English 345 Blog #2 (Strangers on a Train)

Let’s consider a sharp contrast in Strangers on a Train (1951).  Miriam Haines as “femme fatale” in opposition to the Senator’s daughter, Anne Morton.  What do you think the opposition says about gender and genre in the 1950s?  Furthermore, what’s implied by the resolution of the story?  Is Hitchcock participating in a type of normative construction of gender, challenging it, simply following genre conventions?  Explain.

23 thoughts on “English 345 Blog #2 (Strangers on a Train)

  1. I can definitely see that there is a stark contrast between Miriam and Anne. Miriam is a cheater, blackmailer, and an extortionist. Anne is a woman who is none of these things. She is painted as the opposite of Miriam in pretty much every way. The character of Anne is definitely the ‘preferred’ of the two. In the email correspondence for this week, it was mentioned that it was the “anxieties over women entering the workforce during World War II” that led to the creation of the femme-fatale character (Miriam). It seemed like some believed that giving women more responsibilities and allowing them to exist outside of the home would corrupt their innocence because they were experiencing the real world as opposed to existing purely in the home. Sounds kinda like Miriam, who works in the music store.

    I think that this opposition is used to show that Anne is the ideal, especially due to the fact that Miriam is on the more extreme end of the good vs evil spectrum. Or, perhaps Miriam and Anne can be seen in the same way as Bruno and Guy. Like it was mentioned in the email correspondence that “we may think of [Bruno and Guy] as a single character. One is the socially polite half of someone, compared to his animalistic “id” that (like a child) wants satisfaction at any cost”.

    Either way, the opposition between Miriam and Anne plays up the femme-fatale archetype present in the film noir genre (among others). The opposition can be used to highlight both types of characters.

    Before discussing the last part of the question I would like to say something about the character of Barbara. At least in the scene where Guy visits Anne and her father/sister after Miriam’s death, Barbara acts in a way that sort of supports Miriam’s murder, saying things like ‘she was a tramp’ and ‘she pursued (happiness?) in all directions’. I think that when we talk about Miriam and Anne there is also a place for Barbara in the discussion too because of the stance she takes. As a woman, she seems not at all bothered by the murder of another woman just because she acted immorally. Perhaps the character of Barbara was used to convey some sort of message from Hitchcock? Immoral women will suffer the consequences? I think it is definitely worth looking into.

    Another thought, perhaps, that I think is interesting to bring up is the moment where Anne said that she was so scared that if Guy had had anything to do with the murder they would have been separated, which scared her more than the murder itself. I think that perhaps the writers are using these instances from these female characters to excuse the actions against Miriam (and therefore other potential women who suffered the same fate) and make the actions against her seem less evil just because of her previous actions.

    To answer the last question, I think that Hitchcock is simply following normal genre conventions. I don’t see that the resolution of the story after Bruno is killed by the carousel and Anne bringing some things to Guy after he proves his innocence shows Hitchcock implying anything about gender (except maybe the fact that Anne stays by Guy’s side no matter what kinds of evidence against him there may be. Seems very ‘Stand By Your Man’) I am happy, though, that Miriam gets the justice she deserves despite her own shortcomings.

    • Sorry for the super long response, but I actually wanted to mention something else but didn’t want to make the original response too long (also it is not exactly relevant). In the email correspondence for this week it was mentioned that there are “several cases of “2” or “doubles” as a theme”. As mentioned, bigamy (marrying two women) is an example of this, therefore Miriam and Anne are an example of this. But, I also think that Miriam and Barbara could also be an example because of their resemblance, and also the fact that Bruno focused on Barbara as he was imagining killing Miriam. This absolutely connects the two of them. Like I said, not exactly relevant, but an interesting point I think!

    • Excellent response. I appreciate your attention to my original email.

      You are right that Babs requires some more thought. She polices the conventional morality. Yet I also find her “unfeminine” for the period. She is something like an in-between character. She is actually Hitchcock’s real life daughter. She is a bit of a firecracker–intelligent, assertive, and often out-of-line, but she does reinstate the traditional moral codes.

      You’ll also be interested to know that the author of the novel “Strangers on a Train” is Patricia Highsmith. It would be interesting to compare the film with her perspective. It’s been way too long since I taught it!

