Retro Review: Strangers On A Train (1951)

For the last six years, I have debated the work of Alfred Hitchcock many times on this blog. I am famously not a huge fan of this man, who many believe to be the greatest film director of all time. But I do like some of his films a lot, and when they are good, they are very good indeed.
This is one of those.

The story got my interest immediately, for its unusual premise. Two men meet on a train. One (Farley Granger) is a professional tennis player, the other (Robert Walker) a strange character who appears to be a little deranged. During their conversation, Guy the tennis player tells Bruno that he wants to get away from his unfaithful wife, so he can be with the woman he truly loves. Bruno responds by saying how much he hates his father, and wants to be rid of him. As they continue to talk, Bruno suggests a plan, the perfect murder. He will kill Guy’s wife, and Guy will kill his father. He reasons that neither man will ever be suspected of the murders, as they would apparently be motiveless. Guy realises that what he thought was just a chat with a stranger has been taken seriously, and becomes concerned. He pretends to be amused by the exchange, and gets away as soon as he can, leaving his distinctive lighter behind.

Sure enough, Bruno carries out his side of the bargain, by following Guy’s wife to a funfair, and strangling her. Guy is shocked to hear the news, and also finds himself a prime suspect in the murder, as his possible alibi is flawed. But Bruno intends to make Guy keep his side too, and wants him to kill his father, which he is convinced was agreed. He sends Guy a parcel containing a gun, keys to his father’s house, and a map showing the location. But Guy encounters Bruno in the house, tells him he will not carry out the murder, and says Bruno should see a psychiatrist. Enraged, Bruno decides to implicate Guy in his wife’s murder, by using the missing lighter as a clue.

The thrilling climax takes place in the same funfair, set around a madly-spinning carousel ride.

I have seen this film more than once, and despite knowing the ending, and every detail of the plot, I can enjoy it time and again. This is mainly due to the wonderful Robert Walker, who is completely believable in the role of the unstable Bruno. The rest of the cast (including the reliable Ruth Roman) all put up a good show, but Walker steals the film.

Retro Review: Shadow Of A Doubt (1943)

I have made no secret on this blog that I consider Alfred Hitchcock to be overrated as a film-maker. His fans are devoted, and the man’s reputation is so set in stone as for it to be considered sacrilege to say a single word against him. But I do actually like quite a few of his films, and this is one of them.

Small town America, during WW2. Often an effective setting for a mystery, thriller, or drama. Something about the innocence of the people, those white picket fences, and familiar faces in the drug store seems to be crying out to be upset. To me as a youngster, this idyllic world portrayed on film was something to admire. Decent accommodation, soda fountains and ice-cream parlours, always being able to park the car, big fruit pies, and delicious looking hot dogs and burgers. None of that existed in the England of my youth. Many films of the time liked to assault that comfortable exterior, with a moral tale that proved the resilience of the ‘ordinary’ good folks of America, and to show that nice people can make a difference.

This film is perfectly cast, with Joseph Cotten (in for me, his best role) relishing the good guy/bad guy lead of Uncle Charlie. Teresa Wright is perfect as the wide-eyed bored teenager Charlotte, (‘Charlie’) named after the uncle she adores, but rarely sees. The fact that she has a crush on the older relative and is happy for people to believe him to be her boyfriend is a little uncomfortable to modern perceptions, but glossed over as a natural attraction in the story. Character actor Henry Travers is solid as Joseph, the long-suffering brother in law of Charlie, (though he seems rather old to be the girl’s father) and Patricia Collinge is perfect as the fuss-pot mother. The wonderful Hume Cronyn shines as Herbie, neighbour and friend of Joseph, obsessed with crime novels. When the family get the news that their beloved Charlie is coming for a visit, the scene is set.

Two men appear at the house, supposedly undertaking a survey of an ‘average’ family. Uncle Charlie refuses to allow them to take his photo, something which confuses young Charlotte. One of them, Jack, asks Charlotte out on a date, and confesses that he is a detective, hunting a serial killer who has been robbing and murdering wealthy widows across America. He believes Uncle Charlie to be a prime suspect, but the girl finds that impossible to consider. However, certain clues keep turning up, and her uncle’s erratic behaviour and mood swings leave her with doubts. After one episode, he tells the girl that he knows he is a suspect, and asks her to help clear his name by keeping his secrets. She agrees, if only for the sake of her mother.

