#114 House of Wax

Watched: June 11 2017

Director: André De Toth

Starring: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, Roy Roberts, Charles Bronson

Year: 1953

Runtime: 1h 28min

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House of Wax is an old favourite of Sister the Oldest, stemming from her love of Vincent Price in her teenage Goth days (we’ve all been there). A remake of Michael Curtiz’ Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), it stars Price as Professor Henry Jarrod, an eccentric sculptor who works with wax figures.

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His obsession with his Marie Antoinette hints at his brewing insanity. Then again, she’s quite the looker!

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When Jarrod’s business partner Matthew Burke (Roberts) is in need of some quick cash, he proposes to the artist that they burn down the museum to collect the insurance. Jarrod, who has a close, personal relationship with all his creations, is not exactly on board, so Burke tries to kill him. The museum burns down and Jarrod disappears and is thought to have perished in the fire.

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In reality, he has but gone the way of his figures

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Fast forward a few months, and Burke dies under mysterious circumstances, his body disappears from the morgue, and his delightful (possible) fiancée Cathy (Jones – a.k.a. She of the Tiny Waist) meets the same fate. Simultaneously, Professor Jarrod reappears with plans to open a new wax museum, this time with a Chamber of Horrors included, showing historical crimes as well as recent, local ones. Coincidence?

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“Why, yes, there is an incredible likeness between my former partner who tried to kill me and whose body disappeared from the morgue, and my recreation of his death. I really am that good.”

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Sue Allen (Kirk), Cathy’s roommate and only witness to her killer, grows suspicious when visiting the museum and finding that Joan of Arc is the spitting image of her dead friend, though her suspicions are mostly written off as the silly ideas of a hysterical woman. Her own likeness to Jarrod’s Marie Antoinette put her on the artist’s radar, and tensions mount.

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“I told her not to touch the artwork! That’s it. She must die.”

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House of Wax holds up incredibly well and is an excellent and creepy feature. We love the image of the melting wax figures, everything about Cathy (our favourite), Vincent Price’s iconic voice, and the grotesque plot.

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“No ding-ding without a wedding ring!” – Cathy, paraphrased. God, we loved her.

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Originally made in 3D, it is easy to see how that would have added to the experience, and some scenes are clearly inserted mainly for the 3D effect. Unfortunately, we’ve only ever seen it in 2D, but perhaps one day we’ll have the chance to watch it in the same way as its original audience. One can only dream…

What we learned: Don’t kill people’s creative works for money. Or, money and art do not always work well together. Something to that effect.

Next time: Mr Hulot’s Holiday/Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953)

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#113 Glen or Glenda

Watched: June 11 2017

Director: Edward D. Wood Jr (aka Ed Wood)

Starring: Bela Lugosi, Ed Wood, Dolores Fuller, Timothy Farrell, Lyle Talbot

Year: 1953

Runtime: 1h 11min

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Ed Wood is commonly known as the worst director of all time, which may or may not be true (there must be someone worse out there, although it’s possible they’ve never released anything major), due in large part to the cult classic Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959). Slightly less well known, though still fairly (in)famous, and (hopefully) slightly more autobiographical is Glen or Glenda from 1953.

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Despite his infamy, Ed Wood threw the best and most surreal parties!

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Transvestite Patrick/Patricia has committed suicide, and the investigator, Inspector Warren (Talbot) wants to learn more about their motive. He talks to Dr Alton (Farrell) who tells him two stories about different forms of gender identity, starting with the story of Glen/Glenda (Wood).

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Some men have different reasons for admiring lingerie in shop windows…

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Glen is a fairly normal heterosexual man who is engaged to marry Barbara (Fuller), and who likes to dress in women’s clothing and to feel like a woman. He describes it as a sort of split personality and he cannot quite make up his mind whether he wants to continue doing this or whether he wants to stop. He also has a hard time deciding how to tell his fiancée about his alter ego. This is the most clearly autobiographical narrative in the film, since the director himself went through a similar process (as we’ll see in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood when we reach 1994).

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He feels like it’s sinful and wrong too, poor guy/girl

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Dr Alton also tells Warren the story of pseudohermaphrodite Alan, who after a long period of confusion, goes through a sex change to transition to female. In between these two narratives, Bela Lugosi pops up in a lab straight out of a Frankenstein film and talks about human nature while doing experiments that have nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the film. There’s also a (drug-fueled?) dream sequence heavy with symbolism (we think).

