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Dimitri Tiomkin's Biography

Question:

Describe about the Music Analysis: Strangers on a Train?

Strangers on a train is a thriller film of America that had been released in the year 1951. The movie had been directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock and was on the basis of the novel written by Patricia Highsmith. However, the screenplay of the film had been rewritten by Raymond Chandler. The music had been composed by Dimitri Tiomkin (Beach 2002, pp. 6).

In context with this film, this paper will be analysing the music of this film with the main focus on a specific scene. The opening scene has been chosen for being described and this paper will justify the appropriateness of the scene in context with the entire film. A short biography of the music composer will be provided as well.

The music in Strangers on a Train had been composed by Dimitri Zinovievich Tiomkin, who was a film score conductor and composer of Hollywood, born in Russia. Tiomkin had been born on 10th March, 1984 in Ukraine and died on 11th November, 1979. He had availed his musical training in Russia and is best known and remembered for his western scores that include The Alamo, High Noon, Duel in the Sun and Strangers on a Train. The composer had been the first choice of Jack Warner for scoring the movie, Strangers on a Train, as he was a man with experience and skills in composition of music (Bruce 2008, pp. 75). In this particular film as well, the musical themes of Tiomkin have been contrasted continuously in the entire film that delineates two different characters, having completely different personalities.

Majority of the scores by Tiomking had been for Hollywood films, and is best recognised for this work. Duel in the Sun had been his first Western score that was directed by King Vidor. Tiomkin had been nominated in the Oscar for the music composition in The Alamo and Giant (Chandler 2006, pp. 87). Even though influenced by the music traditions of Eastern Europe, he had availed self- training as a composer of film and scored a number of films from a number of different genres from military drama to thriller.

Strangers on a train is crime psychological thriller film of America, and had been released in 1951 by Warner Bros. The story focuses on two main characters who accidently meet on a train and get involved in an intense conversation. Guy Haines is one of the character who is amateur tennis player star that is played by Farley Granger. He is showing willingness for divorcing his promiscuous and vulgar wife Miriam, played by Laura Elliott, for marrying another elegant lady, Anne Morton, played by Ruth Roman. The other main character if Bruno Anthony, played by Robert Walker (Crowther 1951, pp. 97). On recognizing Guy, Bruno starts a conversation that intensifies with the passage of time. Bruno starts exchanging his idea about the perfect murder plot for Guy.

The plot is set that Guy will be killing father of Bruno, in exchange of which Bruno will approach murdering Miriam. According to Bruno, no motive could be identified for conducting the murder, and hence, no one will be able to suspect the crime. Guy leaves in a hurried way, but Bruno considers this as an agreement (Dellolio 2004, pp. 75). This contributes in bringing the key theme based on which the film had been produced that is theme of double crossing. However, the plot does not seem to move in accordance with what had been set as Guy had not made an agreement regarding it.

Strangers on a Train Plot Summary

The opening scene of the movie, Strangers on a Train can be considered as being extremely gripping and in fact, a very unusual scene to a start a film of thriller genre. Hitchcock is known for his different types of shots that connote aspects in the genre of thriller. The scene begins with focus of camera over two different taxis that pull over at a station of trains (Ebert 2006, pp. 65). Focus of the camera is consistently over the feet of two men who get out of the taxis separately, and the scene keeps switching from the feet of one person to the other.

In a significant manner, shoes of both the personalities can be distinguished. The first personality walking out of the taxi has shoes that look expensive and depicts that he has more authority and money in comparison with the other one. The second personality is wearing plainer, however, it can be stated that the shoes are smart. The scene focuses on their shoes for a while that creates a suspense as to who these characters are that grips the audience in a significant manner (Ford 2015, pp. 89). For closing the scene of shoes, shot of railway track is used for following the movement of both the characters as they walk along and enter the train. Both the characters are then exposed as their feet clash with each other, while they sit face to face accidently. This particular scene fits appropriately in the movie as it creates suspense right from the very beginning in a significant manner.

