Robert Walker as Bruno Antony, obsessive psychopath who “never seemed to do anything”
On the train from Washington, D.C., to New York, Late Summer 1950
Film: Strangers on a Train
Release Date: June 30, 1951
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Costume Designer: Leah Rhodes
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
This week, BAMF Style commemorates the birthday of Alfred Hitchcock, showcasing some notable men’s style across the oeuvre of the “Master of Suspense” who was born 120 years ago today on August 13, 1899.
Strangers on a Train kicked off what is often considered Hitch’s renaissance following the director’s lack of box office success in the late 1940s. By concealing his identity, he was able to obtain the rights to Patricia Highsmith’s first novel for a paltry $7,500, frustrating the author when she learned that it was the famous director who had so cheaply purchased the rights. Highsmith’s opinion of the adaptation would waver over the years, but she remained steadfast in her praise for Robert Walker’s electrifying performance as Bruno Antony, the almost childlike psychopath “who held the movie together as he did the book.”
Robert Walker was pleased to learn during the production that he had been Hitchcock’s only choice for the role of Bruno, though the movie would sadly prove to be the last released during his lifetime; the talented actor died eight months after filming wrapped at the young age of 32 when he suffered an allergic reaction to the effects of amobarbital administered by his psychiatrist, Frederick Hacker, and its reaction to the alcohol already in his blood stream.
While Walker may have been Hitchcock’s first choice, the director was less than pleased with the first screenwriter who agreed to take on the project. Armed with a compelling treatment by Whitfield Cook that softened the Bruno character and drizzled in a homoerotic subtext, Hitch approached numerous “name” writers for what would be his comeback project to kick off his peak decade. Neither Dashiell Hammett, John Steinbeck, nor Thornton Wilder would take the project, and the Strangers on a Train screenplay was eventually assigned to pulp writer Raymond Chandler who had found success with his series of detective novels featuring Philip Marlowe and his Oscar-nominated screenplay for Double Indemnity. The two auteurs got along like oil and water and Chandler in particular grew impatient and combative with Hitchcock, leading to his dismissal from the project in September 1950, shortly before production would begin.
Unavailable to help on the project himself, Ben Hecht offered his assistant, Czenzi Ormonde, whose well-received short story collection and striking good looks both appealed to Hitchcock. Ormonde, Hitchcock’s associate producer Barbara Keon, and Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville proved to be a fruitful collaboration as the three women completed the working script by early November, incorporating such iconic elements as Guy Haines’s “A to G” monogrammed Ronson cigarette lighter, Miriam’s thick glasses, and the runaway merry-go-round during the climax. Despite the trio’s hard work and Chandler’s early dismissal, Warner Brothers insisted that the latter be credited to capitalize on his prestige so the final screenplay was credited to Raymond Chandler and Czenzi Ormonde. The movie remains one of Ormonde’s only six screenwriting credits, two of which include televised adaptations of Strangers on a Train.
The movie begins with Hitchcock’s frequently visited motif of the “perfect murder”. Guy Haines (Farley Granger), an affable tennis star in a loveless marriage to the promiscuous music store clerk Miriam (Kasey Rogers, credited as Laura Elliott), takes his seat across from the charismatic Bruno on his train ride to New York, via his fictional hometown of Metcalf, New Jersey. This crucial opening scene is an instance of Hitchcock’s detail-oriented involvement in all aspects of the production, right down to determining Bruno’s lunch order on the train in accordance with the director’s belief that “preferences in food characterize people,” explaining that:
Bruno orders with gusto and with an interest in what he is going to eat — lamb chops, French fries, and chocolate ice cream. A very good choice for train food. And the chocolate ice cream is probably what he thought about first. Bruno is rather a child. He is also something of a hedonist. Guy, on the other hand, shows little interest in eating the lunch, apparently having given it no advance thought, in contrast to Bruno, and he merely orders what seems his routine choice, a hamburger and coffee.
Despite his charm, Bruno is perhaps not well-versed in the art of small talk and the polite conversation soon shifts to his much-considered murder scheme of two perfect strangers agreeing to “swap murders,” with Bruno killing the vulgar Miriam in exchange for Guy eliminating Bruno’s despised father:
You do my murder, I’ll do yours.
What do you say to a thing like that? Guy feigns amusement for the sake of politeness, but the psychopathic Bruno mistakes this as an endorsement of the deadly scheme.
What’d He Wear?
With Bruno’s multi-striped suiting, pinned shirt collar and cuff links, lobster-printed tie and personalized (aka mommy-made) clip, and the boldly contrasting two-toned shoes, Leah Rhodes’ expert costume design and Hitchcock’s involved direction effectively establish the fussy chaos that defines the deranged Mr. Antony, particularly when compared to the humbler Guy Haines and his more subdued sartorial approach of a woolen tweed sack-style sports coat and flannel slacks, white button-down collar shirt, classic checked tie, dark sweater vest, and—of course—dark brogues.
