50 Essential Gay Films
Which gay movies deserve a bigger audience? We asked our favorite directors, entertainers, and artists to help us compile a hit list.
December 09 2012 3:05 PM EST
February 05 2015 9:27 PM EST
ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE (1970, dir. Douglas Hickox)
John Cameron Mitchell, Director:
I had to resort to Amazon U.K. to find Entertaining Mr. Sloane, based on the outrageous play by queer bomb-throwing Brit Joe Orton. It's about a murderous bisexual hustler being fought over by a lower middle-class, upper middle-aged brother and sister played by the brilliant Harry Andrews and Beryl Reid. Sample: "Until I was 15, I was more familiar with Africa than my own body."
ROPE (1948, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
Christopher Landon, Director:
Two "best friends" commit a murder then host a dinner party where guests unknowingly dine over the victim's corpse. This is Hitchcock at his most diabolical. Rope is best known for its illusion of one seamless shot. But the thing that had critics and viewers buzzing was the film's homoerotic undertones--ballsy stuff for 1948. What isn't well known is that several key people behind the film, including the screenwriter, composer, and one of the male leads (Farley Granger), were gay. It's a brilliant, heady mixture of dark humor and suspense and easily among my favorite Hitchcock movies.
MALA NOCHE (1986, dir. Gus Van Sant)
Gregg Araki, Writer/Director:
Everyone obviously knows Milk, Good Will Hunting, Elephant, and My Own Private Idaho, but Van Sant made a movie three years before Drugstore Cowboy that is amazing. Shot in 16-millimeter black-and-white on a super-low budget, Mala Noche is everything great cinema should be: bold, provocative, aesthetically gorgeous, and, most important, it feels necessary. It speaks in a voice with something original and meaningful to say instead of falling into the "I just want to be a director and here's a retread of whatever worked last year" trap that so many young filmmakers seem to fall into. It's a textbook example of raw talent and passion working with the most modest of means and creating an extraordinary work of art.
X, Y & ZEE(1972, dir. Brian G. Hutton)
Simon Doonan, Creative Ambassador - Barney's New York:
Imagine Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? set in early '70s swinging London--caftans, butterflies, boozing, shrieking, rich-hippie decor, and no shortage of bitchy queens. Then add Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Caine, and Susannah York. The opening credits -- Liz hurling her busty self into a vigorous game of Ping-Pong in slo-mo--are orgasmic.
THE HOUSE OF YES(1997, dir. Mark Waters)
Chris Benz, Director:
I can watch this over and over, and it's so hard to find on DVD! Parker Posey's best performance by far: "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go baste the turkey and hide the kitchen knives."
THE LAST OF SHEILA(1973, dir. Herbert Ross)
Michael Kors, Designer:
What better than a murder mystery filled with glamorous characters set on a huge yacht in the Mediterranean with an all-star cast that includes everyone from Raquel Welch to James Mason?! That it was written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins makes it a double-gay bonanza!
SHAFT (1971, dir. Gordon Parks)
Lee Daniels, Director:
As if the title weren't self-explanatory. I was 12 years old when my grandfather took me to see it. I will never forget Richard Roundtree's slow build to almost full erection through a diffused lens. It was sexploitation at its best -- and the coming out of Lee Daniels.
MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969, dir. John Schlesinger)
Michael Sucsy, Director/Producer:
Midnight Cowboy -- an oddball love story between two male street hustlers -- depicts sexuality as both fluid and complex. Schlesinger, who was only recently out when he made it, handles the complicated and quirky Of Mice and Men-type relationship between prostitute Joe Buck (Jon Voight) and crippled conman Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) with the deft hand of a true outsider. Sadly, the MPAA originally rated the film X, apparently on the advice of a psychiatrist who felt the movie's neutral handling of homosexuality was promoting "mental illness." The theme song, "Everybody's Talkin,' " remains one of my favorites. Each time I hear it, I am transported to the tragically touching ending of this heartbreaking film.
THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE (1984, dir. Tony Richardson)
Amanda Palmer, Musician:
The Hotel New Hampshire was one of those brilliant films that managed to do justice to the even more brilliant novel (by John Irving ). I saw the movie when I was about 13, and the love scene between Jodie Foster and Nastassja Kinski thoroughly confirmed two things in my life: 1) I wanted to have female lovers and 2) if possible, one of those lovers should be Jodie Foster.
