Analysis of a Scene: Strangers on a Train

ImageA Comparison of Patricia Highsmith's Novel, Raymond Chandler & Czenzi Ormonde's Screenplay, and Alfred Hitchcock's Film

Introduction

This analysis of the same brief scene in both Patricia Highsmith's 1949 novel and Alfred Hitchcock's 1951 film, Strangers on a Train, including the final draft screenplay by Raymond Chandler and Czenzi Ormonde, brings together two of my passions – literature and film – and explores how they connect. The film also provides a chance to look at how visuals and sound enhance drama, thematic richness, and emotional impact (a subject more fully explored in my Basic Guide to Film). The scene which we'll dissect is among the most visually inventive and powerful of Hitchcock's career. You could say it fairly screams out for a close reading.

Strangers on a Train novelAlthough the novel and film of Strangers on a Train share the same basic story (a sociopathic playboy enlists an ambitious young professional in a scheme to "swap murders") and theme (as Highsmith put it, "Each was what the other had not chosen to be, the cast off self, what he thought he hated, but perhaps in reality loved"), there are many differences between the two works. Each version has its champions and critics. But the scene I explore below presents a rare moment of similarity between Highsmith and Hitchcock, which makes it an ideal subject for looking at the unique strengths, and limitations, of fiction and film.

Strangers on a Train ranks with Hitchcock's greatest achievements, along with his British films The 39 Steps (1935), Sabotage (1936), and The Lady Vanishes (1938), and the Hollywood pictures Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Notorious (1946), Rear Window (1954), The Wrong Man (1956), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), and The Birds (1963). I recently re-watched virtually all of Hitchcock's 54 films in chronological order, and the experience was a revelation, not only for the evolving thematic and emotional complexity of his vision (few artists have explored the ambiguous depths of the human heart with more insight) but for his absolute mastery of visual and sound design.

Strangers on a TrainStrangers on a Train contains some of Hitchcock's most ingenious, and disturbingly beautiful, set pieces: Bruno (Robert Walker) at the fairgrounds following, then – in the scene we will look at below – strangling Miriam (Laura Elliot), which climaxes with one of the most stunning Point of View (POV) shots I've seen (Shot 5); the first tennis match, where everyone in the crowd jerks their head back and forth to follow the game... except Bruno, who is riveted on Guy (Farley Granger); Bruno frantically trying to recover Guy's cigarette lighter from a sewer – with bystanders unwittingly cheering on the villain; and the shattering final confrontation on the carousel.

With the success of Strangers on a Train, Hitchcock ended a long streak of box office duds. Not only was the film a big hit with both audiences and critics, Hitchcock also considered it one of his best works. (Ironically, he tricked young Patricia Highsmith into selling him the rights to her first novel for a pittance – $7,500 – by acting anonymously through an intermediary.)

As Highsmith's readers know, Hitchcock begins to diverge from her novel early on. Hitchcock even renames Highsmith's Charles Anthony Bruno as Bruno Antony (although both are referred to as Bruno). The film's Guy Haines is a tennis star with political aspirations, not an architect. And much of the film's story – including most of its memorable sequences (a notable exception is the scene below) – were invented by Hitchcock and his primary screenwriter, Raymond Chandler (author of such classic suspense novels as The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely, and the screenplay for another Film Noir masterpiece, director Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity.) Chandler and Hitchcock feuded during the development of the screenplay – which, as always, Hitchcock hovered over every step of the way. But the script which went into production was principally Chandler's, although it is also credited to Czenzi Ormonde (a protégé of Ben Hecht, who also did an uncredited polish), from an "adaptation by Whitfield Cook" (who wrote Hitchcock's previous film, Stage Fright). The stunning cinematography is by long-time Hitchcock collaborator Robert Burks (who received the film's only award nomination, an Oscar nod for Best Cinematography/ Black-and-White).

Patricia Highsmith (1921–1995) had a diverse career, and in Europe is considered a great American writer. In addition to the classic thriller at hand, in 1952 she wrote the landmark lesbian romance, The Price of Salt (which she had to publish in that virulently homophobic era under the pseudonym "Claire Morgan"). She is also the creator of yet another of the most acclaimed, and popular, sociopaths in literature and film: the beguiling bisexual con-man and murderer, Tom Ripley. He appears in five novels which span her career, beginning in 1955's The Talented Mr. Ripley and ending with 1992's Ripley Under Water.