Bruno Antony spends this memorable first scene in a medium-dark flannel suit that is alternately striped in a single pinstripe and a triple track-stripe. The style is consistent with fashions of the late 1940s and early 1950s with a full fit through the drape-cut jacket and pleated trousers. Regarding color, a contemporary colorized lobby card suggests that the suit is an olive shade of brown, but that may have been the subjective choice of the illustrator rather than influenced by the suit’s actual appearance. If so, it would be consistent with Patricia Highsmith introducing her literary Charles Anthony Bruno wearing a rust brown suit in the first chapter of the novel.
The single-breasted suit jacket has notch lapels that roll to a two-button front. The shoulders are padded and roped at the sleeveheads, and each sleeve is finished with a three-button cuff. The nature of his appearance in these scenes—often seated behind a table—conceals much of his lower half, but we see that the jacket has a flapped ticket pocket on the right side in addition to the straight, flapped hip pockets. Bruno wears his usual white linen pocket square folded and on display in his welted breast pocket.
As mentioned, Bruno doesn’t show off much of his suit below the lapels as he spends most of his time on the train either hunched or reclined behind a table, but his trousers appear to have reverse pleats and are most assuredly finished at the bottoms with turn-ups (cuffs). Despite the “overdone” lamb chops, Bruno’s fulfilling lunch results in him unhooking his trouser fly and loosening his belt, a strap of dark leather that fastens through a single-prong buckle.
Bruno balances his striped suit and boldly patterned tie with a plain white broadcloth cotton shirt. With the exception of a thinly striped shirt that appears later in the film, he exclusively wears these white shirts with his lounge suits. The shirt has a front placket, double (French) cuffs worn with dark round links, and a spread collar pinned under the tie knot. The pinned collar has recently come back en vogue thanks to Roger Sterling’s style on Mad Men and Daniel Craig’s most recent adventures as James Bond in Spectre.
For someone with obsessive tendencies like Bruno Antony, a pinned collar ensures that one’s appearance stays fastidious whether leaning back after a large lunch or hanging on for life on an out-of-control merry-go-round.
Alfred Hitchcock personally designed the distinctive lobster-printed tie that Bruno wears, the menacing claws of the many lobsters communicating how Bruno already has his “claws” into Guy from their first fateful meeting on the train. The lobsters on his tie are likely red like the actual crustacean, printed on a dark ground. Highsmith had envisioned her Bruno wearing a tacky tie for the scene as well, though she describes:
…the monogram that trembled on a thin gold chain across the tie of the young man opposite [Guy]. The monogram was CAB, and the was of green silk, hand-painted with offensively orange-colored palm trees.
Novelty ties like this are now available on Amazon without requiring the design of the Master of Suspense himself, with large red lobsters on black or navy, depending on your preference; if you prefer a more subtle approach, Alynn offers a silk tie with a neater, organized pattern of smaller lobsters against a mixed navy ground.
“By the way, my name is Bruno… Bruno Antony,” he introduces himself before offering his gold personalized tie clip of his cursive-scripted first name as evidence: “See?”
Patricia Highsmith’s novel and the eventual Strangers on a Train screenplay all emphasized the importance of Bruno’s shoes, though Highsmith’s Charles Anthony Bruno opts for more subdued footwear that still catches Guy Haines’ eye: “small, light tan shoes with a long plain toecap shaped like Bruno’s lantern chin.” Perhaps aware that these single-color, minimalist shoes wouldn’t have the same impact in a black-and-white film, the screenplay takes a different approach to describing Bruno’s eye-catching footwear…
EXT. UNION STATION, WASHINGTON, D.C. DAY LONG SHOT THE CAPITOL DOME IN THE B.G. AND THE AUTOMOBILE ENTRANCE TO THE STATION IN THE F.G. LOW CAMERA
Activity of cars and taxis arriving and discharging passengers with luggage, busy redcaps, etcetera.
We FOCUS on a taxi pulling up and stopping, The driver hands out modest looking luggage, including a bunch of tennis rackets in cases to a redcap. CAMERA PANS DOWN as the passenger gets out of the taxi so that we see only his shoes and the lower part of his trousers. He is wearing dark colored brogues and a conservative suit apparently. The feet move toward, the entrance to the station and out of scene. Immediately a chauffeur-driven limousine drives up and an expensive place of airplane luggage is handed out of this, and the passenger alighting from the back is seen to be wearing black and white sport shoes which, as before, are all we see of him. The sport shoes start off in the wake of the brogues.
As intended by the original screenplay, Bruno’s and Guy’s shoes are the first we see of the characters, and their respective footwear does wonders to establish their personalities. Guy’s plain dark brogues communicate that he is our Hitchcockian “everyman” while the gaudier two-tone spectator shoes evoke the questionable characters of the early 20th century that led to the shoe’s moniker as the “correspondent shoe” in reference to the caddish “correspondents” often cited as the offending party in the era’s divorce proceedings.
