Love From a Stranger (1937)
Down in front! you'll
shout...rather than miss a single exciting moment of
Love From a Stranger!
(1937/Trafalgar Films/UA.) 84mins. BW. UK.
Credits: Dir: Rowland V. Lee; Prod: Max Schach; Sc: Frances Marion; Ph: Philip
Tanura; Ed: Howard O'Neil; Art: Frederick Pusey; Mus: Benjamin Britten. Mus.Dir: Boyd
Neel. From a play by Frank Vosper and the short story "Philomel Cottage" by
Cast: Basil Rathbone,
Ann Harding, Binnie Hale, Bruce Seton, Jean Cadell, Bryan Powley, Joan Hickson, Donald Calthrop, Eugene Leahy.
For anyone who simply
associates Basil Rathbone with his portrayal
as Sherlock Holmes, LOVE FROM A STRANGER will come as a very pleasant
surprise. Rathbone (1892-1967) was not adverse to leaving the deerstalker behind for the
opportunity to portray other characters. During his long career he notched up appearances
in comedies, Biblical epics, musicals and of course, the horror genre. It does say
something about the strength of his talent when with consumate ease he could alternate
between the villains in CAPTAIN BLOOD (1935), GARDEN OF ALLAH
(1936) and as the scheming Gisbourne in THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD
(1938), with his role as the defender of law and order, pitting his wits against his evil
nemesis Dr. Moriarty in the series of Sherlock Holmes features.
Directed by Rowland V. Lee, LOVE FROM A STRANGER
gave Basil Rathbone a free reign to make the most of his part and ham it up where
necessary. The film was remade in 1947 as an average melodrama without the elements of
Timid Carol Howard, (Ann
Harding), is fortunate enough to win 96,000 francs from the French lottery so she plans to
rent her flat and take the opportunity to travel the world. A dashing
stranger calls to enquire about the flat and soon after her fiancee Ronnie, (Bruce Seton),
arrives after five years in the Sudan. After hearing about her good fortune, Ronnie and
Carol have an argument that leads to Ronnie leaving again.
On board a ship to Paris, Carol again encounters the stranger who enquired about her flat
and he introduces himself as Gerald Lovell, (Basil
Rathbone), who is anxious to escort Carol and show her the sights of Paris himself. This charming man wines and dines Carol until a romance develops and when
Ronnie catches up with Carol she informs him that she and Gerald were married only a few
days ago. After visiting Monte Carlo, Cannes, Cairo and St. Moritz, the newly weds
promptly return to London after Gerald suffers a mild heart attack. Needing complete rest,
Carol spends £5000 on a small cottage in Kent for Gerald to convalesce.
The film moves up a gear as Gerald slowly reveals a darker side to his nature. When alone
in the cellar, where incidently Carol is forbidden to go, Gerald muses over his collection
of women's photographs and the chiffon scarves they once wore to the accompianment of
Grieg's "Hall of the Mountain King". Suddenly Carol appears as the music is
reaching a deafening crescendo only to be screamed at as if from a seething madman.
To try and retrieve the situation, Gerald who is obviously insane agrees to undergo an
examination by the doctor who discovers Gerald has a heart condition, but during his
visit, the doctor notices a book about famous unsolved crimes and mentions that Gerald's
copy does not contain a picture of Fletcher, a notorious criminal who murdered three
women. The picture apparently has been torn out.
Carol becomes increasingly suspicious of Gerald's behaviour and eventually learns his true
identity, that of Edward Fletcher. That evening, Gerald sends the servants away so that
Carol and he can spend some time alone together, but as Carol
reads aloud the Fletcher article from his book of unsolved crimes, Gerald paces the room,
circling her like a shark, his madness increasing with every step. To stall for time,
Carol announces that she too is a murderer, but when Gerald is about to kill her, Carol
pretends that she has poisoned the coffee he has drunk and brings about a fatal heart
Running for 84 minutes, this
smoothly acted suspense drama is unfortunately one of Rathbone's frequently overlooked
performances, despite that fact that he is superbly effective as the insane murderer. The
quick-fire editing, atmospheric photography and Britten's good music score, particularly
during the latter stages, is an additional bonus, but it is Rathbone's performance alone
that makes this film most enjoyable.
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