BBC Radio 4, 29 September 2011
A companion-piece to Wyatt's Double Jeopardy, broadcast in February
2011, that dramatized Raymond Chandler's experiences of working with Billy Wilder on Double Indemnity. Strangers
on a Film told the story of Chandler's equally unhappy collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock on Strangers on a Train
At that time Chandler's career was on a high; he had published most of his major
novels as well as receiving screen credit for Double Indemnity. Hitchcock, by contrast, had experienced mixed fortunes,
following an abortive attempt to leave the studio system and set himself up as an independent. Strangers on a Train
marked his return to the studio fold in a Warner Brothers-financed project.
The play had a rich vein of material to work with: despite their shared fascination
with the macabre, the two men loathed one another. Chandler resented Hitchcock's cavalier attitude towards the source-text
- the novel by Patricia Highsmith - which provided an excuse for the director to indulge in fantasies of homoeroticism. Hitchcock
considered Chandler a hopeless drunk, who could not understand that a director was king of a film-set. Chandler just had to
provide good dialogue. The two fell out quite rapidly: Chandler contributed virtually nothing to the finished script, even
though he received screen credit from a studio eager to exploit his reputation.
However Claire Grove's production seemed to misfire somewhat - principally as a result
of casting Clive Swift as Hitchcock. The actor's media persona has been forever defined by Keeping Up Appearances:
try as I might, I couldn't imagine Richard Bucket (pronounced Bouquet) as a megalomaniac director fond of scaring audiences
out of their collective wits. Swift's accent was all over the place; he had none of Hitchcock's East End vowels overlaid with
a Californian drawl. Patrick Stewart reprised his role of Chandler from Double Jeopardy; this time his voice seemed
somewhat rougher, emphasizing the author's increasing infirmity coupled with alcoholism.
While I enjoyed this two-hander as an entertaining dramatization of the lives of
two British-educated luminaries (I was especially intrigued by Wyatt's suggestion that Chandler, as a British public school-educated
American, looked down on Hitchcock's working-class background), I'd still have welcomed a slightly more imaginative approach