THE ANGELIC CONVERSATION (dir. Derek Jarman, 1985)
Neil Bartlett, Novelist/Playwright:
All of Derek's films now seem to me like letters mailed from a vanished country. How could we have ever been so hated, so hungry--not to mention so creative--amid the wastelands of 1980s materialism and homophobia? Perhaps this is the one that now haunts me most. Nothing could be simpler or cheaper--this is, among other things, real guerilla filmmaking, a poetic hit-and-run straight from the heart. Grainy, almost illegible home movie shots of a lover wandering amid the romantic ruins and gardens of an older, richer England stutter and fade while Judi Dench reads some of the greatest love poems ever written by one man to another -- Shakespeare's sonnets. It's like the proverbial candle flame, shining like a good deed in a naughty world: guttering, fragile, but capable of lighting a profound blaze of inspiration. I miss him and all the films he never got to make.
TORCH SONG TRILOGY (1988, dir. Paul Bogart)
Our Lady J, Musician:
This adaptation of Harvey Fierstein's successful Broadway play is a must-see for every 'mo with a nagging mother. Besides a beautiful plot, cast, show tunes, and all, it was ahead of its time in the way it shed light on everything from gay-bashing (poor Matthew Broderick) to coming out to your family (love Anne Bancroft!).
JUST ONE OF THE GUYS (1985, dir. Lisa Gottlieb)
Five Gay Teen Flicks For Chicks
When Terry, a wannabe teenage journalist, suspects her womanhood is holding her back from winning a coveted internship, she swaps sexes and goes undercover to prove she's more than just a pretty face.
TEEN WITCH (1989, dir. Dorian Walker)
Five Gay Teen Flicks For Chicks
It's the oldest story in the book: girl is a loser, girl learns she's a witch, girl secures the love and adoration of her high school--including a hunky football player--with a few well-chosen and well-chanted spells. And everyone lives happily ever after.
CLUELESS (1995, dir. Amy Heckerling)
Five Gay Teen Flicks For Chicks
Offering as many life lessons as fashion tips, Clueless belies its initially vapid, Noxzema commercial-like exterior to reveal a squishy, altruistic center where good deeds beget good deeds and unavailable crushes become gay BFFs.
SAVED! (2004, dir. Brian Dannelly)
Five Gay Teen Flicks For Chicks
Sure, there's a prototypical bad girl pretending to speak in tongues (but actually moaning about her hoo-ha) to get the best of her pious classmates, but it's Mandy Moore's heavenly turn as a vindictive goody two-shoes that's the film's real star.
MEAN GIRLS (2004, dir. Mark Waters)
Five Gay Teen Flicks For Chicks
Before she landed in jail, rehab, or the arms of Samantha Ronson, Lindsay Lohan (along with writer and costar Tina Fey) gave the world the catty, screwy gift of Mean Girls. Our DVD players have been "too gay to function" ever since.
SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959, dir. Billy Wilder)
Charles Busch's Top Five Drag Films:
Wilder's hysterical comedy has a remarkably live-and-let-live attitude toward the infinite variety of sexual behavior and is more sophisticated than any Hollywood comedy made today.
FEMALE TROUBLE (1974, dir. John Waters)
Charles Busch's Top Five Drag Films:
Divine is fantastic as a rotten-to-the-core high school girl who ends up a mass murderer. Although fearless in his vulgarity, Divine brought a sweetness and humanity to every role he played.
OUTRAGEOUS! (1977, dir. Richard Benner)
Charles Busch's Top Five Drag Films:
A wonderfully funny, touching, and somewhat forgotten film, Outrageous! stars the late great Craig Russell as a struggling performer who finds success as a female impersonator.
Tootsie (1982, dir. Sydney Pollack)
Charles Busch's Top Five Drag Films:
Dustin Hoffman is brilliant as an actor who disguises himself to get cast on a soap opera, and the film isn't afraid to explore the more subtly comic possibilities of a man living as a woman.
PARIS IS BURNING (1990, dir. Jennie Livingston)
Charles Busch's Top Five Drag Films
This extraordinary film lifts the curtain on the world of voguing and Harlem drag families, transcending its subject and raising questions everyone can identify with.