When another suspect is identified as possibly being the killer, Uncle Charlie is happy, and things calm down. But Charlotte soon begins to have unexplained near-fatal ‘accidents’, and fears for her life. This all leads up to a thrilling climax, as is to be expected in a Hitchcock thriller. This film satisfies on so many levels, but it is Cotten’s performance that stands out. He goes from kindly uncle to worryingly deranged suspect in the blink of an eye, and does it so well. An actor that I often think was over-used, and mildly irritating, manages to redeem himself to me in this one role. And we are left in no doubt (pun intended) that what happens in a supposedly ‘average’ family is far more than we might expect.

And you also get to look for Hitchcock’s signature cameo. If you want to, of course.

Some Britsploitation films

The Antipodean film buff, and blogger extraordinaire, James Curnow, recently added an interesting post on his website, at  It was a look at twelve Australian films, and he wittily entitled it, ‘Ozpolitation: Twelve Australian Exploitation Classics.’ This was a play on the often-used term, ‘Blaxpolitation’, common in film writing to describe a genre of American films that featured predominantly black casts, small budgets, huge Afro hairstyles, and jive-talking leading men. These films were mostly made in the 1970’s, taking popular cinematic subjects of the day, and re-making them with a black cast, and lots of cultural references relevant to the largely black-populated districts of America’s cities. Well-known examples include; ‘Cleopatra Jones’, ‘Car Wash’, ‘Shaft’, and ‘Superfly’. They usually had soundtracks featuring leading black artists of the day, including such leading lights as Curtis Mayfield, and Isaac Hayes.

This gave me food for thought. British Cinema has not escaped this treatment either. Films where American actors are filmed on the streets of London, alongside leading British actors, thus hoping to sell on both sides of the Atlantic, were frequently made at around the same time . The plots were thin, and the story-lines irrelevant to the injection of the foreign stars, with the whole thing serving as little more than a travelogue, against a backdrop of well-known tourist sights, and a soundtrack of British pop music of the day.

There were also British films that took the themes of Horror, Pop Music, and ‘The Swinging Sixties’, purely to exploit the world-wide interest in the UK, at the time of the emerging Mersey Sound, and the popularity of the Beatles, Cliff Richard, and other new pop groups on the scene. This films invariably portrayed the older British people as stuffy, intolerant twits, wearing bowler hats, and talking in blustering exclamations. They used any location considered fashionable, such as King’s Road, in Chelsea, Carnaby Street, or any street market. They would try to squeeze in some Pearly Kings, Chelsea Pensioners, Beefeaters (Yeoman Warders), even Morris Dancing; in fact, anything remotely identifiable as British.

After some research, I have a few suggestions for this freshly-named genre of ‘Britsploitation’. And with an additional nod to the brilliance of Mr Curnow, I will break from tradition at beetleypete, and include You Tube clips where possible. I hope you find them interesting.

Beat Girl.

In 1960, a new name was heard in the UK. Teenagers, and young people in their early 20’s were beginning to listen to Jazz music. This was mainly Trad Jazz, not especially rebellious, but it was heard in smoky clubs and dive bars, where the youngsters met, to drink coffee, and cheap wine. They also listened to the new, subversive poetry of the so-called ‘Beat Poets’. Despite the fact that most wore ties, had beards, smoked pipes, and looked a lot like their parents, they received the derisory name, ‘Beatniks’, and were the Punks of their generation. Film makers soon cashed in, and ‘Beat Girl’ was released. This star-studded film (Christopher Lee, Nigel Green, Oliver Reed, Adam Faith, Shirley Ann Field- and more-) had it all. French girlfriends, night clubs, seedy club owners,  love scenes,  striptease, and a pulsing John Barry score. A forgotten classic of the age.

Catch us if you can.

