About this Piece
A quartet of Hitchcock films would be scored by Russian-born, four-time Oscar-winner Dimitri Tiomkin, whose Hollywood credits include Lost Horizon, It’s a Wonderful Life, High Noon, and Giant. His most acclaimed teaming with Hitchcock was 1951’s Strangers on a Train, which explored a favorite obsession of the filmmaker: sinister doppelgängers. Robert Walker gave his final completed screen performance as Bruno Anthony, a rich psychopath who entraps tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) in a "criss-cross" murder scheme, in which each man would kill a problematic person in the other’s life.
By nature an outsized dramatist whose style bordered on bombast, Tiomkin composed a score that contains some of his most effective music. After a jaunty promenade that introduces the two characters with little hint of the danger to follow, Tiomkin creates an eerie theme for Bruno employing high violin harmonics, and a more passive theme for the helpless Guy. The themes are imaginatively combined in an urgent fugue which underscores the nationally broadcast tennis match Guy struggles to complete, before racing to stop Bruno’s final crime at a popular amusement park; their final battle on an out-of-control merry-go-round filled with screaming children remains one of Hitchcock’s most surreal and terrifying set pieces.
Steven C. Smith is the author of A Heart at Fire’s Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann (University of California Press, 1991), and a recipient of the Deems Taylor Award for writing on music. He is currently a writer/producer on the A&E television series Biography.