  2. While it is pretty clear Miriam is painted as the “femme fatale” in this film noir, with her sexual flippancy at the carnival, her trapping of Guy in a marriage she initially wanted to end, and the mess her murder creates, Anne Morton’s character remains a little more up to interpretation. It seems simple enough to say she is the foil for Miriam’s character; she is the morally upstanding, high class woman idealized in the 1950s, but we do not know for certain whether this is true or if this is simply the way she portrays herself because of her father’s position as senator. In this way, using the same comparison of Guy as the polite version of Bruno the “id”, Anne could very well be either the “ego” or the “superego” to Miriam’s “id”. While she is painted as a blameless individual throughout the film, it is worth remembering that she too is involved in Guy’s strained relationship between her as his lover and Miriam as his wife. However, Anne’s perfect persona seems to emphasize that, in this time period and genre, the truth of who you are does not matter, only the perception does.
    For the most part, the resolution of the story follows the genre conventions in that it proves ultimate happiness can come from not being unhindered by the sneaky “femme fatale”. The way in which this issue is taken care of, however, suggests it does not matter so much how you do it as long as it is done. In the broader historical context of 1950s society, especially concerning the beginning of the Cold War and the fear of communist infiltration of the United States, the resolution of this film reinforces the idea that it is the duty of someone to get rid of the socially unacceptable, and the responsibility of everyone else to turn their backs and allow it to happen. However, Hitchcock does challenge gender constructions in the way he chooses to bring about the resolution. With Anne and Barbara both playing a large role in getting Guy on the train to Metcalf to stop Bruno, he challenges the role of women outside of the home and emphasizes their ability to work together as equals with men to accomplish lofty feats with real, life or death consequences outside the domestic sphere.

    • Excellent. I love the way you implicate Miriam in the murders. She is, as we used to say “the other woman.” So, in that sense, not such a sneaky clean character. Although I think we are made to like her in comparison.

      And I love your ruminations on the Cold War as context. Interpreting genres based on cultural rituals requires a bit of guess work. You’ll put us onto the Cold War plane, and the idea of ousting those who don’t conform. Very nice.

  3. Gender and genre in the 1950s is best evaluated when you also compare gender and genre today. Femme fatale’s today are like Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman and Amy in Gone Girl. They are killers, conniving, and decked out in black latex. Women in the 50s were not imagined as such- it wasn’t even conceivable. Hitchcock makes Miriam a dramatic femme fatale in ways that are meaningful to culture in the U.S. in the 1950s. Not only is Miriam Haines promiscuous, unfaithful, and boisterous, but she is also a working woman. Similarly, Anne is depicted as a respectable woman by being portrayed as polite, wealthy, and smart; she even uncovers the crime first.
    The fight at the end of the movie is brutal and not very satisfying. However, the very short final scene at the end of the movie is lighthearted. We get to see Anne and Guy happily together and some subtle humor when they run away from the man who wants to speak on the train. I think this implies that there is light at the end of the tunnel; the same way that Strangers on a Train is at the end of the height of the “film noir” era in Hollywood.

  4. Women in film noir typically lack agency and depth, the drama and glamour of the generic archetype is somewhat lost in this film. Our femme fatale isn’t a dimly lit, hauntingly beautiful Hollywood starlet, instead she is a poorly developed, “bitchy wife” trope riddled with misogynistic characteristics. Our opposition, unlike the glasses-wearing, promiscuous, domineering wife, is simple, submissive, and follows tradition. She embodies the stereotypes and gender expectations of women in this era. There are glimpses of her inner voice, flashes of her independence and autonomy, but at the end of the day, she serves the role of passionate lover. The lover character exists purely for the male gaze. She has no life or meaning outside of her relationship to Guy. She see’s him for who he really is, someone who would say things like “I wish I could get my hands around her throat to strangle her”, someone who could get mixed up with someone like Bruno. He’s not a flawless specimen of good character, he shows red flags…but above it all, she stays by his side. She is an accessory on his arm, a beautiful toy that supports him no matter what. She is his fantasy, a true love that is the complete antithesis of his relationship with his now deceased former wife. Each woman in this film are hyperbolic caricatures of real women. I’ve definitely seen worse depictions of women in film, but this certainly wasn’t revolutionary or groundbreaking illustrations of womanhood I enjoyed the film overall, but it’s not a feminist film or even a decent portrayal of women in the purest sense.