Two more Strangers on a Train resources which you might enjoy are this summary of the G&L Reading Group's discussion of Highsmith's novel Strangers on a Train from July 2002, and my brief review of Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train.

Now on to our dissection of this unforgettable scene from, respectively, Highsmith's and Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. The excerpts from Highsmith's novel and the authentic Raymond Chandler/Czenzi Ormonde screenplay are unabridged – even when Hitchock chose not to film a particular action. The analysis is divided into sections based on Hitchcock's shots. Enjoy!

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Analysis of a Scene

Highsmith's Novel

Screenplay

Hitchcock's Film – Shot by Shot

Shots

Analysis

From the final part of Chapter 12

From the actual script written by Raymond Chandler and Czenzi Ormonde, FINAL DRAFT: October 18, 1950 – pages 34-36

My summary with sound cues and dialogue from the released film – often closely follows the screenplay, including types of shots

 

 

NOTE: The following excerpt follows Bruno's stalking of Miriam at the fairground. Hitchcock makes a significant change to Highsmith by having Miriam aware – and titillated – by the intriguing stranger (Bruno) following her. The scene we are looking at here begins – in both Highsmith and Hitchcock – as the boats near the small island across from the fairground.

He waited until they had paddled past, then followed leisurely. A black mass drew closer, pricked here and there with the spark of a match. The island. It looked like a neckers' paradise. Maybe Miriam would be at it again tonight, Bruno thought, giggling.

When Miriam's boat landed, he rowed a few yards to one side and climbed ashore, and set his boat's nose up on a little log so it would be easy to recognize from the others. The sense of purpose filled him once more, stronger and more imminent than on the train. In Metcalf hardly two hours, and here he was on an island with her! He pressed the knife against him through his trousers. If he could just get her alone and clap his hand over her mouth — or would she be able to bite? He squirmed with disgust at the thought of her wet mouth on his hand.

MEDIUM SHOT ISLAND

The group of Miriam and her companions are scrambling out of their boat and moving onto the island, one of the boys tying the boat on the shore. They disappear into the woods of the island.

Again Bruno's boat comes into the picture. He steps out, lifts the prow of the boat a little onto the shore.

NOTE: Time references are to the longer British cut of the film, Hitchcock's preferred version. To determine time for the U.S. version subtract 48 seconds, i.e., British cut begins at 26:44, while the U.S. cut is at 25:56. All 10 shots are the same in both versions. ALSO NOTE: This scene comes immediately after the Tunnel of Love scene.

Shot 1 – about 25 seconds duration (at 26:44 – on the DVD, this is near the end of Chapter 9)

ACTION: The boat with Miriam and her two male friends lands; they scamper off. A moment later Bruno lands, follows them.

SOUND: Off-Screen (OS) echoes, reverberating across the lake, of the carousel's grating pipe organ. Throughout the entire scene it endlessly repeats "And the Band Played On" (same tune mentioned earlier in Highsmith's novel – also note the text quoted for Shot 2 below). This music gives a unity throughout both this scene and entire the fairground sequence.

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ANALYSIS:

On Highsmith: Her prose is vivid, with sharp sensory detail (sounds, sights, and later touch).

On Hitchcock: He plays the action in a "comfortable" medium shot. Begins to use screen right to left movement with Miriam and the two men. Continues the right to left dynamic when Bruno's boat pulls in.

Like all of the shots in this brief scene, Hitchcock highlights – almost abstractifies – just a few objects, including the characters. He gives us harsh sidelight on the tree and characters; and the fairground far in the background (BG) is lit. Everything else is in shadow. You would, of course, expect that from the setting; but the darkness takes on an ominous – even thematic – weight too.

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Slowly he followed their slow steps, up rough ground where the trees were close.

"We cain't sit here, the ground's wet," whined the girl called Katie.

"Sit on mah coat if y'wanta," a fellow said.

Christ, Bruno thought, those dumb Southern accents!

"When I'm walkin' with m'honey down honeymoon lane . . . ," somebody sang, off in the bushes.

Night murmurs. Bugs. Crickets. And a mosquito at his ear. Bruno boxed his ear and the ear rang maddeningly, drowning out the voices.

". . . shove off."

"Why cain't we find a place?" Miriam yapped.

"Ain't no place an' watch whatcha step in!"

"Watcha step-ins, gals!" laughed the redheaded fellow.

