Kasey Rogers. He now expects Granger to kill his overbearing mother.

This leads us to the question we’ve been pursuing. Could Strangers on a Train be both movies simultaneously? Could Audrey Hepburn conceivably be the same person as Laura Elliott? Could the playful, playfully adorable, fun-loving Hepburn possibly be an loud, callous, manipulative Laura Elliott? Could the weak-willed, cowardly Farley Granger be the same boorish, overbearing yet charming Gregory Peck? Could the resentment stored up over the time between that initial encounter and the eventual strangulation actually be the real secret of two strangers meeting on a train? Moment one: male hero meets a fantasy object. Moment two: male hero meets a wish-fulfilling Golem. Or, moment one: female hero meets a challenge. Moment two: the audience’s expectations for that challenge are fulfilled; she is murdered.

It could, of course, end otherwise.


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