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Alfred Hitchcock pitched Strangers on a Train to Farley Granger over tea at his Bel Air home.
“Hearing a story told by Hitch was almost as good as seeing the film,” Granger remembered.
But the best part of the story was the end – when the director told him that he was going to play the lead. Granger and Hitchcock had previously worked together on Rope the year before, but unfortunately, it hadn’t been the commercial success that the director needed.
Interestingly, Hitchcock originally wanted William Holden for the part. He said, “In this kind of story the stronger the hero, the more effective the situation.”
The novel, on which the film was based, was the first work of Patricia Highsmith, and coincidently, Hitchcock read it while on a train. The rights were purchased for a mere $7,500 because Hitchcock’s agents kept his name out of the negotiations.
Pat Hitchcock, daughter of the director, who also played Barbara in Strangers, said, “He would find a story. He then would take it to my mother and have her read it. And if she thought it would make a film, then he would go ahead with it.”
Unfortunately, the script wasn’t as easy to tackle. “I couldn’t find anyone to work on it,” Hitchcock said.
Raymond Chandler, author of mysteries The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye, took the first crack at it. Hitchcock’s response was to hold his nose as he threw the draft away. Thankfully, writer Czenzi Ormonde came to the rescue, and he finished the final scene only one week before it was shot.
“[W]orking on Strangers on a Train was my happiest filmmaking experience,” Granger said.
Of course, the true victory for the film was Robert Walker, who brought the odd and egotistical Bruno Antony to life.
Granger thought the casting was perfect, as Walker was known for playing charming roles, rather than the villain.
Walker himself was thrilled with the part and saw it as a chance to kick start his career after personal difficulties when his wife, Jennifer Jones, left him to be with Hollywood producer David O. Selznick.
“Bob was a consummate professional, always on time and always creatively prepared. We became good friends during the course of the film, and it ended with us both promising to keep in touch.”
However, busy schedules kept the two apart until a chance run-in where they both excitedly talked about the buzz of Strangers. This time, they promised to meet for dinner soon.
Unfortunately, on August 28, 1951, Walker died, just months after the release of the film.
“I was very sad because he was a wonderful actor, and I respected him highly.” Granger said. “He was wonderful, marvelous in the part.”