Farley Granger was an underrated actor who rose to prominence in Hollywood during the 1940s, with the majority of his iconic roles being around the middle of the 20th century. He was born in 1925 and passed away in 2011, and is well-known for starring in two excellent Alfred Hitchcock movies, with those standing out within his body of work as a whole, even if his filmography extends a good deal beyond working with the master of suspense. He’s also known for being one of the few actors of his generation who confirmed he was bisexual, with him being upfront about it in his memoir, published in 2007.
He had a decently long career with an interesting trajectory, starring in both Hollywood films at the start of his career and some Italian movies later on, while also being well-regarded for his acting on stage. To stick with his film roles, the following titles represent the best movies that Granger appeared in during his acting career, and are ranked below, beginning with the good and ending with the career-best roles within his body of work.
7 ‘They Call Me Trinity’ (1970)
While the most famous Western/comedy hybrid of the 1970s is likely Blazing Saddles, the pair of Trinity films starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer are also worth bringing up alongside the iconic Mel Brooks film. The first of these was called They Call Me Trinity, and had a premise involving a duo protecting a group of Mormons from a greedy land developer in the Old West.
Farley Granger plays the villain here, and is responsible for giving the unlikely heroes played by Hill and Spencer something to rally against. He plays the antagonist role well, and the film overall is an enjoyable time for those who don’t mind their Westerns kind of silly, even if its sequel, 1971’s Trinity Is Still My Name, is arguably even better.
6 ‘Side Street’ (1950)
Many of the films featuring Farley Granger that were made in the 1940s and 1950s could be classified as crime movies, thrillers, or film noir movies (maybe even all of the above, sometimes). Granger had the sort of screen presence that made him shine in roles featuring characters out of their depths, or otherwise dealing with highly stressful situations, as characters in crime/thriller/film noir movies often have to do.
Enter Side Street, which is a lean 80-something minute film noir movie starring Granger as a man who steals what he believes to be a small amount of money, only to find the amount’s anything but minor. He attempts to confess to what he did, but doing so just makes the situation worse, with Granger excelling in the role of an ordinary young man finding himself completely out of his depths.
5 ‘Senso’ (1954)
Senso was a movie made and filmed in Italian, though it ultimately starred an American actor: Farley Granger. His co-star was the Italian actress Alida Valli, with the story of the film being about the tumultuous love affair between an Austrian Lieutenant and an Italian Countess, and the various lives such a bond puts at risk.
It’s not unfair to call Senso a melodrama of sorts, but it is an engaging one that’s held up a great deal better than many other melodramas of its decade. Like most older Italian films, there’s some post-production dubbing that takes a while to get used to (not even classics like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly are saved from such a thing), but overall, as far as historical romance/drama movies go, this one’s pretty good.
4 ‘What Have They Done to Your Daughters?’ (1974)
The premise and execution of What Have They Done to Your Daughters? is appropriately wild and fits the fairly full-on title. It’s more or less a movie that combines horror, crime, and action, telling the story of a complex conspiracy discovered by a group of characters shortly after one young girl is found murdered, and people begin to fear that the killer could strike again.
Farley Granger plays one of many characters here, with the film overall jumping around a good deal between characters (and genres) so that viewers are kept on their toes. The approach works, and What Have They Done to Your Daughters? ends up being a suitably explosive and engaging movie, though its grittiness and violence may mean it’s not exactly the kind of film that’s for everyone.
3 ‘They Live by Night’ (1948)
A classic thriller in every sense of the word, They Live by Night represents the film noir genre at its best, and perhaps its most direct, too. It’s about the strange – and potentially doomed – relationship between an escaped convict who gets injured and the young woman who finds him and cares for him, and all the problems that ensue from these two unlikely people meeting.
It’s textbook film noir stuff, but it’s all handled incredibly well, with Farley Granger and co-star Cathy O’Donnell being perfectly cast. It might not surprise viewers who are particularly well-versed in film noir tropes, but for anyone who has a 1940s black-and-white crime/thriller movie itch that needs scratching, They Live by Night is easy to recommend.
2 ‘Strangers on a Train’ (1951)
Strangers on a Train is undoubtedly one of the very best movies Alfred Hitchcock ever directed in his long and accomplished career, and marked the second time the filmmaker collaborated with Granger. The premise is as wonderfully simple as it is twisted, being about two men who meet by chance and make an unusual agreement to murder someone in the life of the other.
It’s a movie that explores the psychology of those with murderous minds, and one man’s particularly twisted theory on how to get away scot-free with murder by doing it as the “perfect crime.” Strangers on a Train gets a great deal of suspense milked from this premise, and beyond being incredibly entertaining for a film of its age, it also has one of Granger’s very best performances.
1 ‘Rope’ (1948)
Most posters will try and imply that James Stewart is the lead of Hitchcock’s masterful Rope, but it takes a while for his character to enter the picture. The film – and its plot – kick off when two younger men (played by Farley Granger and John Dall) murder one of their colleagues and then have a party for him, all the while the dead body is hidden barely concealed from where said party takes place.
It’s a thriller that’s aged incredibly well, and remains suspenseful largely because of how it draws everything out by presenting the film in real-time (or close to it). The film consists of less than a dozen long takes, some lasting around 10 minutes, with cuts hidden to give the impression it’s all in one shot. It’s amazingly well-acted and a very daring experiment of a movie that largely works, making it hold up as one of Hitchcock’s very best (and most interesting) films.
NEXT: The Best Crime Movies of All Time, Ranked