  5. The opposition between Miriam and Anne is very clear. One is the cheater and blackmailer while the other is the innocent and loyal. In terms of gender, I see this as pretty right on with how gender would be seen in the 1950s. Back then, women who were in the work place were seen as possibly being exposed and losing their innocence, thus becoming that femme-fatale. This was most likely the sentiment when showing Miriam’s character. Anne, as she does not work and remains under the protection of her Senator father, is not exposed to the real world and becomes the one the audience would view as “good.” In terms of what the opposition is trying to convey, it is just showing two sides of society in a post World War II era and it emphasizes the femme-fatale and noir genre. I believe Hitchcock is falling what would be seen as post World War II’s societal conventions. As stated, Miriam and Anne are just two sides of society at the time which could be considered normal. I did not notice any attempt at breaking barriers.

  6. In the film Strangers on a Train, there are two main female characters: Miriam Haines and Anne Morton. The characterization of these women speaks to the way that society viewed women in the 1950’s, when this movie was filmed. Miriam is presented as a selfish adulteress, who is willing to do anything she needs to to move up in life. She is seen as promiscuous by people who know her (including Barbara, the governor’s daughter) and she works for a living. Anne, on the other hand, comes from money, is formal and polite, protective over Guy, and very smart and calculated. She is presented as the angel of the hearth. I believe that this film speaks to how society viewed women in the workplace and women who express their sexuality.

    Anne is absolutely the more likeable of the two women. She represents what a woman should be. Miriam represents what society would view as a ‘failed woman.’ As a femme fatale character, she is an antagonist in the film, second only to Bruno. Miriam causes all the problems that lead up to the main conflict of the film. Because she has sex with another man, and becomes pregnant, she destroys her relationship with Guy. Then, by refusing to get a divorce with Guy, she creates the main conflict: Guy isn’t able to marry the woman that he loves. She also exerts power over Guy, particularly in the scene where she is speaking with Guy about the divorce. She holds the power in their relationship, which was not an acceptable dynamic for a relationship in the 50’s.

    Anne is depicted as the perfect woman. As I said before, she fits into the definition of the angel of the hearth. She is domesticated and spends all of her time taking care of her potential husband. In fact, without Anne, Guy would not have been able to get out of the situation that he was in. By going to speak to Bruno’s mother, she discovers his plans to frame Guy. Then she helps him slip by the authorities at the tennis event so that he can stop Bruno (after offering to go herself). Although I think that Anne’s character, in contrast with Miriam’s, serves to encourage women in that time to behave in what was considered an acceptable way, I also believe that she was written as an incredibly smart and strong female character. Throughout the film, Anne is always aware of what is going on around her. She positions herself in rooms so she can hear important conversations; she gives Guy logical and good advice for what he should do in regards to Miriam’s murder; and she even discovers Guy’s ‘involvement’ in the murder through very little evidence. Because of this. I believe that Hitchcock is following genre conventions to an extent through the negative representation of the femme fetal in his film, but he is also challenging gender stereotypes by having a female character with agency over the events in the movie.

    • Very good. I’m so glad you’ve mentioned this. We could certainly see Anne in this way. After all, she is not a wilting delicate flower. She helps solve the case. It’s a matter, I think, of portraying a 1950s woman (who is actually more capable than society once realized), but who also wants to get married and have a home life. This is the balance that Hitchcock strikes in his portrayal. Still, as others have implied, she is known as “the Senator’s daughter” rather than as a woman with an identity of her own. Great insights. I love it when students think against the grain. Bravo!

  7. By opposing Miriam Haines with Anne Morton and framing the Anne Morton/Guy Haines duo in a positive, victorious light at the end of the movie, Hitchcock is contributing to the attitude that “troublesome” women, such as Miriam, are undesirable. While most viewers would agree that Miriam is cruel and unfair to Guy, it is important to understand the alternative in Anne as a handpicking of Hitchcock’s for both Guy and the audience. Guy is not driven to leave Miriam for Anne, or even kill Miriam himself, but rather falls into a situation where Miriam is convenient murdered for him. By creating this situation Hitchcock has framed the erasing of Miriam as wanted, perhaps even fantasized over, and Anne as the ideal partner, the only reasonable choice. Given that Miriam is the “femme fatale” that many men felt threatened by in this period, I would say that Hitchcock at least presents in this movie a “what-if” scenario that many people who insist on traditional gender roles can enjoy and champion.

