Strangers on a Film by Stephen Wyatt

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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 (1951).
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 to casting.