Strangers on a Train (Warner), Alfred Hitchcock's latest thriller, winds up with a scene in which a merry-go-round goes wild, spins like a pin wheel, and crashes in a gaudy blaze of explosions that no earthly carrousel could touch off. The movie itself is the same way: implausible but intriguing and great fun to ride.
Based on Patricia Highsmith's 1950 novel, the picture begins with a chance encounter on a Washington-to-New York train between, a tennis player (Farley Granger) and a wealthy, gabby ne'er-do-well (Robert Walker) with a touch of homicidal mania. Granger, in love with Socialite Ruth Roman, wants to rid himself of a faithless wife who is balking at a divorce; Walker would like nothing better than to see his own father dead. Aglow with enthusiasm, Walker proposes that they both commit murder, obliging each other with a friendly swap of victims so that the crimes can be motive-free models of perfection.
Director Hitchcock toys with this plot as lovingly as the crack-brained murderer, plays it for wry irony and unexpected humor as well as suspense. But he seems less interested in making his audiences believe in the story's outrageously rigged situations than in teasing, tricking and dazzling them with the masterful touch of a talented cinematic showoff. In a familiar shot of tennis spectators pivoting their heads to & fro, he plants the conspicuously immobile head of the murderer, staring at the hero. He intercuts a Forest Hills tennis match, which Granger desperately tries to win in time to intercept the villain, with a scene over a sewer grating miles away, where the murderer is straining to recover a vital piece of evidence.
As usual, Hitchcock threatens constantly to steal the show from his own cast, but this time he must share it with Actor Walker, who makes the psychopathic strangler both sinister and perversely amusing, and two unfamiliar (and hence doubly effective) supporting players: Laura Elliott, as Walker's hateful, empty-headed victim, and Marion Lome, in the role of his mother, a slightly potty matron who dotes on her son and innocently manicures his nails when he wants his hands properly groomed for their homicidal task.
Kind Lady (MGM) presents Broadway's Maurice (Hamlet, Man and Superman) Evans in a new cinemadaptation of an old Broadway melodrama. Always at home in a revival, Actor Evans gives a performance as technically polished as the movie's production, and Co-Star Ethel Barrymore keeps right up with him. But the thriller's chills are slow in coming, only moderately chilling when they arrive.
Actress Barrymore plays the wealthy, aging owner of a house full of art treasures in genteel, turn-of-the-century London. As a down-at-heel artist who stops one day to admire the original Cellini knocker on the door, Evans wins her confidence with a display of breeding, paintings and poverty. He finds a pretext to move himself, his sickly wife (Betsy Blair) and baby into the house. Then he brings in a couple of confederates as a butler (Keenan Wynn) and maid (Angela Lansbury), imprisons the old lady in her room and takes possession. While looting the house of its El Grecos, Rembrandts and Chippendales, he coolly blocks his prisoner's attempts to get help, sets about driving her out of her mind, finally schemes to kill her.