HAPPY TOGETHER (1997, dir. Wong Kar-wai)
Tony Kushner, Playwright:
As I remember the story, the script Cheun Gwong Tsa Sit (called Happy Together, after the Turtles' song, when it was released in the U.S.) was written by Wong Kar-wai in a Buenos Aires hotel room in just a few days, after the film he'd come to Argentina to make fell apart due to a labor dispute. With equipment, film stock, and the services of two of the actors he'd brought with him, Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Leslie Cheung, Wong's eminently practical solution was to remain in Argentina, and in collaboration with his magnificent cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, create a romantic masterpiece featuring two lovers who happen to be gay men. The film is feverish, dark, mordant, melodramatic, hallucinatory, and starkly realistic. It's a thing of fits and starts; it thrashes about, as if in the throes of the passion it's describing. It seems to be searching, as it unfolds, for the means to capture the experience of love, to account for a bond between two people who are never happy together, who are incompatible and yet must be together. Wong finds metaphors for love in the loneliness, disorienting alienation, and magical strangeness of foreign travel; in the improvisatory open-endedness, discoveries dreamed of and actually made, and bone-deep road weariness that are its concomitants; in late-night Buenos Aires tango bars, shot in elegant, noirish black-and-white; along stretches of empty highway; and in kitchens and SRO hotel rooms shot in warts-and-all urban 1970s bleached greenish color. A recurrent image of the mighty Iguazu waterfall, on the Argentine-Bolivian border, the ostensible ultimate destination of the couple's trip, is filmed from crazy angles in deep, heartbreaking blue monochrome. It becomes the image of love itself: chaotic, terrifyingly dangerous, utterly irresistible, boundaryless, infinite, unbearably beautiful.
The lovers, Ho Po-wing (Cheung) and Lai Yiu-fai (Leung Chiu Wai), are complicated men, their complexity rendered with stunning dramatic economy. They lose their way -- geographically, emotionally, spiritually, internally, and with each other. The actors are both brilliant, funny, and terrifically moving, irritating and endearing; they bicker, battle, and make love with complete abandon, and -- well, why not say it? -- they're the sexiest gay couple ever filmed.
Though it got great reviews and won Best Director for Wong Kar-wai at Cannes, it isn't as widely known as it deserves to be. The matter-of-fact manner in which the characters' homosexuality is treated in the film was startling in 1997. (Contemporary audiences watch Cheung's performance as Ho Po-wing with an added grief; the actor, who was gay and tormented about it, committed suicide in 2003.) If the film's assumptions of the universality of love, of humanity's shared attachments, predicaments, sorrows, and joys, is perhaps less startling today, it's no less appealing and moving.
It's gorgeous. It's essential. You'll love it. You have to see it.
THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE (1968, dir. Robert Aldrich)
Matt Tyrnauer, Writer/Director:
One of the first films to explicitly deal with a same-sex relationship, The Killing of Sister George can be viewed as a distant precursor to The Kids Are All Right -- an unselfconscious examination of a lesbian marriage. The protagonist, George, played brilliantly by Beryl Reid, is the most popular soap opera character on the BBC. George's alcoholism is beginning to jeopardize her relationship with her younger lover (Susannah York), and when she drunkenly molests two Irish nuns in the back of a London taxi, the BBC decides to kill off her character, a beloved eccentric, Vespa-driving village nurse. The film features an explicit same-sex scene, wherein York's character betrays her longtime lover with an imposing BBC executive. The lesbian sex landed the movie an X rating and launched one of the most dramatic censorship battles of the 1960s. Aldrich spent $75,000 fighting the rating, but lost. In the U.K., the movie was cut in some cities and uncensored in others; people traveled around the country seeking out the uncensored version. Aldrich paid a huge price when the movie bombed at the box office due to the rating, but he created an extraordinary portrait of a life and marriage in crisis. It's one of the great tragic love stories of the screen.
ANOTHER COUNTRY (1984, dir. Marek Kanievska)
Tim Gunn, TV Host:
I'm an Anglophile at heart, so give me an English period piece and, by definition, I'm all aswoon. Set in an English public school (think Eton or Harrow) in the 1930s, Another Country stars Rupert Everett as Guy Burgess, a gay teen coming to terms with his sexuality. The object of his affection is Cary Elwes, whose initial oblivion and subtle wandering eye drive Burgess to distraction. And there is a profound and relevant correlation to today's tumultuous times: We see two other classmates engaged in a passionate kiss and stumbled upon by a professor. For one of the two young men, humiliation and fear of retribution drive him to suicide by hanging. Burgess, too, suffers: In a formal ceremony, he's flogged by his peers for his homosexual dalliances. The societal perception of homosexuality is one of two parallel themes in the film, the other being Burgess's eventual betrayal of his country as a spy for the U.S.S.R. This evolution in his character is at least in part propelled by his friendship with a Marxist classmate played by Colin Firth, but also fueled by his rejection by the elite class with whom he wants so desperately to belong.