What the hell were they going to do? He was bored! The music of the merry-go-round sounded tired and very distant, only the tings coming through. Then they turned around right in his face, so he had to move off to one side as if he were going somewhere. He got tangled in some thorny underbrush and occupied himself getting free of it while they passed him. Then he followed, downward. He thought he could smell Miriam's perfume, if it wasn't the other girl's, a sweetness like a steamy bathroom that repelled him.

". . . and now," said a radio, "coming in very cautiously . . . Leon . .. Leon lands a hard right to the Babe's face and listentothecrowd! A roar.

Bruno saw a fellow and a girl wallowing down there in the bushes as if they were fighting, too.

MEDIUM SHOT ISLAND

The group of Miriam and her companions are scrambling out of their boat and moving onto the island, one of the boys tying the boat on the shore. They disappear into the woods of the island.

Again Bruno's boat comes into the picture. He steps out, lifts the prow of the boat a little onto the shore.


LONG SHOT ISLAND

We see the amusement park lighted beyond the lake. Silhouetted in the foreground, the trees and foliage of the island. Nearby we see the silhouetted figures of Miriam and her companions move across the scene right to left. Miriam is pushing George away from her.

MIRIAM
(protesting perfunctorily)
George, no!

She backs away from him and the boys go on picture. Miriam goes in another direction, around the bushes. George obviously misses her, for we hear his voice call out:

GEORGE’S VOICE
Miriam!

Shot 2 – 8 secs. (at 27:09 – on the DVD, this is the beginning of Chapter 10, which includes all of the remainder of this scene)

ACTION: Miriam, then the thin young man, then the heavyset man run screen right to screen left; fairground in BG across the eerie black lake.

SOUND: O.S. carousel (of course); men laughing, Miriam laughing, then dialogue...

FRIEND (OS): Say, Miriam...

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ANALYSIS:

Hitchcock omits all of Highsmith's vernacular humor. His Metcalf is not in Texas (Highsmith's home state), rather it's in the Maryland area – and so the accents are irrelevant. Hitchcock wants to focus our intention on the dark imagery of this scene: a swathe of twinkling lights in the distance, and the rest of the frame dominated by the black, reflective ripples of the lake.

Hitchcock continues the momentum of the scene by continuing with right to left action, but now he increases the pace dramatically. The shot opens with Miriam running across the frame. She's followed a moment later by the thin young man, who practically leaps across. Hitchcock gives us a little joke by holding on the "empty" frame, then having the chubby young man saunter across.

As in so many of Hitchcock's most resonant images, there is the suggestion of voyeurism here. Could the fixed POV belong to Bruno, perhaps hiding – in plain sight – a little ways away?

On a more abstract level, we see in these first two shots another tendency which Hitchcock plays with in this scene (and throughout his entire filmography): The tension between closed space (the action is held within the strong horizontal and vertical lines of the frame) and open space (where it's clear that the action cannot be contained just within the framed area shown). The composition here reads as closed space – with its strong horizontals – but the action indicates open space, and the very slightest suspense as to what happens to Miriam, and her friends, as they disappear off-screen, leaving the expanse of empty black lake, with the shimmering lights of the fairground far away.

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Miriam stood on slightly higher ground, not three yards away from him now, and the others slid down the bank toward the water. Bruno inched closer. The lights on the water silhouetted her head and shoulders. Never had he been so close!

"Hey!" Bruno whispered, and saw her turn. "Say, isn't your name Miriam?"

She faced him, but he knew she could barely see him. "Yeah. Who're you?"

He came a step nearer. "Haven't I met you somewhere before?" he asked cynically, smelling the perfume again. She was a warm ugly black spot. He sprang with such concentrated aim, the wrists of his spread hands touched.

"Say, what d'you—?"

His hands captured her throat on the last word, stifling its abortive uplift of surprise. He shook her. His body seemed to harden like rock, and he heard his teeth crack. She made a grating sound in her throat, but he had her too tight for a scream. [no paragraph break]

Miriam backs out of the bushes until the back of her head is in CLOSEUP in the foreground of the shot. Suddenly she hears steps in back of her and turns her head toward CAMERA. Her face changes as she recognizes someone offscene.

MIRIAM
Oh!

She gives a coy smile of recognition. CAMERA PULLS BACK to reveal the [head] and shoulders of Bruno between Miriam and the camera. His hand holds Guy’s lighter which he flicks on as he raises it above Miriam’s face. Of Bruno, we see only the back of his head and shoulders.

BRUNO
Is your name Miriam?