  8. Miriam and Anne in Strangers on a Train are definitely seen as polar opposites. Miriam is pregnant with another man’s child, is seen at the carnival with two men, and blackmails Guy. Anne is a rich, submissive, “classic” lady. They’re portrayed in a patriarchal society where women who are seen as submissive are more desirable than women who are more dominant. This is a common lens in the 50’s, so it’s understandable that it would be in this movie. Miriam is a working woman who knows what she wants and takes advantage of being Guy’s wife by not divorcing him and trying to benefit from his fame. Anne is sheltered under her father, the senator, and follows the stereotype of a “classic” woman during that time. Hitchcock is participating in the normative structure of gender because he is pushing forward the ideal submissive woman of the time. I think the ending scene of Anne and Guy on the train and they move away from a man who tries to talk to him, is strangely humorous compared to the rest of the movie and feels a bit out of place. It shows a classic happily ever after for Anne and Guy where they ride off into the metaphorical sunset disregarding the death of Miriam and that Guy is now a widower.

  9. I think we are definitely supposed to see Miriam as the opposition to Guy, and Anne is the girl that every guy wants, the one that sees no faults in her man and regrets when she questions him. I won’t say that she blindly follows, but even after learning that he was involved in some way with the murder, she doesn’t hound him with questions for anything like that she asks what the next step is. She drops everything to help clear Guy’s name. Miriam on the other wanted to use and abuse Guy for her own good and had zero loyalty at all to him. I think it is definitely safe to say that Anne is loyal to Guy, almost to a fault. I think this dichotomy shows the ways in which women were expected to behave in the 50s, I mean just the fact that we were told Miriam was bad for sleeping around before we even saw the way she treated Guy. I mean yeah that’s bad if you are married but if they were already separated, and Guy was already seeing someone else, why can’t she sleep around?
    And I think this portrayal of Miriam as a vixen that sleeps around and uses men is 100% ingrained in the film noir genre. As the notes said, women are usually the bad guys, or at least take the blame for the happenings in the movie, and it is because they are different from how society expects women to behave, and so by 50s standards, they are the bad guys. It’s almost like a warning to women watching, behave this way and you get strangled, behave the “good” way and you get the innocent man like Anne did. For even more reinforcement of this idea of “bad women who step out of line” we can look at the moment when Anne goes and visits Bruno and just endangers herself and Guy even more. She stepped out of line, tried to be independent and just made things even worse.
    To give Hitchcock a little credit I think he is attempting to move away from normative gender roles a little bit, and I only say that because Anne was smart enough to figure out that Bruno killed Miriam just from carefully watching and observing Guy and Bruno. She is not some dim-witted lady who could never even think of her man doing anything wrong, she does have doubts. Doubts that are quickly thrown aside and then dismissed after a half-hearted explanation from Guy but still. Her willingness to help Guy get out of the situation and her willingness to immediately believe his explanation certainly fall back into normative ideas of gender but it’s those small moments of suspicion before them that set her apart.
    I do think that Hitchcock is attempting to challenge gender roles but he tries to do it within such strict genre parameters that his efforts don’t actually translate into something that is actually challenging the construction of gender norms, even in the 50s.

  10. Very nice. Believe it or not, there is actually a critical tradition of seeing the “femme fatale” as a subversive character. Who do we remember from these films? The duped husband types? No, it’s usually the likes of Rita Hayworth. The women who steal the show, even when they are being bad. But, yes indeed, they always die…

