When, nearly ten years ago, Alfred Hitchcock broke away from his Daphne du Maurier phase with Shadow of a Doubt, there were premature congratulations. He was first in with the real location melodrama, and it looked as if he might have returned to his older and more entertaining style. The succeeding Hitchcock films, popular, adept and replete with useless trick effects, have been, however, peculiarly depressing in that their hollowness has derived from Hitchcock himself, and not—as in the cases of some other expatriate directors—from Hollywood….
Strangers on a Train … to some extent restores the situation and recalls the old virtuoso of the art of suspense. Here again fear and paranoia are let loose in the open against normal backgrounds, and the tension mounts and writhes through humdrum human activity to its bizarre, sensational climax. (p. 21)
Strangers on a Train confirms Hitchcock's utter dependence on his script—in this case the best he has had for years—and a basic superficiality which prevents him from developing the psychological conflicts his characters do no more than suggest. His power of observation and his flair for surprise, counter-poising of the realistic against the bizarre, are still in evidence, but beyond a wider (and effective) use of close-ups he makes no innovations or advances. But in spite of its many and obvious lapses the film will certainly be classed as one of the successes of the year. And rightly. (p. 22)
Richard Winnington, "Reviews: 'Strangers on a Train'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1951 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 21, No. 1, August-September, 1951, pp. 21-2.