PINK NARCISSUS (1971, dir. Anonymous/James Bidgood)
Dustin Lance Black, Screenwriter/Director:
Some call this film "overappreciated," but I fell under its spell shortly after starting preproduction on Milk. Gus Van Sant popped it in his DVD player and asked what I thought -- I believe, with regard to how we might shoot Milk.
Although the production date says 1971, the film was actually shot between 1963 and 1970 on 8-millimeter, with a vivid, psychedelic color palette, and staged almost entirely inside Bidgood's own tiny New York apartment on intricate, handcrafted sets.
For me, the film is as important a work of art as it is a historical signpost of the pre-Stonewall, pre-gay lib, cine-homo state of mind. It's a picture of what Milk himself might have been searching for during his late night strolls through the West Village in the late '60s.
As for plot or structure, don't hold your breath. This film was about style, tone, and the poetry of once forbidden sexual fantasies. Where there is story, we have a beautiful young prostitute (played by real-life teen runaway Bobby Kendall) who, alone in his apartment, plays out phallus-filled fantasies of himself as a Roman slave, an emperor, and the master of a harem of striking, sometimes belly-dancing men. There's also a urinal and a leather queen, but I'll save those details for the cinephiles dogged enough to track the film down.
PERSONAL BEST (1982, dir. Robert Towne)
Catherine Opie, Artist:
Surely a classic. On a personal note, it worked best for me as a warm-up to lesbianism for two different straight girls. The first screening in my dorm room in 1985 didn't get me the girl, but she did eventually come out. The second was in 2000 in the bedroom of my now-partner, who I was wooing at the time. It did get me the girl. The scenes are 1982 classic jock girl, with a sexy hotness that still works today.
THE BALLAD OF LITTLE JO (1993, dir. Maggie Greenwald)
Kate Bornstein, Writer:
As soon as I heard the story line, I got myself over to the one theater in the city that was screening The Ballad of Little Jo. It was 1993. I was living in San Francisco, but I was in New York City for a show. It was an obscure picture back then, as it is now, so there were only a few dozen people in the audience -- me and a bunch of students.
OK, so the movie starts. Awesome cinematography of the Wild West. A young woman on the run from high society back East falls in with one bad man after another. Hucksters, cowboys, pimps, and drunkards--all of whom see her as prey. Fuck that, says Josephine. And she cuts off her hair and becomes Jo, a guy who looked like a young boy, and gets hired at some kind of manly job and holds his own. He saves up enough money to get his own ranch. There's a wonderful on-the-edge-of-romantic subplot of his lone ranch-hand, Tinman Wong, a Chinese man who Jo rescued from a lynch mob.
It's a beautiful story that spans four or five decades. Jo remains closeted to everyone -- except Tinman Wong--for his entire life. After he dies, the townspeople find out he "really was a woman." They do a terrible, terrible thing to his body. This terrible thing fills the screen. I burst out crying. Simultaneously, the college guys behind me burst into laughter and cheers. That moment is a sucker punch to my heart to this day. Great film. Just don't see it with transphobic assholes.
WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO? (1971, dir. Curtis Harrington)
Christine Vachon, Director/Producer:
Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? was a demented take on Hansel and Gretel, featuring Shelley Winters as a crazy widow (Auntie Roo) who keeps her long-dead daughter's body in a secret room in her mansion and sings lullabies to it every night. Roo's annual Christmas party for local orphans yields one little girl who reminds her very much of her now (extremely!) mummified daughter. The girl's brother figures out that Roo is a nutcase but not before they are imprisoned in her mansion. Mark Lester (of Oliver! fame) plays the brother. He was just growing out of his Oliver adorableness, but the filmmakers insisted in putting him in tight, short pants. I saw the movie when I was 9 with my best friend Paul at a skanky Times Square theater. Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? gave me my first real taste of the Grand Guignol -- and, of course, camp!