  11. Miriam Haines is first introduced into the film as a gold-digging antagonist towards Guy. She is seen threatening to ruin his reputation if she doesn’t get what she wants, and this suggests she has awareness of how the media works and how men work (aka, street smart). She comes from a low class area (working in a post office) and knows the rules of society and how to make them work in her advantage.
    Anne Morton is immediately seen as empathetic and responsible, following after her father. She was very emotionally attached to Guy, not wanting him to harm anyone. She even gives him good advice, like when she tells him to “act like nothing happened”. Anne’s character gains respect when she puts two and two together. She notices Antonys name pin “Bruno”, sees him follow Guy, recognized the similar features from Miriam to Barbra, and plans with Guy on what’s the best action moving forward. She does want the responsible thing (to ask her father for advice) but Guy doesn’t want to involve anyone else.
    Anne has shown how caring and smart she is, even taking dangerous steps by talking to Bruno’s mother (without Guy knowing) and gets threatens by Anthony. She repeatedly is proactive with helping and getting involved in dangerous schemes, which is abnormal for this time period. Even Barbara, the younger sister of Anne Morton, shows courage and street smarts when she notices Anthony, when she distracts the detectives, and just in general with how outspoken she is.
    The female characters in this movie are the reason why more people don’t die. Women in the 1950’s were gaining respect and equality, but were far from it. One must work extra hard to have a voice as a woman, and all the female characters in the movie had the voice. Even Miriam, a low class worker, knows how to pull societies strings to become successful.
    Hitchcock was known for his new ideas with filming certain shots, but this writing and casting in his film was ahead of it’s time. I think the film’s success opened doors for other female characters, seeing as the movie was so popular, many waned to copy it.
    In the final scene, here is a huge fight scene (with incredible cgi) and when Bruno Anthony dies, it almost seems like he successfully frames Guy. Thankfully, the lighter was found on Anthony’s body and Guy gets away with it all. This implies that good always wins. Guy didn’t do everything the way he “morally” should have, yet by listening to the female character around him, he was able to get away with his involvement in the murder.
    As mentioned before, I think this is challenging the normative gender construction. Hitchcock is known for doing new things and influencing others with his ideas, so I would claim that this movie does the same for gender and how it was shown in film for the 1950’s.

  12. Although Miriam Haines can definitely be seen as the femme fatale, I’m not sure that Anne Morton is necessarily the complete opposite of her. Miriam is portrayed as a promiscuous cheater, liar, and blackmailer. Anne Morton is definitely portrayed as a better option, but I wouldn’t say she is the image of a perfect housewife. She is seen as very independent and thinks for herself. She is also dating a married man which doesn’t make her completely innocent. Anne Morton is still seen as the better choice and the one Guy ends up with. The murder of Miriam is almost a good thing because it allows Guy to marry Anne without issue. Hitchcock seems to be participating in the normative structures of gender slightly, but also altering them as much as he can given the time this movie was made. He has the femme fatal character, but her opposite is still an independent woman who can think for herself.

  13. In terms of genre convictions, I don’t see Miriam as the classic femme fatale that slinks around in shadows and schemes to ruin the lead. While she’s indeed a rotten person who indeed fills out some of the basic qualities as the average femme fatale (lying, scheming, cheating the hero out of his money and stringing him along while fooling around with other men), where Hitchcock deviates in my opinion from classic film noir is in how he “punishes” her. Most films at the time were under strict rule, thanks to the Hays Code, that all villainous characters were to be punished for their crimes and are typically dealt with a nice little bow on top in either death or swift justice. Hitchcock robs the film of that “perfect” ending in not only killing off Miriam in the first ten minutes, she not only meets her brutal end at the hands of the film’s true antagonist, Bruno, but throughout the scene in the carnival, she is portrayed not as an evil villain getting her just deserts, but instead as a fragile victim. The scene where Bruno stalks her throughout the carnival and her catching glimpses of him, but not seeing him as a threat, plays like this noir take on Little Red Riding Hood: a lurking, predatory man oozing false charm and charisma skulks around in the background, tailing a pretty woman simply having fun and enjoying the bright lights and splendor all around her, before he finally ends the game of cat and mouse and snuffs her out right under the nose of her dates. If we remove this scene from the film without any context of Miriam’s previous scummy behavior, the audience would likely see her more as an innocent victim who was killed too soon than as a villainess getting what she deserves. Miriam dies afraid and vulnerable, her worst traits practically non-existent, and that’s a level of humanization for a character audiences could simply write off as an evil woman that I feel was uncommon not just for the fifties, but even now. Miriam’s role in the story plays out more like a red herring—a savvy audience member may see her hold the divorce over Guy’s head an openly plot to ruin Anne’s reputation and think that this film is going to be a drama of “good, moral couple versus evil temptress”, only for Hitchcock to pull the rug out from under the audience and have her taken out by the character who arguably plays more to the genre’s classic femme fatale archetype: Bruno Anthony. Bruno, a heavily queer coded character, plays more as the “evil woman” than Miriam: slinking around in the shadows, desperately playing with the emotions of the pure and honest hero, and using his charisma to charm his way into the good graces of men and women alike, all while happily dangling his red right hand above the head of the conflicted Guy.