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An old Universal horror? A Hammer film, perhaps? Nope, it’s a docudrama about gender identity

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A film as indecisive about its nature as its eponymous character, Glen or Glenda cannot seem to make its mind up about in which genre it wants to belong. The scenes with Bela Lugosi fall firmly into the horror realm, while other parts of the film fluctuate between documentary, drama, romance, pantomime, silent movie, and symbolism heavy art feature. It is a very interesting film to watch though, and its cult status is understandable. The artistic merits of the film do not, however, quite match the level of the progressive and important subject matter, and it’s a strange experience watching it. Well worth it though!

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Yup. Still docudrama about gender identity.

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What we learned: Beware of the big green dragon that sits on your doorstep. Also, 7 out of 10 men are bald due to tight hats.

Next time: House of Wax (1953)

#112 Duck Amuck

Watched: June 10 2017

Director: Chuck Jones

Starring: Mel Blanc

Year: 1953

Runtime: 7 min

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A short film, so a short post. Duck Amuck brought back many childhood memories as we watched it non stop as children. However, watching it as adults, we realised that we had never understood the dialogue completely. We knew the “melody” of the words by heart, but obviously we watched it before we could speak English. Any child who’s watched animated movies in foreign languages will understand what we’re talking about – you know (and remember) exactly how everything sounds but you have no idea what anything means. So watching it again was a bit of a revelation.

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This sort of sums up the experience

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Basically, it’s a hilarious fight between Daffy Duck and his animator, and you can watch the entire thing here. We suggest you do, as nothing we say will convey the glory that is this film. Enjoy!

What we learned: We finally learned what the dialogue was all about.

Next time: Glen or Glenda (1953)

#111 Singin’ in the Rain

Watched: June 10 2017

Director: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly

Starring: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen

Year: 1952

Runtime: 1h 43min

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A musical classic which we, like probably most of you, have seen numerous times before, there’s nothing not to love about Singin’ in the Rain. In the late twenties, silent movie stars Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont (Kelly and Hagen, respectively) have to make the transition into talkies or fade into obscurity.

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And these guys ain’t ready for fadin’!

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They have one problem though – Lina Lamont has the most grating, annoying voice in history, and an accent which in no way matches her glamourous image. The solution: get aspiring actress and Don’s love interest Kathy Selden (Reynolds) to dub all of Lina’s dialogue and singing, against the star’s wishes.

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Unfortunately, the two women didn’t exactly get off to a good start

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With the help of the studio heads and sidekick Cosmo Brown (O’Connor), Don and Kathy create a success with their musical version of the silent stinker Don and Lina were supposed to put out.

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And they sing and dance their way through the process!

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Gene Kelly is, as always, amazing, as are Reynolds and O’Connor. The romance between Don and Kathy is very sweet – after the initial bickering which all film romances must go through, they are actually adorable together. Meanwhile, Cosmo’s snarky one-liners, cheerful disposition and fantastic physical comedy and dance moves make him the ultimate sidekick.

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Pictured: the real romance

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We love the musical numbers, the many many films within the film, the discrepancy between the stories Don tells the media vs. the real version of events, the physical comedy and basically everything about this film. It’s just a magical experience which will make you happy no matter what, and if it doesn’t you might need to see a doctor because you have no heart and you’re probably dead inside.

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This film is even better for curing the blues than pictures of puppies. Trust us – we’ve done a study

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What we learned: There’s nothing like a good behind-the-sofa fight scene and a great dance number!

Next time: Duck Amuck (1953)

#110 Ikiru

Watched: May 28 2017

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Starring: Takashi Shimura, Miki Odagiri, Nobuo Kaneko, Shinichi Himori

Year: 1952

Runtime: 2h 23min

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Kanji Watanabe (Shimura) is a small cog in the great wheel of Japanese bureaucracy. He’s been feeling a bit under the weather and goes to see his doctor. After a less than encouraging meeting with another patient in the hospital waiting room, Watanabe’s doctor tells him the exact lies his fellow patient warned him of, and he realises he only has a short time left on this earth.

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Like any doomed man, he tries to drown his sorrows

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With a death sentence hanging over his head, ungrateful children plotting to take his money, an unfulfilling job, a dead wife, a wasted life, and no tools to connect with his son or express his emotions, Watanabe stops going to work and starts drinking. He spends a night out with a novelist he meets, but drinking and partying does little to lift his spirits.

