Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Alfred's gay period

I re-watched Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train for the first time in decades over the weekend, and it was an interesting experience.  It's far from the director's best film - the climax is a little silly - but it is, of course, a great premise for a movie.

What I couldn't remember wondering about on first viewing was the degree to which the audience is meant to recognize the villain of the piece, Bruno - the stranger who proposes exchange murders, and then carries one out,  leaving tennis playing Guy in a bit of a pickle - is homosexual.  Certainly, on viewing it now, the hints seems everywhere - but is that just because I have read somewhere in the years since I saw it that this was indeed deliberate?      

Realising that it was based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, and knowing that gay elements appear in her other stories, I would have thought that the homosexual side would have been clear in that source material.   Yet according to Wikipedia, the movie screenplay made more of out of a homoerotic element that was only "hinted at" in the novel.  

Now that we have gay studies as part of academia, there's lots of "queer" movie analysis on the net about the movie, together with Rope, the other Hitchcock film with a clear homosexual subtext.   (With Rope, it's hardly in dispute, given it was a fictionalised version of the real life Leopold and Loeb murder - and they did have a sexual relationship.)  You can Google for "Queer studies Hitchcock" if you are inclined.

Anyway, what I didn't realise about all of this was that the actor who appeared in both films, Farley Granger (who played Guy in Strangers, the definitely heterosexual character) was clearly bisexual in real life.   His Wikipedia entry contains an awful lot of information about his sex and relationship life, much of it surprising, presumably sourced in many respects from a memoir he published in 2007.

He was, it would seem, someone who it would be difficult to categorise as other than genuinely bisexual, right from the start:
It was during his naval stint in Honolulu that Granger had his first sexual experiences, one with a hostess at a private club and the other with a Navy officer visiting the same venue, both on the same night.[13] He was startled to discover he was attracted to both men and women equally, and in his memoir he observed, "I finally came to the conclusion that for me, everything I had done that night was as natural and as good as it felt ... I never have felt the need to belong to any exclusive, self-defining, or special group ... I was never ashamed, and I never felt the need to explain or apologize for my relationships to anyone .... I have loved men. I have loved women."[14]
You can then read in the rest of the Wikipedia entry about the enormously lengthy list of flings and relationships he subsequently had with both men and women had throughout his long career of (mostly) pretty B grade movies and TV. 

Incidentally, Robert Walker, who played Bruno, seems to have been definitely heterosexual - or, at least, I would presume so seeing he had been twice divorced by age 30, and had children.  He suffered serious mental health issues, and died of a combination of alcohol and an injection his psychiatrist gave him (!) at the age of 32.  (He could easily pass for older in Strangers, I reckon.)

I haven't read whether Hitchcock knew of Granger's sexual inclinations before using him in two movies with a gay subtext.  (Apparently, Granger even slept with the gay screenwriter for Rope, but whether Hitchcock ever found out, I don't know.)  But it is a little odd how Hitchcock also liked using Cary Grant, who, despite a string of marriages, was widely rumoured to have been in at least one homosexual relationship when he was younger.  

Anyway, old Hollywood certainly carried its fair share of gossipy intrigue.  And the degree to which Hitchcock didn't mind using homosexual subtexts as a signal that the characters were prepared to do anything, within or outside the bounds of society's mores, is somewhat interesting.


Jason Soon said...

don't know about Hitchcock but I've now read all the Tom Ripley novels and he is clearly meant to be a sexually ambiguous character. John Malkovich also brings it out quite clearly in his portrayal towards the end of Ripley's Game where Ripley has a flashback to the Jonathan character sacrificing himself to save Ripley and falling into his arms

Steve said...

I haven't even yet seen The Talented Mr Ripley, although I do have a DVD of it at home. But yes, I understood that a bisexuality element was made pretty clear in the film.

TimT said...

In The Lady Vanishes there are two minor characters mostly intended to as comic foils who are quite clearly the subject of gay hints. Two English chaps who take the same cabin, sleep in the same bed together. Hitchock seems to be saying, "This is one of the deep dark repressed secrets we don't talk about", but in this case presenting them as benevolent bumbling comic characters he doesn't seem to look on them unkindly.

In Muriel Spark's The Bachelors there is a gay-transsexual criminal. Undoubtedly he would be considered an outrageous stereotype by a modern interpretation. I suppose a common enough identification for the time: sexual perversity equates with ethical perversity.

Though.... come to think of it.... In Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events one of the villains is "the enormous person who looked like neither a man nor a woman". Now that's a really clever and simple characterisation: if you can't tell anything about them, even their gender, doesn't that make their motives even more mysterious and sinister? I wonder if the author has copped any flak for that?

Steve said...

Gee, it's been a long time since I saw "The Lady Vanishes". I remember very little about it.

Of course, in the context of Hitchcock and sexual weirdos, we should mention Psycho, too. But Norman is clearly interested in women, sexually, even if he does dress up as Mum sometimes!

(I understand that in the - widely panned as rather pointless - remake of Psycho, Norman was clearly shown as masturbating while peeking through the hole. Modern movies, hey? They don't have the fun of picking up on hints that old movies had, when they couldn't just show sex.)

Steve said...

Which reminds me, talking as my post was of bisexual Hollywood - Anthony Perkins' unusual sex life was something of the reverse of the pattern most people now expect - according to Wikipedia, exclusively homosexual experiences until 39, then married at 41 and had kids. Although he did go on to die of HIV, indicating he didn't give up on men after marriage. (His wife spoke lovingly of him after his death, in any event - and it was also truly scandalous how his HIV status was leaked before he even knew he had it! See this NYT interview, if you are interested:
http://www.nytimes.com/1992/09/16/arts/anthony-perkins-s-wife-tells-of-2-years-of-secrecy.html )

Wikipedia also notes his wife went on to die in the 9/11 attacks. Not exactly a charmed life, I guess...