    Onto Anne Morton, on the surface, she plays to genre convention of the good, pretty supportive heroine for our lead to have steamy kissing scenes with and be the “good” option for Guy against the “evil” Miriam, I’d argue she has much more nuance to her character than simply being the “good girl”. Most female love interests in films at this time period had, generously speaking, the personality of a decorative house plant: certainly nice to look at but all in all, simply decoration to make the hero look good/desirable. In the first ten minutes, Hitchcock takes the time to play to the audience’s familiarity of the Whore-Madonna complex prominent in noir film especially to paint a clear contrast between Anne and Miriam: Guy and Bruno fawn over Anne and her beauty and power while making snide remarks about Miriam’s adultery, Guy’s first scene with Anne being a passionate and sensual makeout session whilst his first onscreen interaction with Miriam is an argument that ends with Guy at a loss. But once Miriam is murdered, any intent on making the two women foils is abruptly shifted to instead focus of the cat and mouse game between Guy and Bruno. In this shift, Anne is elevated from “good love interest” to not only a major supporting role, but also arguably the biggest team player of the bunch. While Guy is stuck desperately trying to sweep his relationship with Bruno and thus, his indirect involvement in Miriam’s murder, and is at the mercy of being corrupted by the seductive villain, the film makes a point of Anne being very intelligent. She catches on very quickly to the fact that Bruno is a stalker and sees that there’s something off about him when he interacts with Barbara, while the rest of the characters play little notice or write off his strange behavior. In a rare streak of independence for the time, Anne plays almost the role of an investigator when the bumbling police and other male characters fail: she keeps Guy grounded in his obvious panic following Miriam’s murder and asserts his innocence, she realizes that “Mr. Anthony” is the same Bruno that stalked Guy and her earlier on in the film, and she very quickly pieces together that he was the one who murdered Miriam following the strangling incident, as well as Guy’s relationship with him. With this information, she isn’t simply shoved off into the background, but makes her own call to action in confronting Bruno in his own home and, while she doesn’t think it was much help at the time, she manages to get Bruno to reveal a crucial part of his revenge plan in his attempts to manipulate her: Guy’s cigarette lighter, the macguffin and a key piece of evidence that becomes integral not only to the film’s climax but also in ultimately proving his innocence. She even plays an integral part in Guy stopping Bruno: in paying for a cab to wait for Guy and take him directly to the train station immediately following his match, Anne (and Barbara, who plays on societal expectations of polite femininity via distracting the officers tailing Guy) saves him enough precious time to stop Bruno before he’s framed for murder.

    When it comes to the contrast of Anne V. Miriam, I think Hitchcock is playing more strongly against gender roles during the time than most people are willing to give him credit for. While yes, the film still plays on the sexist trope of “good woman v. evil woman”, the film isn’t built around that contrast but instead uses it as a stepping stone to delve into the real conflict of the film: Guy v. Bruno. Miriam is painted as a horrendous woman not just to be the opposite of “good girl Anne Morton”, but more to kill a few birds with one stone: he gets rid of the obstacle in Anne and Guy’s love story, but he also makes her very brutal death much more palatable to the moral audience (after all, if she’s a bad person, then she got what she deserved) and still adhering to the strict rule of “bad people are punished for their crimes” put in place by 1950s audiences and acts like the Hays Code. Even in how the characters talk about Miriam prior to and following her murder, and openly discussing her adulterous ways, there’s still the unspoken words that “she may have been a horrible person, but that doesn’t mean she deserved to be brutally murdered.” Anne still plays support to the straight, white, all around outstanding champ of a male lead Guy, but she’s still given her own independent streak and exists as a character on her own outside the shadow of Miriam, or even Guy. Even Barbara is a fairly unique character for the time, openly displaying a keen interest in murder and mystery and following along with Guy’s case not for the gossip, but instead using her knowledge on police proceeding to help him prove his innocence, and she too figures out that something is off about Bruno long before anyone else—and it’s her testimony that allows Anne to piece together the truth and ultimately, is key in proving Guy’s innocence.