Bruno’s medallion oxfords have black leather on the cap toe, over the bal-type closed lacing, and on the rear quarters, while the rest of the shoes are a stark white leather. The shine suggests patent leather, a flashier choice for an already flashy style of shoe. Bruno wears them with dark ribbed socks.
We get a glimpse of Bruno’s wristwatch on its dark leather strap as he first settles in beside Guy on the train, but the audience’s best look at Bruno’s watch comes in a later scene, minutes after he has strangled Miriam at Magic Isle and is checking the time during his getaway. The chronograph’s dial fills the screen, displaying the gold Arabic number markers around the dial, three hands (including a second hand), sub-dial registers at 11:00 and 7:00, and the words “SWISS MADE” flanking the 6:00 marker. Three red rings circle the center of the watch dial; The watchmaker’s logo has been removed from the middle ring, but the word “SPORT” is visible in the bottom of the center ring.
I suggest following the discussion at Watches in Movies, where horological detectives have narrowed down the possible manufacturers to Endura and Rego, two watchmakers from the era who made very similar-looking watches that could both be contenders for Bruno’s particular timepiece.
Bruno wears a medium-colored felt fedora throughout Strangers on a Train, though it’s only seen in this early sequence from behind during the opening montage of both men boarding the train.
The striped suit appears once more during Strangers on a Train when Guy spots Bruno among the audience at one of his tennis matches. Bruno makes his presence apparent by not moving his head to follow the match like his fellow spectators, instead keeping his eyes trained directly on Guy.
Following the match, Guy encounters Bruno speaking French with the Darvilles, friends of the Morton family, and charms his way into an invitation to a party at the Mortons’ house that Thursday. Anne is alarmed when she recognizes Bruno’s distinctive tie clip, worn here with a dark knitted silk tie, a subdued alternative to the lobster-print tie from the opening scene.
While the soigné Bruno is well-tailored throughout Strangers on a Train from his dapper suits to formal white tie and tails, one of his most notable costumes is the satin silk printed dressing gown that he wears with dark silk pajamas and scarf while lounging around the family estate in Arlington. The dark robe’s pattern is a series of light saucers and swirls, the latter resembling a Deco-inspired take on smoking cigarettes, a particularly suitable motif as Bruno lights one of his tiny cigars with Guy’s trademark lighter while explaining to Anne that Guy must have left said lighter on Magic Isle after he killed Miriam there. (Which, of course, he did not.)
The dressing gown has been identified as one of the same robes that Monty Woolley wore in The Man Who Came to Dinner, one of several notable pieces of leisurewear that Woolley’s character Sheridan Whiteside sports in that 1942 comedy. Orry-Kelly designed the gowns and costumes for The Man Who Came to Dinner, and it was likely passed down to his one-time chief assistant Leah Rhodes who took over his duties as Warner Brothers’ chief costume designer when Orry-Kelly joined the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.
What to Imbibe
“I guess I’m a little jittery,” Guy offers as his apology for rightly dismissing Bruno’s prodding into his personal life. “Oh, there’s a new cure for that,” Bruno slyly responds, calling over a waiter to order:
Scotch and plain water, please, a pair. Doubles.
He turns to his tennis-playing acquaintance and charmingly adds, “the only kind of doubles I play.” Guy initially refuses the drink but, once it’s served, he realizes it could help steady his nerves about seeing his wife in Metcalf and joins Bruno, a sign that he’s already somewhat corrupted by the charming psychopath.
The scene mirrors the opening chapter of Patricia Highsmith’s novel where Bruno orders two Scotch and sodas for he and a reluctant Guy Haines to enjoy in Bruno’s private compartment on the train.
How to Get the Look
Bruno Antony’s personality can be summed up by his tie and tie clip; a potentially dangerous, menacing animal once he gets his claws into you, kept in place only by his sense of decorum, his devotion to his mother, and the impression he initially gives off of a harmless eccentric. Eccentric touches aside, Robert Walker dresses very well throughout Strangers on a Train.
- Medium-colored suit with alternating pinstripe and triple track-striped flannel:
- Single-breasted 2-button drape-cut suit jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and single vent
- Single reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops and turn-ups/cuffs
- White broadcloth cotton shirt with pinned collar, front placket, and double/French cuffs
- Dark round cuff links
- Lobster-printed tie
- Personalized gold tie clip with cursive “Bruno”
- Dark leather belt with rectangular single-prong buckle
- Black-and-white patent leather medallion cap-toe spectator oxfords
- Dark ribbed socks
- Dark fedora
- Vintage sport chronograph watch with sub-dials at 11:00 and 7:00 on a dark leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie and learn more about Strangers on a Train in this Mental Floss article. You should also read Patricia Highsmith’s 1950 novel, the first of a prolific career that would include The Price of Salt and The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Oh, I certainly admire people who do things.