MIRIAM
(with surprise)
Why yes. How did you --

We see Bruno’s gloved hands dart quickly to Miriam’s throat. The lighter falls down out of picture, and as Bruno’s hands grip her throat, his head moves slightly to blot out Miriam’s face. His head moves a bit farther until Miriam's face is nearly uncovered at the other side of the screen, and we see her glasses fall off.

Shot 3 – 15 secs. (at 27:17)

ACTION: Miriam moves towards camera (Bruno's POV) - fairground in BG. Bruno OS flicks on the lighter in her face. After a moment of confusion, she smiles seductively...

BRUNO: Is your name Miriam?

MIRIAM: Why yes. How did you...?

Bruno immediately begins to strangle her. He moves around, blocking her from the CAMERA. Then he is on screen left. Her glasses fall off.

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ANALYSIS:

Hitchcock changes the visual dynamic dramatically. After two "flat" shots, with all the action moving from right to left, he now has Miriam move forward directly toward the camera until she is in a Close-Up (CU). We soon realize the shot is from Bruno's Point of View (POV), as just his hand enters right and flicks on Guy's cigarette lighter.

Hitchcock perfectly captures, in image and sound, Highsmith's decidedly creepy tone in this scene. As in Highsmith, Hitchcock shifts our perspective (literally) when he has Miriam run straight toward us. But he also intensifies Highsmith's creepy sexual undercurrents by having his Miriam's surprised look turn to one of coy flirtation, even desire (SEE the second still to the left). Clearly she remembers this intriguing stranger who had been eyeing her all night at the fairground. This very brief, but emotionally charged interchange, is unique to Hitchcock.

The murder which follows is Hitchcock at his best. When you compare the film to Highsmith's original text, which covers exactly the same action, you can see the peculiar strengths and limitations of each medium: Prose giving us vivid sensory details of touch; film providing visceral immediacy.

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[Highsmith continues below]

CLOSE SHOT

Miriam's glasses hit the ground. The shadows of their struggling figures over the shot.

Shot 4 – 2 secs. (at 27:32)

ACTION: Miriam's glasses fall on ground next to lighter

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ANALYSIS:

Neither the lighter nor eyeglasses (which are important clues in the film – with some symbolic weight too) figure in Highsmith. Visually, Hitchcock is preparing us for (what I think is) one of his strangest and most Surreally beautiful images in Shot 6 below. Here we have a more crowded frame, with Miriam's feet on the top and Bruno's on the bottom (you may recall the opening scene of Strangers in which Hitchcock playfully intercuts close shots of, respectively, Bruno's and Guy's shoes).

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[continued from above] With a leg behind her, he wrenched her backward, and they fell to the ground together with no sound but of a brush of leaves. He sunk his fingers deeper, enduring the distasteful pressure of her body under his so her writhing would not get them both up. Her throat felt hotter and fatter. Stop, stop, stop! He willed it! And the head stopped turning. He was sure he had held her long enough, but he did not lessen his grip. Glancing behind him, he saw nothing coming. When he relaxed his fingers, it felt as if he had made deep dents in her throat as in a piece of dough. Then she made a sound like an ordinary cough that terrified him like the rising dead, and he fell on her again, hitched himself onto his knees to do it, pressing her with a force he thought would break his thumbs. All the power in him he poured out through his hands. And if it was not enough? He heard himself whimper. She was still and limp now.

CLOSE UP

The screen is filled with one of the lenses of the glasses. They are of the diminishing type. Against the moonlit sky we see reflected, the elongated struggling figures, as though we were shooting up at them. Suddenly one of the figures falls forward.

Shot 5 – 22 secs. (at 27:34)

ACTION: Bruno strangles Miriam, slowly forcing her to the ground.

After several seconds of the strangulation...

FRIEND (OS): Miriam, where are you?

COMMENT: To the sound of the churning, echoing pipe organ, Hitchcock now adds the ongoing chatter and laughter of Miriam's friends, who look for her. Obviously they have no idea of her fate, so close to where they are (albeit Off-Screen).

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ANALYSIS:

This concave mirror shot and the image which follows are two of the most extraordinary shots in all of Hitchcock. He uses purely visual and sound means to convey the horror, not to mention the twisted eroticism and even the Surreal quality, not only of murder but simultaneously of Bruno's psyche. Although the POV is from the one unbroken lens in the glasses, the worldview is pure Bruno: Grotesquely distorted/ perverted sense of reality and even Miriam's slow sinking into oblivion and death. Rarely has morbidity been so beautifully, and unforgettably, portrayed as in this optical effects shot.