    Ultimately, this is a film that does away with typical gender roles in media at the time and instead decides to focus of the cat and mouse game between our moral good Guy and an evil, femme fatale-esque, effeminate, manipulative man. In this rare exploration of “good man v. evil man” for the time, this gives Hitchcock the unexpected leeway to flesh out his female characters where, if this were a film that strictly followed typical portrayals of gender in the genre, they would be little more than decorative house plants with pretty faces and generic, black and white character traits. Miriam may be a “bad girl”, a “femme fatale” in loose terms, but she’s not inherently evil and scheming, or at the very least, she’s, in comparison, the lesser of two evils when next to sociopathic Bruno. Anne Morton is a “good girl” but she’s also intelligent and independent, and doesn’t limit herself to the role of “supportive girlfriend” while her boyfriend fumbles around like a rabbit being stalked by a hungry wolf. In this story of “good v. evil”, the women aren’t simply playing tug-o-war with the hero’s sense of morality, but are instead key players in this war: Miriam is a case study in the nuances of “evil”, a rare tale of a theoretical femme fatale only becoming “fatale”, in a sense, from well beyond the grave—ultimately, a puppet in Bruno’s Freudian scheme, and there’s argument over whether or not her fate was truly deserved: as the Senator states soon after her murder, when Barbara mentions her loose ways, he argues that that doesn’t matter and that she was “still a human being”.

  14. Miriam Haines is portrayed as “femme fatale”, she allures men and manipulates them to benefit herself. She also tries to manipulate Guy, to get his money and become famous. Anne Morton is portrayed to be a caring and a supportive female character. At the end of the film Miriam has died while Anne is still alive. The opposition between the two women may portray that people who do wrong will have bad things come their way, even though I do not believe Miriam deserved to die. I believe the film is also implying that there is a little bit of darkness in everyone. The resolution of the story implies that people that do wrong get what they deserve. Bruno’s death is foreshadowed at the party. When Bruno questions the judge about how he can eat after he sentences someone to the electric chair, the judge answers that a murderer gets what he deserves. This insinuates that since Bruno has murdered someone, he will get what he deserves, which in the end was his death. I believe that Hitchcock is challenging the construction of gender through Anne Morton. Her character was different from the other female characters in the film. The female characters in the film found an interest in the theme of murder. Both Miriam and Anne’s sister, Barbra, had an attraction to men who dealt with danger. Anne Morton was uncomfortable with the topic of murder, unlike the other women. Barbra believed that if a person murdered out of love for another person that it was romantic, while Anne was upset with the thought. The women at the party were fascinated by Bruno’s discussion about murder, and Bruno’s mother painted a picture of a monster that Bruno identified as his father. Anne’s character also challenges the construction of gender because she tries to solve the problem by herself without the assistance of a man.

  15. The first time Hitchcock introduces Miriam Haines, we are overstruck with a clear sense of character. She is a lying, cheating, and manipulative woman. On the stark contrast, the first time Hitchcock introduces Anne Morton, she is comforting her love on the phone, and in their first on-screen interaction Guy and Anne embrace. There is no question whether or not the two characters contrast. Hitchcock very much demonizes Miriam Haines. Supposing Miriam is the picture of “femme fatale” in Strangers on a Train, Hitchcock is saying here that the women who stray away from cultural normatives are likely to end up pregnant and alone. That is a very powerful image, especially contrasting it with the image of Anne Morton, a woman who simply stands behind her man and ends up the lucky one in the end.

    By having these two women as contrasting characters, Hitchcock is participating in a normative construction of gender. He suggests that the most stable woman is one who stays at home waiting for her man and sits on the sidelines of his games. This is very much a portrayal of the male response to women starting to be outspoken in their own opinions (Miriam Haines). By painting the “different” woman as a villain, and the well-behaved woman as classy and alive, Hitchcock subscribes to and produces a film following widespread gender conventions.

    The resolution of the story implies that instead of good winning over evil, sometimes evil can be disguised as good. Haines is widely known to be innocent. The “bad guy” dies. But there is still a sense of wonder attached to whether Guy Haines is completely innocent in his actions.