TWO MOON JUNCTION (1988, dir. Zalman King)
John Waters, Director:
Can a straight movie ever be gay without knowing it? You bet it can! This god-awful but wonderfully bad Tennessee Williams imitation manages to be sexy to gay men because of the often shirtless lead actor, Richard Tyson, playing a stereotypical southern hillbilly carny who could only have come from a Los Angeles casting director's dream. Those puffy lips, that ratty long hair, that "Hollywood loaf" lurking in his skintight jeans. Is Two Moon Junction the fictitious town in which the film is set, or his ass?
He's enough to drive Alabama debutante Sherilyn Fenn completely out of her soft-core, damp, horny, repressed, betrothed mind. And if that's not enough for lesbians, there's Kristy McNichol in a truck! "Uncontrollable Passions...Unbearable Heat," the ads screamed. Unbelievably ludicrous, too, but God, is it fun! "Everything you are..." Fenn pants to her forbidden lover, "... is between my legs," he answers without a hint of irony. Classic? God, yes.
THE LAZIEST GIRL IN TOWN (1981, dir. Mark Morrisroe)
Jack Pierson, Artist:
A Super 8 masterwork by the late photographer Mark Morrisroe, The Laziest Girl in Town is only underappreciated by those who have not seen it. Admittedly, its screenings have been limited to a few gallery exhibitions in New York City, Spain, Switzerland, and Berlin. It stars both Morrisroe and Stephen Tashjian, the legendary international artist also known as Tabboo!, and includes a cameo and camera work by myself and the photographer David Armstrong. Laziest Girl was written and directed by Morrisroe in the summer of 1981 in Provincetown after he gleaned as much as he could from the book Shock Value by John Waters. There are moments of great beauty as well as auto-anal stimulation using an ear of corn. Summertime love!
This spring, Artists Space in New York City will host an exhibition of Morrisroe's photography, his first retrospective ever in America. Hopefully, they will schedule screenings of this overlooked treasure as well as Morrisroe's other two films.
Five British Classics: VICTIM (1961, dir. Basil Dearden)
British idol Dirk Bogarde had already made his name in a string of popular movies about the exploits of a young doctor when he played the role of a closeted barrister who takes on a ring of blackmailers threatening to destroy his career.
Five British Classics: THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT (1975, dir. Jack Gold)
This made-for-TV adaptation of Quentin Crisp's autobiography won John Hurt a BAFTA for his performance as Crisp, the flamboyant English queer who withstood the slings and arrows of '30s and '40s Britain.
Five British Classics: MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE (1985, dir. Stephen Frears)
An interracial love story set against the simmering tensions of early '80s Britain, Laundrette marked Daniel Day-Lewis's first major role, as a gay punk with fascist sympathies. A climactic topless scene among the soapsuds is priceless.
Five British Classics: MAURICE (1987, dir. James Ivory)
Hugh Grant is floppy and adorable in the arms of James Wilby's Maurice in this adaptation of E.M. Forster's 1914 novel about undergrads falling in love. Rupert Graves is the gardener from the wrong side of the class divide whom Wilby lusts after.
Five British Classics: BEAUTIFUL THING (1996, dir. Hettie Macdonald)
Jamie and Ste, teenagers in a housing project, explore their burgeoning homosexuality amid the blight of East London. The movie has a brilliant cast, but the real star is Mama Cass, as channeled by sassy Leah (Tameka Empson).
PARTING GLANCES (1986, dir. Bill Sherwood)
Dale Peck, Novelist:
A quiet but unsettling story of a Manhattan gay couple at a crossroads in their relationship. Janet Maslin at The New York Times, as perceptive then as she is today, dismissed the film as "a parade of homosexual stereotypes," but gay viewers knew better, seeing not stereotypes but human beings who have fallen into social roles not always comfortable, let alone ennobling, that best suit their personalities. Domesticity weighs differently on the two men: Michael, slight and bookish, spends much of his time caring for his ex-lover Nick (Steve Buscemi in his first feature turn). Sloe-eyed Robert, by contrast, has maneuvered a two-year transfer to Africa, to escape both his relationship jitters as well as the epidemic. The irony of running to Africa to get away from AIDS is one that history has made only more pointed.