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His cheerful demeanor does wonders for all those he meets though

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After his first experiment fails, he starts to spend time with a former underling from work – the young and vivacious Toyo (Odagiri). He asks her to teach him how to enjoy life – he wants his last few months to have meaning, but he doesn’t know how to make that happen – and she tells him that her new job making toys is bringing her joy. This gives Watanabe an idea – to help a group of lobbying parents clean up a cesspool in their neighbourhood and make a playground. Finally, the bureaucrat makes things happen.

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All because of a little fluffy bunny toy

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Ikiru is beautiful and haunting, and we loved it (despite its lack of samurai). It’s a long feature, but it flies by, and one cannot help but be drawn in by the intriguing actors and the very human plot. Watanabe has to get a death sentence in order to start living, and unfortunately this is true for so many people. In a society where people’s worth is determined by their ability to adapt to and contribute to the system, Watanabe manages to use the system to form his legacy. However, he needs the push of his impending death in order to start doing something with his position.

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In context, this is even sadder than it looks

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An intriguing, beautiful and heart breaking drama and an interesting view into post-war Japanese bureaucracy and society, this is one of those films everyone should watch at some point in their lives. Not as famous (at least in Norway) as many of Kurosawa’s other films, we’re glad it was added to the list, otherwise it probably would have flown under our radar and we’re glad we watched it. It actually made us feel something in our cold, dead hearts.

What we learned: Live while you can, love your work and make a difference.

Next time: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

#109 High Noon

Watched: May 21 2017

Director: Fred Zinnemann

Starring: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Katy Jurado, Lloyd Bridges, Thomas Mitchell

Year: 1952

Runtime: 1h 25min

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New Mexico Marshal Will Kane (Cooper) is getting married to Quaker girl Amy Fowler (Kelly) and retiring from his gun wielding profession as it goes against his new wife’s beliefs. As the ceremony comes to an end, word comes to their small town of Hadleyville that one of Kane’s earlier arrests has been released from prison (because Northerners are too lenient) and is coming on a train scheduled to arrive at noon.

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Your wedding present is MURDER

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Frank Miller (the bad guy, not the graphic novelist) has his three cohorts waiting at the train station, and the newlywed Kane couple decide to make a run for it before the killings begin. However, despite the theory that Miller may leave the town alone if he does not find Kane there, Kane is not one to run from a fight. He decides to stay and protect his town with the help of his disgruntled deputy Harvey Pell (Bridges) while they await the arrival of their new marshal who is supposed to arrive the next day.

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Basically, the entire plot revolves around bad timing

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New wife Amy and ex-lover Helen (Jurado) both think this is a ridiculously bad idea and team up to skip town by boarding the same train on which Miller is expected. With a clear deadline, Will tries to round up a posse of deputies to help him stand against Miller at noon. However, although most of the town agree that they have Kane to thank for their prosperity, and that Miller deserves a good ass whoopin’, they are reluctant to risk their lives to help their (technically former) marshal out. As noon approaches, Kane awaits his fate in solitude as even the jealous and immature Pell has abandoned him. Shit’s about to go down…

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One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever doooo

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High Noon was a very tense Western and we loved it. It’s very engaging and we felt personally affronted by all the townspeople who refused to help. When the showdown finally came, after about an hour of the town clock moving relentlessly towards noon, it felt as though this could go either way, and we honestly had no idea whether Kane would come out of this alive or die defending his town.

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The filmmakers threw us off by putting the bad guys in different colour hats while the good guy wore black. It was all very confusing.

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All in all, this was a very engaging and enjoyable (almost) first Western on the list. Unlike The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (which we also loved, by the way), this felt more like the Westerns our dad used to watch when we were growing up, with a lot of the same tropes we will undoubtedly see in future representations of the genre. The tension rivaled that of many a thriller and Noir, and our dog loved all the horses on screen.

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Imagine tense score…

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What we learned: We cannot hear the name “Gary Cooper” without Young Frankenstein’s rendition of “Puttin’ on the Ritz” getting stuck in our brains. Also, Lloyd Bridges stayed extremely recognizable for close to 50 years.

Next time: Ikiru (1952)

#108 The Prowler

Watched: May 31 2017

Director: Joseph Losey

Starring: Van Heflin, Evelyn Keyes, John Maxwell, Katherine Warren

Year: 1951

Runtime: 1h 32min

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After a bath, Susan Gilvray (Keyes) sees someone leering through her bathroom window and calls the police who basically chalk it up to hysterical women who should know better than to get undressed in their own homes.

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She should know better than to go near windows while her husband is a work

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One of the police officers, Webb Garwood (Heflin) seems to understand perfectly why a peeping Tom would like to spy on Susan, and he swings by at the end of his shift to check up on her. They discover that they are from the same town and start hanging out together when her radio personality husband is at work, which eventually leads to an affair.