The music that is being played in the entire scene is non- diegetic, and with the shot closed up on the shoes of two men, the music ends up becoming more upbeat and the instrument of flute is added appropriately in the scene (Hare 2008, pp. 23). For focusing on a medium shot of expensive shoes, diegetic sounds of synchronization are used as the shoes touch the ground for blending in the music that is non- diegetic for creating a beat of percussion in the music of background. Non- diegetic music on the background has been utilized for continuing the scene by a bridge of sound, however, by this point of the scene, instruments of brass have been added for creating an idea that the arrival of this person is a great significant news and the character can be considered as a celebrity (Highsmith 2001, pp. 10).

Considering the music in the scene of normal shoes, with an opening of the cab door, non- diegetic music in the background contributes in adding a harp sound of chiming. While showing the shoes of both the personalities alongside with each other, synchronized diegetic sounds are used of both the shoes again for creating a beat in the song as they walk along the pavement (Kauffman 2012, pp. 9).

With the close up being maintained on both the shoes, a shot of track is used for following the movement of the shoes as the music continues to be involving instruments in high pitch and non- diegetic music. These are added to the scene with more strings and brass that depicts higher tempo. A bridge of sound is continuous as close up is created on the normal shoes as the walking continues and the non- diegetic music contributes to build suspense by utilizing the instruments of string. Again a cutaway is utilized for showing the expensive shoes, and the actions are noticeable because of the diegetic sounds of another man saying the dialogue of “all aboard” (McGilligan 2004, pp. 9). This shows the audience that the present location is a station of trains. In order to cut the focus on the shoes, fast pace is maintained of the non- diegetic music as the bridge of sound continues by both the scenes of cross cutting.

The Opening Scene

The scene is faded as focus is created on the railway tracks and dolls shot that shows the tracks of train, camera following the tracks and coming across the platform (Sullivan 2006, pp. 10). This scene involves non- diegetic music that has added instruments of percussion for the creation of climax and drama as the sequence opens up. The sequence is opened up with the continuation in brass and string that results in the creation of fast pace with suspense and tension amongst the audience. As the camera continuously focuses on following the railway tracks, there is involvement of ambient sounds as the train moves over the tracks. This is used for showing that there a long journey is being embarked by the train (Truffaut 1967, pp. 7). For cutting away from the scene of two men walking out of the taxi and entering the train, both the pairs of shoes are showed under the same table sitting together as the two feet clash with each other. Hence, in the entire scene, it can be stated that non- diegetic music is utilized for showing the intensity of the scene.

Conclusion

The music in Strangers on a Train had been composed by Dimitri Zinovievich Tiomkin. The music that is being played in the entire scene is non- diegetic, and with the shot closed up on the shoes of two men, the music ends up becoming more upbeat and the instrument of flute is added appropriately in the scene. The opening scene of the movie, Strangers on a Train can be considered as being extremely gripping and in fact, a very unusual scene to a start a film of thriller genre (Wood 1965, pp. 8). Hitchcock is known for his different types of shots that connote aspects in the genre of thriller. This plot had been extremely thrilling and entertaining for the audience as it contributes in reflecting the negative results that can be involved by double crossing.

References

Beach, C., 2002. Class, Language and American Film Thriller, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Bruce, K., 2008. A short history of the movies, 10th ed., New York: Pearson Education Inc.

Chandler, C., 2006. It's Only a Movie: Alfred Hitchcock, A Personal Biography. New York: Applause Books.

Crowther, B., 1951. The Screen: In Review. The New York Times.

Dellolio, P., 2004. Hitchcock and Kafka: Expressionist Themes in Strangers on a Train. Midwest Quarterly, 45(3), pp. 240–255.

Ebert, R., 2006. The Great Movies II. New York: Broadway Press.

Ford, R., 2015. David Fincher, Ben Affleck, Gillian Flynn Reuniting for 'Strangers on a Train' Remake. Hollywood Reporter.

Hare, B., 2008. Strangers on a Train: Hitchcock's Rich Imagery Reigning Supreme. Noir of the Week.

Highsmith, P., 2001. Strangers on a Train. New York: W.W. Norton and Co.

Kauffman, J., 2012. Strangers on a Train Blu-ray Review. Blu-ray.com. Retrieved October 8, 2012.

McGilligan, P., 2004. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. New York: Harper Perennial.

Sullivan, J., 2006. Hitchcock's Music. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Truffaut, F., 1967. Hitcock By Truffaut. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Wood, R., 1965. A Hitchcock Reader: Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell.

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