Film Spotlight: Strangers on a Train

Alfred Hitchcock hired Raymond Chandler to write the script for the 1950 book adaptation of Strangers on a Train. Considered a masterpiece by Roger Ebert (read his review here: ), there is a lot to ooh and ahh about the film because of the skillful camera work by Hitchcock. Not everyone loved the film. Raymond Chandler criticized Hitchcock for altering his script too much and complained to Hitchcock in a letter:

“What I cannot understand is your permitting a script which after all had some life and vitality to be reduced to such a flabby mass of clichés, a group of faceless characters, and the kind of dialogue every screen writer is taught not to write—the kind that says everything twice and leaves nothing to be implied by the actor or the camera.”

Read the scathing letter in its entirety here:

Predictable dialogue, wooden-cartoonish characters, and absurd plot aside, perhaps these dings dent the overall composition of the film, but it doesn’t take away from the last half of the film’s suspenseful rise to the fantastic climax on the merry-go-round in an amusement park. For its flaws, it is a worthwhile cinematic experience.

Hitchcock opened with close-up shots of two sets of shoes getting on a train. Thus began the meeting of two strangers. Robert Walker played the bored, garrulous Bruno Antony, a socialite cushioned by the wealth of his New York father and batty mother. He recognized pro-tennis player Guy Haines, played by Farley Granger and pestered the celebrity about his upcoming divorce which he read about in the social column of the newspaper. An elaborate plot constructed by Bruno Antony ensues: Bruno will kill Guy’s scheming wife if Guy kills Bruno’s father.


Alfred Hitchcock and wife of 50 years, Alma Reville, had one daughter.  Pat Hitchcock played a supporting role as the young, sassy daughter, Barbara Morton, in Strangers on a Train. Barbara and sexy-even-with-those-glasses, Miriam, were my two favorite characters, easily outshining the rest of the cast.


Alfred Hitchcock was famous for hiring blonde bombshells as stars in his movies but not in this one. Thick rimmed glasses play a role in the film. Barbara represented smarts while Miriam represented sexuality, and their  performances were essential to the success of the film. They paralleled the two males–Guy Haines was wholesome and polite while Bruno Antony was manipulative and brash. Props played a larger role if you consider Guy Haine’s lighter found at the crime site. Hitchcock stressed the importance of these props when he shot them with long close-ups.

Two favorite scenes showcasing Hitchcock’s innovation behind the camera happened during a tennis match and at an amusement park. If you haven’t seen the film, keep a look out at the tennis match and watch how the crowd moves their head in sync to the left and right, but in the center of the stands, Guy Haines stares back at you. At the end of the film, in the amusement park, notice how the carousel plays garish music and the petrified plaster-painted animals are stuck in a nightmare. Their expressions compliment the human struggle taking place. It’s an original, perfect place to have a showdown.  Have you seen Strangers on a Train? Rent it quick for the cinematography and decide for yourself if Raymond Chandler had a legitimate gripe against Hitchcock’s script.

High Country Hike


Yesterday, Jim and I hiked at the Aspen grove at the base of the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff, AZ. The wild flowers, Aspens, ferns, and cool temperatures made for a nourishing hike because an hour south, it’s too hot and dry for our liking, but up at 7,000 ft., it threatened to rain on us all morning and we were thrilled.  Here are five + six shots of our hike. Come join us.











Let it rain!  Which shot do you like best?

The Best Decade in Film: 1990s

It’s obvious to me that the 1990s were the best years in film. Drama defined the decade because of the contributions of Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and the Coen Brothers.

Tom Hanks. He owned the decade. Sure, there were mediocre choices like That Thing You Do! in 1996 or in 1992, as Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own. He managed to put his personal stamp on the film with the memorable phrase, “There’s no crying in baseball!”
But consider this blockbuster list:
1990, Bonfire of the Vanities
1993, Philadelphia (Best Acting Oscar)
1993, Sleepless in Seattle
1994, Forrest Gump (Best Acting Oscar)
1995, Toy Story
1995, Apollo 13
1998, Saving Private Ryan
1999, The Green Mile
1999, Toy Story 2
Many would say Saving Private Ryan is the best war film. His ability to represent the common man with simplistic charm is reminiscent of the great Jimmy Stewart. However, Jimmy only won one Oscar in 1940 with The Philadelphia Story. Of course, Tom Hanks greeted the new century with strong performances but it was the 1990s where he became the legend we know today.


Steven Spielberg
His relationship with Tom Hanks in films has served them both well. Not only is Saving Private Ryan arguably the best war film, which is a Spielberg masterpiece, Spielberg gets the credit for the best film ever made with Schindler’s List. That’s a subjective claim, but does anyone disagree that Schindler’s List is one of the finest films in the history of film making?