Now long forgotten, The Dave Clark Five were a band once as big as The Beatles, and immensely popular in the UK, America, and many other countries. In 1965, trying to cash in on the popularity of films featuring the Beatles, and Cliff Richard, they made the film, ‘Catch us if you can’. This was an undisguised attempt to feature the band’s music, with a pointless story, filmed at picturesque locations, in London, and Devon. The distinguished director, John Boorman, later known for such films as ‘Point Blank’, and ‘Deliverance’, made his debut with this sorry saga. It has some interesting ideas, and locations like Smithfield Market in London, and Burgh Island, in Devon, add visual appeal. It is still best forgotten though.


By 1973, British film-makers were all too aware of the success of films about motorcycle gangs, and Hells Angels. Since Brando lit up the screen in ‘The Wild One’, in 1953, the UK had never managed to compete. They had done well with the Horror genre though, and Hammer Films had that sewn up here. They hit upon the unlikely idea of combining the two themes, and ‘Psychomania’ was born. Rebellious bikers make Faustian pacts with the devil, and return from the dead to terrorise the luckless inhabitants of Home Counties villages. There are seances, irresponsible motorcycling, suicides, and even a sinister butler. The new face of Nicky Henson was cast in the lead, as the main gang member, with gravitas and experience supplied by the addition of Robert Hardy, and George Sanders. (In his last film) It seems laughable now, but forty years ago, it was as scary as can be.


Even as late as 1975, John Wayne was still big box office over here. This risible detective thriller cast him in the lead, transported from his cop role in America, to extradite an wanted mobster. Naturally, the man has escaped, and Brannigan must use his unorthodox methods to search for him, all over London. His British counterpart is played by the distinguished actor, Richard Attenborough, who skips through the whole thing like his Doctor Dolittle character, Albert Blossom. There are bar fights, car chases, unlikely shootouts, and some spectacular misdirections on London’s streets. Look out for Brannigan’s car, failing to clear Tower Bridge, as it raises. Love interest, as unbelievable as it may seem, is supplied by the delicate English Rose actress,  Judy Geeson. It is definitely bad; but so bad. it’s quite good.

Straw Dogs.

In 1971, the director Sam Peckinpah, well known for not shying away from the portrayal of brutality and violence in his films, imported the rising star of American cinema, Dustin Hoffman, to star in this notorious revenge thriller. Alongside the sexy and sultry Susan George, the perfectly-cast Hoffman was to play a mild-mannered academic, married to the English girl. Living in a remote, rural community, the couple soon attract harassment from the locals, who are all played as boorish and sullen. Together with a first-rate cast of British character actors, the scene is set, for what could be a landmark thriller. What actually follows is not much more than a protracted video nasty. Featuring a now-famous rape, where the woman obviously enjoys the act, with the husband forced to watch; and the eventual brutal slaughter of the gang, as the couple fight for survival, and Hoffman’s character takes revenge. This film caused uproar and outrage at the time, and its merits, or otherwise, are still discussed today.


In 1972, Alfred Hitchcock returned to his roots in London, to make this, his last ever film, about a serial killer murdering women in the area of Covent Garden. Barry Foster, usually an amiable character in British TV dramas, was cleverly cast as the unlikely killer, a jovial trader in the local wholesale fruit and vegetable market. His old friend is the chief suspect, played by the brooding Jon Finch. Despite a great cast, this film is somewhat unsavoury to watch. It has unnecessarily lurid depictions of sexually-motivated strangling, with Foster playing for effect, as the affable, yet deranged killer. You are left with the feeling of a lesser film than the pedigree infers, and that you might have expected better from Hitchcock. (Overrated in my book, anyway) What is great about this film though, are the Central London locations, now all long gone, or changed use. The old cars and trucks on the roads, the fashions of the early 1970’s, these are all a joy to behold.


For my final choice, I am right up to date. In 2012, the new star of British film direction, Ben Wheatley, released this quirky, essentially English film. It takes two very normal characters, and sets them on a journey around the tourist spots of middle England. They have planned a short caravan holiday, and are excited to be getting away; arranging all the stops on the way, to see such marvels as The Pencil Museum, and Mother Shipton’s Cave. It soon becomes clear that they are both far from normal, when a series of routine encounters degenerates into a tale of ruthless killers, with no conscience. Believe it or not, this is actually both a comedy, and a ‘buddy movie’, also something of an English take on ‘Thelma and Louise’. It is a one-off.

Only seven James, not as many as your list. Still, I hope that you all find something to entertain, and perhaps educate.