The movie takes place on Robert's last day in the city: a morning run, a morning fuck; a visit to Nick by Michael; a goodbye dinner with Robert's boss; an evening fuck; a going-away party thrown by Michael's friend Joan; a visit to a nightclub that lasts until the wee hours of the morning. As the movie progresses, its world and, as a consequence, its themes expand with startling rapidly. Michael is pursued by an adorable Columbia freshman; Robert's boss turns out to be closeted and something of a pedophile; a German performance artist speaks to Nick of the profound aesthetic possibilities of AIDS. There are bodies, lisps, beats, operatic hallucinations, covert coupling (heterosexual as it turns out), and drugs (but only of the recreational variety: this was 1986, after all). Through it all there is New York: glamorous and dirty, erudite and slutty, in sickness and in health.
VELVET GOLDMINE (1998, dir. Todd Haynes)
Margaret Cho, Comedian:
An amazingly beautiful film all about the '70s versus the '80s, glam versus new wave, Bowie versus Iggy, gay versus straight versus in between, loving your rock idols and then sleeping with them. It has incredible fashion, a killer soundtrack, romantic love scenes between Christian Bale, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Ewan McGregor, and the legendary and gorgeous Toni Colette fag-hagging it up as a faux Angela Bowie. Truly one of the finest films ever made.
Five Gay Horror Flicks: EYES OF LAURA MARS (1978, dir. Irvin Kershner)
Faye Dunaway stars as this slasher's titular heroine, a New York fashion photographer haunted by psychic visions of fabulous people getting their eyes poked out by an ice pick-wielding maniac.
FIve Gay Horror Flicks: THE HUNGER (1983, dir. Tony Scott)
When a vampiress (Catherine Deneuve) bites her victims, they're supposed to live forever. Not so for her lover (David Bowie), whose rapid aging leads him to a doc (Susan Sarandon) who specializes in such disorders. Result? The classiest lesbian sex scene in history.
Five Gay Horror Flicks: SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983, dir. Robert Hiltzik)
Painfully shy Angela (Felissa Rose) is shipped off to summer camp with cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten), and soon the bodies start piling up. The kids are bullies, the cook's a perv, and the ending...well, the title says it all.
Five Gay Horror Flicks: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, PART 2 (1985, dir. Jack Sholder)
When Freddy Krueger-plagued Jesse (the now-out Mark Patton) isn't sweating his ass off in his tighty-whities, he's stumbling into leather bars and screaming, "He's inside me, and he wants to take me again!"
Five Gay Horror Flicks: THE LOST BOYS (1987, dir. Joel Schumacher)
Vampire-as-homo metaphors aside, it's baby-faced Sam (Corey Haim) who elicits the double takes in this Brat Pack gem. As if his born to shop T-shirt and falsetto "Ain't got a man!" bathtub scene weren't enough, look for his poster of a midriff-bearing Rob Lowe.
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train is one of the great queer movies, though there are no explicit gay scenes in it. First of all, it is based on lesbian author Patricia Highsmith's first novel of the same name, and its two male leads are involved in an intense love-hate murderous duet just as in her later novel The Talented Mr. Ripley. In this one, the beautiful Farley Granger (whose career was eventually destroyed by rumors he was gay) is a champion tennis player who longs to be rid of his wife so that he can marry a senator's lovely daughter. Granger meets a spoiled society mama's boy, played by Robert Walker, on the train. Walker is a stalker who knows every detail of Granger's life--and even guesses that Granger would be happy if someone bumped off his inconvenient spouse. Walker proposes that they each commit the other's murder. Walker will kill Granger's wife and Granger will kill Walker's rich father. That way, Granger will be free to marry the senator's daughter and Walker will be rich.
This is a tale of handsome male doubles. The mouthwateringly appealing Granger (shown in an extended scene playing tennis in skimpy shorts) is paradoxically the one interested in women; Walker, who is butcher in appearance with his traces of acne scars and bad clothes, is cast as a man who never looks at women and flirts constantly (and menacingly) with Granger. They are doubles--but also opposites. They are obsessed with each other--and even in death Walker double-crosses Granger. It was no accident that three years earlier Hitchcock had cast Granger as a gay killer in Rope, his version of the ghastly Leopold-Loeb murder in which two gay guys kill an innocent person just to prove they are capable of evil.
In discussing Strangers on a Train, Hitchcock admitted that by casting the "soft" Granger he was able to cut through lots of extraneous exposition; Granger's personality supplied most of the necessary elements. What is fascinating is that Hitchcock, in a period when most directors were subscribing to the idea that gays were pathetic neurotics, presented the more unusual argument that gays were evil, dangerous, transgressive.