  16. Societal norms are in place as a model of how people should act. For example, women should wear feminine clothing such as blouses, skirts, and dresses while men wear suits, pants, and ties. Everyday we see said norms challenged followed by an evolution of those norms. Today we see more women in suits and men wear skirts if they want to. The same way women in the 50s wore dresses, challenged it and wore pants, and now we see women in suits and ties.

    The same can be seen between Anne and Miriam. Anne was the elegant, formal woman who did what was expected of her while Miriam did what made her happy. Regardless of what people thought of her. Miriam was challenging the social norms. However, like some of my peers have mentioned already, Miriam is of the more extreme challengers. For that time, the things she chose to do were scandalous and very unladylike. Deciding to be with Guy because he was suddenly successful and making money, still going to fairs with two other men who were not her husband, and even while with those men, she was clearly eyeing Bruno. Although not knowing what his plans were, she was intrigued and excited about the attention she was receiving from him, seeing him as an admirer.

    I think that Hitchcock was challenging gender norms by creating a character like Miriam but at the same time, he was trying to normalize those norms by showing the consequences of challenging them to begin with.

  17. I think Hitchcock is participating in the normal construction of gender at the time. Miriam is constantly judged for her lifestyle and sexual preferences (?), even after she has been murdered. Women like Miriam were also unnecessarily hypersexualized by the people around them. I think her character is meant to be the polar opposite of someone like Anne, seeing as Miriam was at first the one person in the way of Guy remarrying. And unfortunately, I think Miriam’s character is written like this to make her death seem justified in a way. Miriam did not deserve to die though. On the other hand, Anne is painted as being innocent, angelic, and intelligent— just all around the “better” choice for Guy. But, I don’t think Anne completely subscribes to the ideal image of women at the time. She isn’t exactly submissive, and is proven to be intelligent and capable without Guy.

  18. So when watching Strangers on a train I don’t know if I consider Miriam as a femme fatale, because of the fact that she isn’t a good person compared to how most women were portrayed back then. Most women back then were just damnals in distress, but Hitcock was known to subvert those troupes, leading the audience into a Red Harington. I think most directors at the time would make the female protagonist just a second thought, having them be saved my the male protagonist as thats what it was like back in the day.

    I think the main take away form the film is about Manipulation and how easy most people fall to it and are easily pursued but a lie. Thats why Bruno is able to Guy life for so easy, is because of how people are quick to assume and point blame on others. I think that people at the time would easily buy something like that, as at the time most common folk were quick to make decisions and ostracize those they dont know.

  19. I think the opposition between “femme fatale” Miriam Haines and devoted girlfriend Anne Morton falls within a normative construction of gender for the time. Miriam, an obstacle in good guy’s life, is loud and promiscuous. She has a job, giving her some sense of agency, and she stands up to her husband, and briefly has power over him via blackmail. In the film, all of this independence makes her a villain. No one is supposed to feel sad when she dies. Barbara, a more respectable character, implies that her death is somewhat deserved, and even virtuous Anne notes that Miriam’s death clears the path for her and Guy’s future. It is perhaps also worth note that Miriam is wholly condemned and worthy of death for her adultery, but Guy gets to remain the good guy of the film despite carrying on his own affair. On the other hand, Anne Morton is the ideal woman of the 1950s. She’s wholly devoted to Guy, she has no qualms about him having a wife or hearing him say he wants to strangle someone, and her only concern about the possibility of him murdering his wife is that the two of them would be separated. Anne only ever questions Guy once in the movie, when she realizes he lied to her about having never met Bruno, but as soon as he explains the full situation, she fully believes him and harbors no anger towards him about lying to her. The only facet of her character that could be considered remotely forward thinking in regards to gender is that Anne does eventually get to assist in the investigation somewhat, talking to Bruno’s mom and helping Guy escape his tennis match. This little bit of action is somewhat progressive for a woman of the time; however, it is overshadowed by the fact that Anne has no virtually no character outside of being wholly devoted to Guy, and by the way Miriam is so violently disregarded. Overall, Hitchcock puts a very slight effort into giving a woman something to do, but does not meaningfully challenge gender expectations.

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