It happened in the 1990s.

What else did Steven Spielberg put out that decade? Two personal favorites are Jurassic Park, 1993, and Amistad in 1998.

Speaking of directors and actors teaming up, how about Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro in the 1990s? Here are the best gangster films combined with strong acting in DeNiro’s career:

Martin Scorsese                          
1990, Goodfellas  
1991, Cape Fear
1993, The Age of Innocence   
1995, Casino

Robert DeNiro

1990, Goodfellas

1991, Cape Fear

1993, This Boy’s Life

1995, Casino

1997, Wag the Dog

If you disagree that Schindler’s List wasn’t the best film of the decade, then you probably agree with a million other critics that Pulp Fiction was the best film of the decade. QT shocked with Reservoir Dogs and impressed us with Jackie Brown. If you are a Coen Brothers fan, then you probably are a cult follower of the Dude and drink White Russians as a token of homage. That was when I was snookered by Jeff Bridges as an exceptional actor in The Big Lebowski. Fargo, Miller’s Crossing, and Barton Fink solidified the Coen’s career and into the twenty-first they flew with one instant classic after another. Finally, if the above reasons don’t convince you, here are more random films from the 1990s that I favor:

L.A. Confidential, Mission Impossible, Being John Malkovich, Rushmore, Contact, Sense and Sensibility, Elizabeth, Dogma, Last of the Mohicans, Dances with Wolves, Sling Blade, The Piano, Star Trek: First Contact, and Run Lola Run.

Are you convinced now that the 1990s was the best decade in film-making history?

Why Germany needed to win the World Cup


Twelve us returned from a grand adventure to Munich and Berlin. It’s expected of one to hit the touristy stuff like gaping up at the Rathaus-Glockenspiel (giant chiming clock) in Marienplatz, Munich at five p.m. while drinking a fresh liter of Hefeweizen bier or admiring the Bavarian Alps especially at Neuschwanstein castle.



While the architecture was stunning, the highlight of the trip was watching Germany play against Argentina in the World Cup. From the hotel window, as the full moon rose above an expectant populace, hundreds of thousands of Deutschlanders took to the streets to watch TVs project the game in alleys and squares or they reserved their seats in their favorite pub. We were privy to a country wide-awake and thrilled to take part in a national event equal to ten American Superbowls or New Year’s Eve in 1999 or what I imagine folks felt on V-E Day.


The game ended around midnight in Munich and cars and people clogged the streets with a rupture of cheers, chants, and fireworks that lasted until three a.m. That was our last night in Munich and the group boarded the ICE train next day and headed north to experience Berlin.



Did you know that Berlin has more canals than Venice and is built on swamp land? During World War II over 370 bombings dropped by the Allies destroyed almost all the city. If you know anything about WWII, you know it was a civilian war where all sides destroyed the moral heart of their enemies–the inhabitants.  Matthias was a unique guide who grew up for the first 27 years of his life in East Berlin. He showed us the sights and explained what it felt like to be German. As he showed us the Berlin Wall, a stretch standing about a city block on the East side of the city, it was a popular stop for the tourist because this section hosted artists from around the world to paint a panel.

If you visit Berlin, you will see the snake of cobble stones trace the removed wall embedded in the city streets. Straddling what was once East and West Berlin, marveling at the Surrealist work of Salvador Dali, passing by Checkpoint Charlie, visiting Nefertiti in the Neus Museum, gawking at the gorillas in Berlin Zoo, or walking the lush lawn of Teufel Park, it was a special time. Matthias would be the first to point out that the city’s architecture is ugly compared to Paris or London or Rome, but there is beauty to experience and his passion and pride for his city was infectious.


When the heroes returned from Argentina, 500,000 Berliners celebrated their victory in front of Brandenburg Gate. We watched at a Bier garden and listened to Matthias explain how this wasn’t just a sporting event. For the first time in seventy years, Germans were proud to hang out their national flag. Inheriting the legacy of Nazism and the Holocaust hasn’t been easy. For the first time, Deutschlanders set aside the shame and regret of their past and rejoiced as a country.

Is it possible to remember, “lest we forget”, but move on, too? I sure don’t have the answer, but I will assert the World Cup win was a refreshing tonic.

Monsoon Sunrise and Sunset

Today from start to finish, the clouds gave quite a show. Here are five + two of my favorite shots:










Nothing’s better than the skies during monsoon season. It is a wondrous treat to behold such beauty especially when it is from your front and back door. Which shot do you like best?


