books to film

Books versus movie: ‘Strangers on A Train’ acquires new meaning in Alfred Hitchcock’s version

The 1951 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s gripping novel gets its edge from the director’s wit and visual imagination.

Strangers on a Train is 29-year-old Patricia Highsmith’s dark debut novel from 1950. It involves the folies à deux of two passengers who, after a chance meeting, must navigate their way through a labyrinth of homoerotic impulses, crime and guilt. Typical of most Highsmith’s writing, Strangers On a Train is not merely a suspense thriller but noir fiction which slinks into subterranean tunnels of the dangerous and the amoral.

One of Highsmith’s biographers, Andrew Wilson points out that as Highsmith brings Gothic themes and experiential conundrums into modern contexts, her writing shows the influence of Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard and other existentialists. In the words of another biographer, Joan Schenkar, Highsmith’s books “…are like nothing else in their literary landscape … [they] suck another reader into their bottomless vortex of moral relativities, transferable guilts, and unstable identities.”

Highsmith is gripping. Period.

Early in the story, 25-year-old decadent Bruno preys on Guy, a 29-year-old career oriented architect. Highsmith swiftly co-opts her readers into the insecurity of Guy’s inner world:

“How could he talk so intimately to Bruno, he wondered, reveal the best of himself? Who was less likely to understand than Bruno?”

— Strangers on A Train.

Guy talks about his profession and his aspirations. Before long, Bruno knows of Guy’s shrewish wife Miriam, who is resisting a divorce, and of Anne, the woman Guy wants to marry. Bruno, yet to reveal himself in his full, mother-fixated colours, announces his grand theory: “A person ought to do everything it’s possible to do before he dies and maybe die trying to do something that’s really impossible.”

Bruno then outlines his “wonderful idea” for the murder of his dominating father and of Guy’s difficult wife. Now, if Bruno and Guy could just swap murders, each would end up killing a total stranger and no motives would be traced back to either of them. In Highsmith’s world of coincidence, irrationality, ambiguity and amoral leakage, murder can be committed even on a whim.

Unknown to Guy, and with irony that borders on the grotesque, Bruno locates and murders Miriam at an amusement park. “He [Bruno] heard his teeth crack,” Highsmith writes, and tells us Bruno’s fingers made “deep dents in her throat as in a piece of dough”. This tersely worded visceral sequence is ironically capped off the following day when Bruno’s grandmother innocently asks to be taken to maybe a good movie – with a murder in it – or maybe the amusement park”.

The rest of Highsmith’s story concerns the manner in which Guy expiates for Bruno’s crime, first by murdering Bruno’s father and then grudgingly but gradually absorbing Bruno into his life with Anne. After Bruno has a fatal accident, Guy is unable to live with his guilt any longer and allows himself to be arrested. Highsmith has the same questions for her protagonist as her readers: “What did he feel about Bruno besides hatred and disgust? Was he afraid?”

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 screen version offers a more flamboyant and flirtatious Bruno (spectacularly played by Robert Walker) who picks up the title-holding tennis player Guy (Farley Granger). As in the novel, the murders are announced by Bruno and Miriam is indeed strangled to death by him in an amusement park. But Hitchcock abandons the complex characters of his source material and opts for typical Hollywood fare – a completely innocent man is made to bear the guilt of a crime and must be exonerated.

Strangers on a Train (1951).

“Two people in each person. There’s also a person exactly the opposite of you, like the unseen part of you, somewhere in the world and he waits in ambush,” says Highsmith’s Bruno.

Hitchcock does not belabour this premise, nor does he compromise the suspense of Highsmith’s grim and humourless novel. Through the lens of expert cinematographer Robert Burkes, Strangers On A Train becomes a gallery of sensational chiaroscuro, where the story is told through startling and unforgettable images. Dmitri Tomkin’s thrilling as well as chilling score adds the sinister touches to a film that has not lost its appeal since its release.

It is Hitchcock’s wit and imagination that give the film a special edge. Several pairs of strangers on trains keep the audience subliminally connected to the doppelganger idea that runs through the story – double drinks, double murders and double sets of tennis – to name just a few. “Criss cross” is the other suggestion from the novel that is carried forward from the opening shots of diverging and intersecting train tracks to the tennis racquets embossed on Guy’s lighter and finally to a crucial tennis match in the penultimate reels of the film.

Engaging cameo characters include Bruno’s eccentric mother (delightfully played by Marion Lorne), Anne’s outspoken sister (Patricia Hitchcock) and an incredibly silly dinner guest, Mrs Cunningham (Norma Varden). But the real stars of Strangers on a Train are a cigarette lighter , a pair of thick lensed glasses and a wildly spinning carousel.

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Decoding the symbolic threads and badges of one of India’s oldest cavalry units

The untold story of The President’s Bodyguard.

The national emblem of India; an open parachute and crossed lances – this triad of symbols representing the nation, excellence in training and valor respectively are held together by an elite title in the Indian army – The President’s Bodyguard (PBG).

The PBG badge is worn by one of the oldest cavalry units in the India army. In 1773, Governor Warren Hastings, former Governor General of India, handpicked 50 troopers. Before independence, this unit was referred to by many titles including Troops of Horse Guards and Governor General’s Body Guards (GGBG). In 1950, the unit was named The President’s Bodyguard and can be seen embroidered in the curved maroon shoulder titles on their current uniforms.

The President’s Bodyguard’s uniform adorns itself with proud colours and symbols of its 245 year-old-legacy. Dating back to 1980, the ceremonial uniform consists of a bright red long coat with gold girdles and white breeches, a blue and gold ceremonial turban with a distinctive fan and Napoleon Boots with spurs. Each member of the mounted unit carries a special 3-meter-long bamboo cavalry lance, decorated by a red and white pennant. A sheathed cavalry sabre is carried in in the side of the saddle of each trooper.

While common perception is that the PBG mainly have ceremonial duties such as that of being the President’s escort during Republic Day parade, the fact is that the members of the PBG are highly trained. Handpicked by the President’s Secretariat from mainstream armored regiments, the unit assigns a task force regularly for Siachen and UN peace keeping operations. Moreover, the cavalry members are trained combat parachutists – thus decorating the PBG uniform with a scarlet Para Wings badge that signifies that these troopers are a part of the airborne battalion of the India Army.

Since their foundation, the President’s Guard has won many battle honors. In 1811, they won their first battle honor ‘Java’. In 1824, they sailed over Kalla Pani for the first Burmese War and earned the second battle honour ‘Ava’. The battle of Maharajapore in 1843 won them their third battle honor. Consequently, the PBG fought in the main battles of the First Sikh War and earned four battle honours. Post-independence, the PBG served the country in the 1962 Indo-China war and the 1965 Indo-Pak war.

The PBG, one of the senior most regiments of the Indian Army, is a unique unit. While the uniform is befitting of its traditional and ceremonial role, the badges that augment those threads, tell the story of its impressive history and victories.

How have they managed to maintain their customs for more than 2 centuries? A National Geographic exclusive captures the PBG’s untold story. The documentary series showcases the discipline that goes into making the ceremonial protectors of the supreme commander of the Indian Armed Forces.


The National Geographic exclusive is a landmark in television and is being celebrated by the #untoldstory contest. The contest will give 5 lucky winners an exclusive pass to the pre-screening of the documentary with the Hon’ble President of India at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. You can also nominate someone you think deserves to be a part of the screening. Follow #UntoldStory on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to participate.

This article was produced by Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic and not by the Scroll editorial team.