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Because, in this world, “no” apparently means “yes”.

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After a while of cheating on her husband (who we get the impression is more than a little bit controlling), Susan loses her nerve and after some back-and-forths the couple split up. However, Webb, who early on stumbled across Susan’s husband’s life insurance papers, hatches a cunning plan.

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Webb, pictured here hatching

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He decides to get rid of the troublesome rival, get the girl and make a profit in the process. It all goes according to plan, but then another little hiccup appears in the shape of an unplanned pregnancy which could expose them both.

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Luckily, this town is coming like a ghost town and provides a good place to hide

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The Prowler wasn’t at all what we expected. We were prepared for a lot more stalker action and less murderous-psychopath-lover action, but we were far from disappointed. Instead of the basically good man corrupted by the femme fatale we often see in Film Noir, this is the story of a basically good girl who is corrupted by a man (Un Homme Fatal..?) and who must suffer the consequences.

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Him taking the position of her stalker probably should have been her first clue…

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Susan’s fatal flaw is probably her terrible taste in men. Between her controlling husband who locks up everything in his house, including his wife, makes her stay up and listen to his late night radio show and signs off with a slightly ominous “I’ll be seeing you, Susan,” and her new beau who’s a murdering psychopath, she never really stood a chance. Add to the mix the fact that Webb is a master manipulator and Susan is incredibly naïve and easily manipulated, and you have a recipe for disaster.

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She should have walked away the minute he sat down in her house as if he owned the place

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Though not what we expected, we loved The Prowler and we don’t regret the fact that we ended up having to purchase a second, Region A Blu-Ray player in order to watch it (that’s what you get for not checking region codes properly when buying stuff online). At least now we’re no longer limited to buying Region B discs. We’ll pretend it was all part of our master plan all along.

What we learned: Don’t marry your dead husband’s killer.

Next time: High Noon (1952)

#107 Strangers on a Train

Watched: May 15 2017

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman, Leo G. Carroll, Patricia Hitchcock, Kasey Rogers

Year: 1951

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Pliable Guy Haines (Granger) accidentally meets creepy Bruno Antony (Walker) on a train. The two start speaking – Guy’s first mistake – and the polite Guy does what most people do when they meet crazy people on public transport – he smiles and nods and generally agrees with his fellow passenger.

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Smile and nod, Guy. Smile and nod.

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Bruno is anxious to rid himself of his father, and he knows, through the gossip columns, that Guy has a wife, Miriam (Rogers), who he wants to divorce in order to marry his new girlfriend Anne (Roman). Bruno also has a theory about how to get away with murder – the trick is to murder someone you have no motive to kill. You know, such as when two people who are otherwise unrelated randomly meet on a train and decide to kill each other’s family members…

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A psychopath he may be, but one cannot fault his taste in shoes

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Guy reaches his destination and thinks no more of the insane stranger on the train until his wife refuses to divorce him now that he’s making money. To make matters even more difficult, she is pregnant by another man and Guy finds himself in a murderous mood which he tells his girlfriend.

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You can see why he’d want to divorce her. She is after all wearing glasses! The ultimate sin of women!

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Guy doesn’t need to worry though – Bruno is there to solve his problems. He follows Miriam and her two boyfriends (possibly? We’re not quite sure) to a fun fair and gets her alone in a secluded spot where he strangles her.

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At least he got rid of those pesky and unattractive glasses for her!

 

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While this helps Guy out of one predicament, it get him into another. Bruno now expects the favour returned – for Guy to kill his father. When Guy refuses, Bruno inserts himself into his life and threatens to frame him for Miriam’s murder.

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Meanwhile, to avoid suspicion, Bruno goes around randomly strangling society women

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Strangers on a Train is a classic Noir thriller with a great premise and a very creepy, menacing and completely insane antagonist. The other characters are a bit less interesting, particularly the boring protagonist, although there are some perceptive women, such as Anne’s little sister Barbara (Hitchcock), Anne to a certain degree, and of course the manipulative and morally speculative Miriam. Also, just in case you care, our favourite characters were the little boy on the carousel and the old man crawling under it.

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This guy

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It’s a suspenseful and interesting thriller which every Hitchcock fan should watch, and we loved re-watching it.

What we learned: Never talk to weirdos on public transport. Also, definitely don’t try to placate them by agreeing with everything they say!

Next time: The Prowler (1951)