This post contains ENORMOUS SPOILERS for the book, radio play, and movie of Strangers on a Train. Here’s the non-spoiler post if you got here by mistake.
Here are the three endings:
- In the book, Bruno kills Haines’ wife. Haines eventually kills Bruno’s father. Bruno dies in an accident, though Haines tries to save him. Haines confesses to his dead wife’s lover, who doesn’t care, but is overheard by a private investigator and, accepting it as inevitable, agrees to be arrested.
- In the radio play, the two trade murders, but Haines lacks the flashes of willingness and violence that he shows in the book. The private investigator figures it out but decides not to turn either of them in because Haines has suffered enough and Bruno’s not going to kill anyone else. Bruno realizes Haines doesn’t even like him, quotes Plato at length about love, and then kills himself. Haines confesses to his new wife, who forgives him and draws him away from Bruno’s body so he won’t be found and have to answer questions.
- In the movie, Bruno kills Haines’ wife. Haines refuses to kill Bruno’s father. Bruno dies when trying to kill Haines and his fiancee.
The thing that surprised me about the radio play was that it was moderately explicit that Bruno loved Haines in a romantic way. The thing that puzzled me was that Haines got away with it, and that this seemed to be considered the right thing. (I thought at this point that the relative lack of grayness in Strangers in Death was a reaction to this, which made a lot more sense.) And then I found that neither of these were in the book—I think it’s quite fair to read Bruno’s feelings for Haines as supressed romantic/sexual passion, but there’s no grand declaration. So it feels like the end result of the radio play’s changes is to make Haines the victim of the scary gay guy, so much so that he not only gets away with murder but is loved anyway by his heterosexuality-affirming wife!
I mean, I understand Hitchcock not wanting to go as dark as the book, but at least his modifications, while more radical, are less icky.
(This was a 1996 adaptation, by the way.)