I just re-visited this great 1951 Hitchcock classic the night before last. It’s based on the novel of the same name, by Paticia Highsmith. I’m not sure if I’ve read this novel. I know I did read, with enjoyment, her The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), This is the first in her Ripley series, and, like Strangers, is a psychological crime thriller probing into a truly twisted mind. (If you are a fan of Ruth Rendell, you are pretty likely to enjoy Highsmith as well.)
In reading a 2004 Roger Ebert review of Strangers, after my recent viewing of the movie, I came across the following passage:
There’s an intriguing note from a user of the Internet Movie Database, claiming to have spotted Highsmith in a cameo in the film. She’s behind Miriam in the early scene in the record store, writing something in a notebook. No Highsmith cameo has even been reported in the movie’s lore (all the attention goes to Hitchcock’s trademark cameo) but you can look for yourself, in chapter six of the DVD, 12 minutes and 16 seconds into the running time. To think she may have been haunting it all of these years.
My own timing of this possible Highsmith sighting is a bit earlier. Here’s a still from 11:56 into the film:
Now the $64 question: Is this indeed Patricia Highsmith? Born in 1921, she would have been about 30 years old at the time. Here, courtesy of Google Images, are some Highsmith photos:
Maybe there’s some wishful thinking here. But I think it is possible that the record-store clerk is indeed Highsmith.
To give a contrary view, here is a quote from Gene D. Phillips’ 2012 book, Out of the Shadows: Expanding the Canon of Classic Film Noir:
Some cinephiles claim to have discovered that, twelve minutes into Strangers on a Train, a previously unnoticed figure standing behind Miriam in the early scene in the music store where she is employed is Patricia Highsmith herself, looking into a notebook. But Highsmith was twenty-nine when the film was shot, and the lady standing behind Miriam is clearly middle aged. Besides, Highsmith declined Hitchcock’s invitation to visit the set during shooting. [Phillips cites Schenkar, The Talented Miss Highsmith, 2009, p. 275 for this information.] So there is no Highsmith cameo in Strangers on a Train.
“Clearly middle aged”? I’m not sure I’d go along with that. (But could Phillips actually be looking, mistakenly, at the 12:16 mentioned by Ebert, which indeed does show a middle-aged woman in the background?) And — as for Highsmith allegedly not visiting the set — perhaps the cameo was carefully arranged to be a surprise? (No, I would not bet all my money on this, but one can dream…)
As some post I came across suggested, someone should ask Pat Hitchcock — alive and well in California — who the cameo woman really is. Maybe I will.
Here is Pat Hitchcock as the senator’s young daughter in Strangers on a Train. In reality, of course, she is Hitchcock’s daughter. (If you watch the film, you will find out how important those glasses are.)