Friday, April 01, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Strangers in the Night (1944) at the Noir City Film Festival

STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT (1944), which was part of the opening night double bill of Hollywood's 13th annual Noir City film festival, is a fast-paced "B" movie directed by Anthony Mann. Paramount, which owns the rights to the Republic Pictures library, paid for the film's restoration, and it was shown in a gorgeous 35-millimeter print.

STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT is a film which is at times bizarrely improbable, yet that's also part of the film's charm. It's a wildly entertaining 56-minute film culminating in a moment which simultaneously caused shocked laughter and applause. I'd call the ending, and perhaps the film itself, absurd yet wonderful.

The story concerns Sgt. Johnny Meadows (William Terry), who suffers a serious back wound during service in WWII. Letters from a penpal named Rosemary give Johnny the will to live, and when Johnny recovers, he travels to visit Rosemary in her small California town. While on the train he meets lovely Dr. Leslie Ross (Virginia Grey), who will be setting up practice in the town.

Johnny meets Rosemary's mother, Hilda Blake (Helen Thimig), who invites him to stay, telling him Rosemary will be back in a few days. Both Johnny and Leslie are quickly uncomfortable with the behavior of both Hilda and her companion, Ivy (Edith Barrett). And where is Rosemary, anyway?

STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT is, quite simply, a fun ride. It has its share of goofball moments but they seemed to add to the entertainment value, rather than subtract. It also provides some very good unexpected jolts, such as the conclusion of the scene where Johnny and Leslie meet on the train. The film is a great example of what an expert director could do with a small cast and a short time frame. Anne O'Neal plays Leslie's nurse.

I thought the film had a certain amount in common with MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945), a 65-minute Columbia thriller directed by Joseph H. Lewis; both films clock in at about an hour, give or take five minutes, and feature mentally unbalanced types living in clifftop estates overlooking the ocean. MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS is scheduled to be shown on the last night of the festival, April 20th.

I also got to thinking there's an entire movie subgenre regarding WWII letters with suspect authors. In addition to STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT, Jules Dassin's A LETTER FOR EVIE (1946) William Dieterle's LOVE LETTERS (1945), and William D. Russell's DEAR RUTH (1947) come to mind. I wonder if there are further examples?

It was a real pleasure to see Virginia Grey as the film's attractive, intelligent leading lady. Grey had spent years at MGM as a "B" lead and a supporting actress in "A" pictures before moving on to make a number of films for Republic Pictures.

An interesting side note is that Republic actress Linda Stirling is credited by IMDb as being featured in Rosemary's portrait. Stirling was married to Sloan Nibley, who wrote many Western screenplays.

One of the curious things about the film is that Mrs. Blake has a limp which is never mentioned; her German accent is also never explained. Mrs. Blake was played by Austrian actress Helen Thimig, the widow of Max Reinhardt.

"B" films such as STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT and TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE (1945) preceded director Mann's better-known film noir titles such as RAILROADED! (1947), T-MEN (1947), RAW DEAL (1948), HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948), and SIDE STREET (1950), as well as "period noir" titles like REIGN OF TERROR (1949) and THE TALL TARGET (1951). Of course, Mann is also very well known for his highly regarded Western collaborations with James Stewart.

STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT is not available on DVD or VHS. Assuming the Noir City festival returns to Chicago later this year, perhaps readers in that area will have a chance to see this entertaining movie. Recommended!

January 2013 Update: STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT will be released on DVD by Olive on February 26, 2013.

February 2014 Update: I had the opportunity to see this on a big screen again as part of an Anthony Mann Festival at UCLA.


Blogger DorianTB said...

I enjoyed your blog post about STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT - and here I thought that was just a song title! :-) Anthony Mann's films are always well worth watching. In particular, films with pen pals who may not be what they seem always intrigue me. Until someone finally decides to make STRANGERS... available on DVD or Blu-Ray, I'll just keep my eyes peeled for showings on TCM or the Fox Movie Channel. Enjoy the festival!

1:09 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much, Dorian! I'm looking forward to seeing more of Mann's films.

Best wishes,

1:28 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Thanks for the recommendation. Railroaded was shown at a local revival theater the other day but I couldn't make it.

5:10 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

RAILROADED! is another I'd like to see. Just saw a review at Ferdy on Films.

Hope Noir City returns to Chicago this year and you can attend some films!!

Best wishes,

5:20 PM  
Blogger Alvin said...

You've made this film sound quite tantalizing, and thanks for the update about the DVD release. When I clicked on this link I had actually got this movie mixed up with the low-budget noir Fear in the Night, and am happy to learn this is an entirely different film, especially since it's directed by the great Anthony Mann.

10:19 PM  

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