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Strangers in the Night(1944)
A Marine sergeant stationed overseas falls in love with a woman only through correspondence. On the train back home, he meets a beautiful young doctor who's starting a new practice in the same small town. Once in town, he finds his pen pal's place of residence, but to his surprise he only finds the girl's mother living at the old mansion with her servant. The old woman informs him that her daughter has gone away and will return shortly, but asks him to stay at the mansion until her return.
For more about Strangers in the Night and the Strangers in the Night Blu-ray release, see Strangers in the Night Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on March 2, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Virginia Grey, William Terry, Helene Thimig
Director: Anthony Mann
» See full cast & crew
Strangers in the Night Blu-ray Review
Catfish, circa 1944.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, March 2, 2013
Catfish is one of those rare movies whose title has managed to enter the public lexicon and serve as shorthand for a concept or situation. For those of you who aren't totally current with the cultural zeitgeist, or who at least have not seen the film, Catfish is a documentary (though some insist it was staged) dealing with an artist who becomes enamored with a girl who initially reaches him via snail mail. The two soon start communicating by phone and ultimately make that ultimate of modern commitments, "friending" each other on Facebook. Only—well, those of you who are sports fans who have followed the Manti Te'o fiasco might be able to guess the denouement. Let's just say that the artist was, to borrow a running gag from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, "Tuiasosopo'd". (And if you're so far out of the pop culture loop as to not have the slightest idea what that means, I refer you to Google and/or your nightly "infotainment" broadcast). There's been a lot of chatter, some since Catfish, but manifestly more since the Te'o incident, about the perceived ridiculousness of "fake" online relationships and how stupid people must be to believe in them. What may strike some people as absolutely incredible about Strangers in the Night, a little remembered 1944 B-picture that has whatever cachet it's managed to achieve due to it having been directed by Anthony Mann, is that it traffics in much the same idea. Yes, the technology is different—pen pals rather than Facebook friends—but the basic concept is devastatingly similar. Only in Mann's formulation, it's not a mere prank but something decidedly more sinister.
We're a much more cynical people generally than we were in 1944, and so it's easy to come to Strangers in the Night "knowing" the twist, at least more or less, and wondering when the people in the film will finally figure out what's going on. But there are two arguments against having too sanguine a reaction to this admittedly slight entry from the forties. First of all, even audiences in the forties may well have sensed that something wasn't quite right with Hilda (Helene Thimig), the elderly woman who is ostensibly the mother of a young woman who has been writing a serviceman named Johnny (William Terry). But more importantly, knowing the twist of the film really doesn't deprive it of its kind of creepy atmosphere. This isn't exactly noir in the classic sense of the term, but Mann and his cinematographer Reggie Lanning do great things with light and shadow in the best noir tradition, and Mann crafts a rather moody ambience that serves the film very well.
Johnny is wounded in action one of the first scenes of the film, and doesn't seem to have much to live for. But it's soon revealed he's been exchanging letters with a girl named Rosemary whose name and address he found in a book that had been sent overseas to help provide a little piece of home for some unknown soldier. In the meantime, we're also introduced to Hilda and her quivering companion Ivy (Edith Barrett), who live in an impossibly gargantuan house perched on the side of a cliff above the Pacific Ocean. Hilda's formal parlor is focused on a humongous oil painting of her daughter Rosemary, and both Hilda and Ivy help celebrate the unseen Rosemary's birthday by speaking to the painting and raising a glass in Rosemary's honor. Feeling a little creeped out yet?
There's a new doctor in town who is making the rounds and comes to meet Hilda and Ivy. Hilda is shocked to discover the new doctor is a woman and is more than a little rude to her. The doctor, Leslie (Virginia Grey), handles the rudeness with grace and excuses herself with the convenient reason that she has to take a train to San Francisco. A few days later Leslie and Johnny "meet cute" on the train back to the little California town where Hilda lives, when Leslie arrives at Johnny's diner car table and plops a copy of the very same book down in front of him that he had received previously from Rosemary. The two are just striking up an acquaintance when a rather unexpected accident occurs.
This being a B-movie clocking in at well under an hour, the accident does little in the way of plot development, other than to show Leslie is indeed a competent doctor, and to get Leslie and Johnny alone afterward in a hotel. Johnny, not having met Rosemary yet, is beginning to have second thoughts anyway, since Leslie is such a find herself. However, he spills the beans to Leslie, who agrees he needs to at least go thank Rosemary for having provided him a lifeline of sorts when he was overseas. Leslie is somewhat shocked to discover the "Rosemary connection", having already met Hilda and seen the gigantic portrait which looms over Hilda's living room.
There aren't really any major surprises in the second act of Strangers in the Night. Johnny goes to the house and meets Hilda, who assures Johnny that Rosemary will be back soon. A number of intervening plot developments keep Johnny at the house, while Ivy becomes more and more nervous, obviously only too aware that a fraud is being perpetrated. Leslie's suspicions are also raised, but the real problem is that Johnny seems to recognize the style of the painting of Rosemary and thinks he knows who the artist might have been. That doesn't sit well with Hilda at all.
Within the confines and context of a fairly predictable B-movie, there's a lot to like about Strangers in the Night. There are several unexpected developments along the way, some of them silly (like the aforementioned accident) but some quite a bit more chilling (a late showdown between Hilda and Ivy is very well done). The film is highlighted by a fantastically disturbing performance by Thimig as Hilda. Terry, Grey and Barrett are also excellent and contribute to a brisk, compelling entertainment. Like many B-movies, Strangers in the Night is a little too short and underdeveloped for its own good, and it frankly lapses into sheer lunacy in its closing moments (including a laugh out loud comeuppance for Hilda). But the film shows Mann to be a master even at this early stage of his career in creating and sustaining a very suspenseful, eerie mood, one that's perhaps unexpectedly powerful for a film of this limited running time and overall ambition.
Strangers in the Night Blu-ray, Video Quality
Strangers in the Night is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.37:1. The elements utilized for this high definition transfer are in amazingly good shape, with just an occasional spot and speckle showing up, none of which are very noticeable in the long run. The image here is nicely sharp and well detailed, especially in extreme close-ups, but the best part of this presentation is its lustrous and well defined contrast which easily accommodates the inkiest blacks to the brightest whites. As with most Olive releases, there doesn't appear to have been any aggressive digital sharpening or noise reduction applied to this release.
Strangers in the Night Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Strangers in the Night's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track is also surprisingly robust, especially for its age, and comes out of the gate with some great music cues. Dialogue is very cleanly presented, and only minimal hiss is evident in quieter moments. This still is a product of the 1940s and so has the requisite boxy sound, especially in the midrange, but other than some very minor pops and cracks, there's no real damage to report and everything sounds just fine.
Strangers in the Night Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No supplements of any kind are offered on this Blu-ray disc.
Strangers in the Night Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
This would seem to be a world way from Anthony Mann's huge epics like El Cid and The Fall of the Roman Empire, or his many iconic westerns, including several with James Stewart. But there's still fine attention to craft here, and Strangers in the Night is often unexpectedly effective, even if wiser viewers are going to guess the "surprise" from the very first moments of the film. Mann elicits uniformly fine performances, especially from an absolutely haunting Helene Thimig, The film is too short for its own good, kind of rushing along without fully developing some of its plot points (there are a couple moments of glaring illogic), and there's no denying that the finale gets to be almost intentionally silly. But even with its flaws, Strangers in the Night is a wonderfully moody experience and should easily appeal to lovers of psychological thrillers. This Blu-ray offers great video and nice audio, and even without any supplements, comes Recommended.
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