Saturday, July 18, 2009

Tonight's Movie: I See a Dark Stranger (1946)

I SEE A DARK STRANGER, originally shown in the United States as THE ADVENTURESS, is a very good British suspense film from the team of Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder. Later in 1946 Gilliat and Launder made GREEN FOR DANGER; like GREEN FOR DANGER, I SEE A DARK STRANGER features humor and romance along with scary chills and wartime anxiety, which all combine for an interesting, unusual film.

Beautiful young Deborah Kerr plays Bridie Quilty, an Irish lass who hates the English with a passion and -- it's a long story -- becomes mixed up with German spies on the eve of the D-Day invasion.

As Bridie meets and evades spies in Ireland and later on the Isle of Man, she is followed on her adventures by David Baynes (Trevor Howard), a British army officer on leave who is besotted -- and baffled -- by the strange but lovely girl.

As viewers follow David and Bridie on their journey, the film calls to mind Hitchcock's THE 39 STEPS (1935) and SABOTEUR (1942) -- perhaps not surprisingly, as Launder and Gilliat cowrote the screenplay for Hitchcock's THE LADY VANISHES (1938), and Gilliat also worked with Hitchcock on JAMAICA INN (1938).

Kerr and Howard are wonderful, and -- as with THE 39 STEPS -- my only wish for this film would have been that they have even more screen time together, as they have an excellent rapport.

Kerr has the difficult task of making a girl who initially wants to aid the Germans likeable, and she succeeds, helped along by her huge, expressive eyes; she's ditzy enough to be sympathetic, yet so beautiful that it's believable that Howard's sane, mature character would be intrigued and follow her hither and yon. Howard has charisma to spare, which has made me interested in seeing more of his films. Kerr's fiery Bridie made me think a bit of Maureen O'Hara in 1952's THE QUIET MAN.

Raymond Huntley has a memorably creepy scene as a German spy. Look for David Tomlinson (Mr. Banks in MARY POPPINS) among the large cast.

I SEE A DARK STRANGER was shot in black and white and runs 98 minutes; the original British print ran 112-114 minutes, depending on the reference source. I can't help wondering if the additional scenes I was wishing for between Kerr and Howard might be in the footage missing from this U.S. print.

The music score is by William Alwyn and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, which also performed Alwyn's score in GREEN FOR DANGER.

The film was directed by Frank Launder; coauthors and producers Launder and Gilliat took turns directing and Gilliat thus helmed their film GREEN FOR DANGER.

I SEE A DARK STRANGER is available on DVD and VHS.

This movie can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies, where it next airs August 15, 2009.


Blogger Missy said...

A friend and I watched this movie a few months ago. We also thought it seemed like scenes were missing. Overall, we thought the movie was a little off...missing scenes, a poor mix of comedy and serious, and too many strange coincidences. This was OK, and we love Kerr and are liking Howard more and more, but we like GREEN FOR DANGER a lot more. Oddly, GREEN FOR DANGER has a fantastic mix of the serious and comedy; so why didn't this movie?


9:50 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your feedback, Missy. I wonder if seeing an intact print would improve it further. The film worked for me, but not as well as GREEN FOR DANGER which seemed to have all the pieces fall just perfectly into place.

I think perhaps one of the things I'm looking for, if there were more scenes with Howard and Kerr, is more comedy, because their scenes together were lighthearted and felt "safer," whereas some of her scenes alone were quite scary!

I recently taped a movie with Trevor Howard which looks quite interesting, THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS, starring Ann Todd (not to be confused with young Ann E. Todd of tonight's film, MARGIE) and Claude Rains. I saw the last scene and was quite taken with it as it was in a London Tube station. :)

Best wishes,

10:49 PM  
Blogger Missy said...

Of course, GREEN FOR DANGER is based on a well-plotted book, they actually trimmed things down when writing the movie. Most of the humor they added...or perhaps I should say, Alastair Sim added! I enjoyed the book and would like to read other books by Christianna Brand.


5:14 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I recently sent the College Girl the link to the GREEN FOR DANGER book as it looked like something she'd like and might want to check out. (She liked the movie.) I'll let her know you gave the novel a thumbs up.

I'm listening to the GREEN FOR DANGER commentary now, a few scenes at a time as I can squeeze it in, and am finding it interesting.

Best wishes,

5:18 PM  
Blogger Missy said...

It's been several months since I listened to the audio commentary for GREEN FOR DANGER. If I remember correctly it started well, but then got into way too much detail about each actor. There were some interesting quotes from the actress that played the Sister, but after awhile it was just too, too much information about actors and not enough about the story.

It is funny that they tried to write the screenplay without the mystery, but couldn't because it was too tightly weaved in.


7:25 PM  
Blogger M. Thomsen said...

Oh yes, how I would love to see this film! Also because I fell in love with Trevor Howard in the wonderful film BRIEF ENCOUNTER and I really need to see more of films, GREEN FOR DANGER among others. By the way, as I read your article, another and rather similar movie, NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH, popped into my head. Not surprisingly also written by Sidney Gilliat (he had a thing for these stories, hadn't he?) Have you seen it? Terrific British thriller in my opinion ;)

4:38 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Just to help Laura and Missy, if you think there are scenes missing, the film is supposed to run nearly 2 hours. I've seen that full version, and I can tell you it is absolutely wonderful; a crazy whirl of noir and comedy. Do find yourselves a full-length copy. And make sure you read up a little bit on the very unfamiliar - especially for Americans - but extremely exciting politics of a period when the new Irish Republic, the IRA fighters, German Nazi agents and the British Army and the British Intelligence services were all involved in a complex web of deadly power-play. It all makes for the most wonderful, involving and witty fun with the excellent team of Launder and Gilliat in charge.

And of course there is the then 24 year old Deborah Kerr, whose natural charm outshines the rather brittle glamour of today's film actresses. Speaking as a bloke (so please excuse me) I find her beauty is just breathtaking. And her intelligent acting is of a subtlety and sensitivity that is just as involving. She was astonishing. Inexplicably, Bosley Crowther, in his 'Variety' review of 'I See a Dark Stranger' waspishly says '- - - despite her plain appearance, Deborah Kerr's performance registers well' ?!!!??! But he liked the film, at least!

7:20 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

M. Thomsen, a belated reply -- at the time I saw this film I had not seen NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH, but I've seen seen it -- most recently in 35mm at the Egyptian Theatre earlier this year!

Unknown, thank you so much for sharing that information on the full-length version! Wouldn't it be wonderful if a full-length restored edition could be released from a line such as the Criterion Collection?

Hard to imagine anyone thinking Deborah Kerr plain...

Best wishes,

11:08 PM  

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