As Kasey Rogers (the real name of actress Laura Elliot) reveals in an interview on the 2004 Special Edition DVD of the film, Hitchcock did this shot back on the soundstage, after a week of location shooting. He told Kasey, as she recalls, to act "like you're doing the Lindy [dance] – float to the ground." On the seventh take Hitchcock was happy with her "floating," and that was a wrap.

Notice how Hitchcock has Bruno and Miriam literally blur and merge into each other [SEE the second still], as the shot progresses. Then we see Bruno rise, smiling – holding his hands as if they were pincers or claws.

As a literary parallel (not to mention precursor), Highsmith rises to terrifying, evocative heights as she finds exactly the right words, and rhythm, to describe the scene. Oddly, she emphasizes the literal sounds of the killing, while Hitchcock drains the scene of all sound except for the incessant, grating OS carousel: If anything, this is even more horrific than Highsmith's aural detail.

Stunning film, extraordinary writing: Both great in their own unique ways.

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"Miriam?" called the girl's voice.

Bruno sprang up [no break in paragraph]

CLOSE UP

Miriam's head drops into the picture by the glasses.

Bruno's hand comes into the picture and picks up the glasses. One of the lenses has been broken by Miriam's fall.

As we see Bruno's sport shoes move away, the CAMERA MOVES PAST MIRIAM'S HEAD until it comes to Guy's lighter pressed into the earth.


CLOSE UP BRUNO

Bruno glances back over his shoulder. He looks down and goes back one or two steps.

Shot 6 – 5 secs. (at 27:56)

ACTION: Stillness: Hair, grass, lighter, glasses. After a moment Bruno's hand takes the glasses.

FRIEND (OS): Miriam, come on, stop fooling.

ANOTHER FRIEND (OS): Think you can give us the slip, huh?

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Click here for enlarged view of above shot

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ANALYSIS (INCLUDING ABOVE GRAPHIC ANALYSIS):

This Surreal composition would have made Dali proud (in fact, he worked with Hitchcock on Spellbound). Look at those eerily gorgeous textural and tonal contrasts between Miriam' s black wavy hair and the bristly, medium-gray grass, which bears an uncanny resemblance to Astroturf. And in the lower part of the frame note the nervous contrast of the tilted, square-ish cigarette lighter and the round-ish eyeglass lens (SEE directly above the abstracted graphic analysis – highlighting line and shape in red and texture in stark black and white). Hitchcock further unsettles us by giving a clear horizontal divide at the midpoint; but the lower-left to upper-right diagonal is slightly off. Masterfully designed tension – but subtle in a shot lasting only five seconds.

Would Hitchcock have put this much imagination into a brief "toss-away" shot if he didn't know that someday some people would be doing exactly what we're doing now, i.e., savoring the perverse beauty of this image?

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[Highsmith continues below]

CLOSE UP BRUNO'S HAND

Bruno's hands retrieve the lighter from the ground.

Shot 7 – 4 secs. (at 28:01)

ACTION: Bruno's hand reaches for the lighter

FRIEND (OS): Come on, stop hiding.

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ANALYSIS:

Quick transition shot. But we see clearly that Bruno wears gloves so as not to leave fingerprints. Shrewd.

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[Highsmith continues below]

[screenplay continues below]

Shot 8 – 1 sec. (at 28:05)

ACTION: Shot continues immediately as Bruno's hand removes the lighter

FRIEND (OS): Miriam... Miriam, where are you?

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ANALYSIS:

Final time we see this haunting image, which at last is pure texture. The frame is split by a diagonal, with the wavy hair on the upper left, the bristling grass on the lower right.

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[continued from above] and stumbled straight away toward the center of the island, then turned left to bring him out near his boat. He found himself scrubbing something off his hands with his pocket handkerchief. Miriam's spit. He threw the handkerchief down and swept it up again, because it was monogrammed. He was thinking! He felt great! It was done!

"Mi-ri-am!" with lazy impatience.

But what if he hadn't finished her, if she were sitting up and talking now? The thought shot him forward and he almost toppled down the bank. A firm breeze met him at the water's edge. He didn't see his boat. He started to take any boat, changed his mind, then a couple of yards farther to the left found it, perched on the little log.

"Hey, she's fainted!"

Bruno shoved off, quickly, but not hurrying.

"Help, somebody!" said the girl's half gasp, half scream.

"Gawd!—-Huh-help!"