Berlin and Munich

The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of bigger ideas, never returns to its original size. – Oliver Wendell Holmes

The best thing I do as a teacher is escort high school students and adults to foreign locales during summer break. I travel with  and they make sure the trips are glitch-free. The trips are an eye-opener for the student who experiences a different history and culture outside the U.S., and for me as an educator, our shared experience is an opportunity to bond with them educationally and emotionally. Only after the trip and years later do we realize how special the adventure was. Ninety-five percent who travel with me catch the travel bug. That’s awesome. What the world needs now is toleration and a fresh perspective, and I’d like to think I offer that.

Please return when I share some photo posts in a couple of weeks, and thanks to those who comment on my blog. I truly ♥ our exchanges. May good reading, good films, and good adventures come to you all.



German Expressionism


Conrad Veidt plays Gwynplain in The Man Who Laughs, 1928

If you love Batman and know the history of his enemies, you already know The Joker was inspired by the American silent film, The Man Who Laughs, released in 1928. Wearing dental apparatus and fake teeth, Conrad Veidt’s look was downright ghastly and explains why people (including myself) suffer from coulrophobia. What happened in the German theater in the 1920s influenced the studios in Hollywood in the 20s and 30s and the genre of the horror story–and science fiction if you consider Metropolis–began. Creepy and macabre is how I like it, and it all began with German filmmakers like Fritz Lang. This brief time span influenced the filmmakers discussed with reverence today like Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, and Tim Burton. Also, its influence melted into the elements of the American film noir like The Big Sleep.

What is German Expressionism?

Maybe you never went to film school or are unaware of German Expressionism. Simply stated, it was an art movement in film during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933). At its height during the decade of the 1920s, it was a German reaction to the horrors of World War I. Mutilated soldiers returned with haunted eyes, hopeless, and depressed. I speculate the society as a whole suffered from nightmares more than dreams. It would explain why Germans are stereotyped as a notoriously serious culture. I read a fascinating article, scholarship suggesting the correlation between the Weimar years of emasculated men who committed depraved sex acts and murders against women particularly in 1920. This reaction to the war might be a link explaining the mindset of a society that allowed Nazi intolerance toward Jews. 

In a paralyzed German society after WWI, it is easier to understand how horror came to be expressed on the film screen.

Examples You Should Watch

Abstract production designs mimicked Surrealism in art. Architecture with exaggerated lines and points replicated the skyscraper. Shadows, nightmares, long staircases, dream sequences, ghoulish villains and pretty, naïve women nurtured the psychologically damaged. The Man Who Laughs is an example of German Expressionism taking root in Hollywood. If you have 14 minutes, try this documentary short about the love story of a maimed man who falls in love with a blind girl:   


Nosferatu (1922)

Inspired by Bram Stoker’s classic, Dracula, actor Max Schrek plays the vampire Count Orlok the nocturnal stalker in F.W. Murnau’s masterpiece, Nosferatu. As an aside, have you seen Shadow of the Vampire (2000) with Willem Defoe as Count Orlok? I highly recommend it.


 Fritz Lang


Metropolis (1927) is a Fritz Lang masterpiece. In the future in a utopian world, Thinkers are all head and Workers are all heart. One group lives above ground and clueless how their towering metropolis functions while the other group lives underground, an exploited work force that wants a rebellion. Modern and marvelous, it astounds me this was created in 1927. If you have to sit through one silent film, let it be this.

M (1931)

German police cannot find a child murderer and criminals join the manhunt. Peter Lorre is great in this role and follows German filmakers to Hollywood and stars and speaks in film noir classics like The Maltese Falcon. 


Victor Hugo

United Pictures tried their hand with silent films in the German style with material adapted from Hugo’s classic tales, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera in 1925 with Lon Chaney. With their popular success, United Pictures created a franchise in the 1930s. Monster movies like James Whale’s Frankenstein, The Werewolf, The Mummy, and Dracula were commercial successes.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920 

(1920) The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

(1920) The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Robert Wiene directed the quintessential German Expressionist film. The twisted Dr. Caligari has an exhibit where he keeps Cesare in a closet. He is able to foretell the future and like a zombie, stalks and kidnaps a beautiful girl named Jane. Madness and mayhem. It’s a simple story surrounded by all the characteristics of German Expressionism. Shadows. Long staircases. Symbols. Madness. Murder. Darkness. Unrealistic settings. A nightmare come true.


Can you guess the following films and why they are considered a bow of respect to German Expressionism? Here’s a set of Alfred Hitchcock examples.


 Here’s another set. Can you guess which particular film influenced these contemporary remakes?

What are your thoughts about German Expressionism? Does it seem to you, as it does to  me, that German Expressionism is very similar to the characteristics of Gothic born in the Romantic period?