Bad Influence/Strangers on a Train

Hanson 1990/Hitchcock 1951

So here I am in San Francisco and one of the things I always do when abroad is seek out good indie cinemas. It would have been rude, then, not to go to this double bill at the amazing old Castro Theater in the Castro district.

First the venue: it’s an original 1920s moving picture palace, with an outdoor ticket booth, plush lobby, huge auditorium with balcony and working organ. Just wow! Original seats with cupholders in the wooden arms, wall and ceiling murals, and gilding like a grand theatre.

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Bad Influence (1990)

A gripping and well-paced thriller, of its time, but with Rob Lowe as an evil charmer and James Spader as an underconfident city analyst, what’s not to love? The relationship between the two is a bit Fight Club and it lifted quite a lot from Strangers on a Train. We see both characters change over the course of the story – Lowe’s Alex/François/Franco/Tony gets more psychopathic while Spader’s Michael grows some balls. This film was engrossing and an excellent thematic companion to the Hitchcock.

Strangers on a Train (1951)

This is one of those Hitchcocks that I thought I’d seen but I hadn’t. It’s a classic and deservedly so, from a Patricia Highsmith novel and co-scripted by Raymond Chandler, exploring the perfect murder and our darker psychological undercurrents. The crescendo to the final intense, chaotic fight (on an out-of-control fairground carousel) is so tight, even the preceding tennis match contributes to the growing tension as our hero plays out of his skin to finish as quickly as he can.

Both these films feature vindictive individuals who make it their mission to terrorise innocent, moral people. It feels like there was a few of these around the same time as Bad Influence – I’m thinking Scorsese’s 1991 remake of Cape Fear and Nicole Kidman being stalked by Billy Zane in Dead Calm (1989). They play on a timeless, universal fear, I guess, that we’ll be singled out by a psycho. It’s a theme that makes for a great story and excellent cinema.

All-in-all, a very enjoyable evening. And I have, of course, rewatched Vertigo for some San Fran location spotting!

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