The panic in the voice panicked Bruno. He rowed for several choppy strokes, then abruptly stopped and let the boat glide over the dark water. What was he getting scared about, for Christ's sake? Not a sign of anyone chasing him.

"Hey!"

LONG SHOT ISLAND

We see a full view of the island again, wit the amusement park beyond. The faint noise of the calliopes continues in the distance. Bruno has been lost to view.

Miriam's companions are still searching for her. We hear their faint voices in the distance.

VOICES
Miriam! Miriam! Where are you?


MEDIUM SHOT

Bruno comes to the shore where his boat is moored. He gets in and is quickly chugging away. He moves calmly, matter-of-fact and not furtively.

Shot 9 – 14 secs. (at 28:06)

ACTION: Bruno walks straight ahead through couples making out in the shadows, then crosses to the right and pushes his way through dense shrubs. The tracks right to show him gracefully sliding into his boat.

FRIEND (OS): Hey, here she is.

ANOTHER FRIEND (OS): Look! She's fainted. Come on, Miriam. Get up.

FRIEND (OS): What's the matter?

COMMENT: Although Hitchcock uses the same device – and even some of the same dialogue – for Miriam's beaux (although he omits the woman friend), it takes on a more abstract, and creepy, quality by being presented Off-Screen, completely separated from the people shouting. Our focus is solely on Bruno, who moves with both grace and unstoppable force.

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ANALYSIS:

This shot is eerie, nightmarish, like a view from Dante's Inferno, as Bruno saunters between four writhing, necking couples (hard to see in the top still, but one couple is in the left background (BG), while three other couples are arranged in the center of the frame, in a line from the BG to foreground (FG). In this shot, Hitchcock conveys Highsmith's view of Bruno's twisted perspective on sex – compare the passage quoted above for Shot 2, when she wrote: "Bruno saw a fellow and a girl wallowing down there in the bushes as if they were fighting, too."

The thick undergrowth which Bruno claws his way through, in this continuous shot, adds to the dreamlike/ nightmarish feeling of the scene. When he emerges, he effortlessly slides into his waiting little boat.

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"F'God's sake, she's dead! Call somebody!"

A girl's scream was a long arc in silence, and somehow the scream made it final. A beautiful scream, Bruno thought with a queer, serene admiration....

LONG SHOT LAKE

Bruno's boat throbbing its way across toward the landing stage.


MEDIUM SHOT LANDING STAGE

There are two boats unloading. Bruno's boat is approaching. We hear a loud call from the island. Someone has found Miriam.

VOICES
Hey, here she is! What's the matter with her? Has she fainted?

More shouts from the island cause the people at the landing stage to look back. The boatman's attention is also attracted. Suddenly, as Bruno is getting out of the boat, there is a load scream from the island.

VOICE
(crying out)
She is dead!

OTHER VOICE
(from island)
Help! Help!

Shot 10 – 15 secs. (28:20 - 28:35)

Bruno in his boat on the lake (screen right), fairground in the BG

FRIEND (OS): She's dead!

TWO FRIENDS (TOGETHER) (OS): Help! Help! Somebody send a doctor!

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COMMENT:

Hitchcock visually bookends this scene by concluding it with almost the same angle as in Shot 2 above (likely filmed the same night). Only now there is no land beneath our feet: just the expanse of ominous black water, with those un-reassuring bright lights in the BG.

What an emotional ride we have been on during the less than two minutes which have just elapsed!

Dramatically, this brief scene presents a perfect miniature narrative structure, from the introduction (Shot 1) to the rising action (Shot 2 and the beginning of Shot 3) to the climax (rest of Shot 3 through Shot 5) to the final resolution of the scene (Shots 6 through 10).

Visually, Hitchcock's intensity of imagery parallels the dramatic structure, with Shot 5 being the most intense in the scene – just as the murder is, of course, the most intense moment in the scene.

Part of Hitchcock's genius comes from the great imaginative power he brings even to the "little" shots. Look at the disorienting, deeply strange beauty of Shot 6 and the first half of Shot 9: These would be handled in a perfunctory manner by most other filmmakers (after all, the murder is over). But Hitchcock lavishes these briefly seen images with great power: Even though most people would never "freeze frame" those shots – as we have here – subliminally they would register those images as "right" and striking.


novel copyright © 1950 by Patricia Highsmith

screenplay copyright © 1951 & 1979 by Warner Bros.

 

film copyright © 1951 & 1979 by Warner Bros.

 
Posted July 25, 2002

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