fri 24/05/2019

DVD/Blu-ray: Stranger in the House | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: Stranger in the House

DVD/Blu-ray: Stranger in the House

Parodic but compelling 1960s curio, with some superb BFI period extras

South by Southwest: Ian Ogilvy and James Mason in 'Stranger in the House'

Marvel at Stranger in the House’s title sequence, the pulsating multi-coloured shapes accompanied by the cheesiest of title themes. It’s not Saul Bass, but it’s effective. Pierre Rouve’s 1967 film contains elements which may confound, irritate and annoy, though it fully deserves this handsome reissue in the BFI’s Flipside strand, with its mission “to rescue weird and wonderful British films from obscurity”. They don’t come much more weird and wonderful than this, with Hungarian émigré Rouve fresh from duty as executive producer on Antonioni’s Blow-Up. You can tell.

Georges Simenon’s source novel had already been filmed in 1942 with a screenplay by Henri-Georges Clouzot. Rouve sticks to the bare bones and adds lashings of late-60s period detail. The opening nightclub sequence is beyond parody, introducing Geraldine Chaplin’s young Angela Sawyer and friends. Minutes later we meet her father John, a reclusive barrister, slumped in an armchair with a large whisky. Gamely played by James Mason, he’s despised by Angela. A series of stylised flashbacks fill in the backstory, his near-naked ex-wife even casting doubt on his daughter’s parentage.Stranger in the House gangThis is a tale of ancient vs modern as much as it’s a courtroom drama, physically embodied by the location footage, a very genteel Winchester at odds with the gritty streets of, er, Southampton. Scenes set in pubs, strip clubs and docks give much of the film a documentary feel. Groovy flashbacks show Angela and her coterie boarding an empty ocean liner (pictured above) and meeting Bobby Darin’s Barney Teale, whose dead body then turns up in an attic bedroom. Angela’s Greek Cypriot boyfriend Jo (Paul Bertoya) is arrested for murder, and John decides to act as his defence. Mason’s shufflings and shamblings frequently suggest that he’s as confused as his character is. We’re a long way from North by Northwest and Lolita.

George C Scott had originally been lined up to play Barney. He would have been more menacing than a miscast, mumblesome Darin, whose demise comes as something of a relief. There’s a splendidly oleaginous turn from the young Ian Ogilvy and sitcom fans will relish a cameo from Yootha Joyce. Mason’s John duly recovers his legal mojo and justice is served in a virtuoso final act. Rouve’s wordy screenplay often sounds as if it’s been put through Google Translate, and Patrick John Scott’s score is maddeningly eclectic, but as late 60s curios go, Stranger in the House merits exhumation.

This release’s extras merit five stars on their own. We get vintage footage of Southampton, plus a British Transport Films documentary showing how a modern container ship is unloaded. It’s good – trust me. A 1968 psychedelic promo for "good strong coffee" is a blast, the ideal curtain-raiser for photographer David Bailey’s directorial debut GG Passion, in which Eric Swayne’s titular pop star is literally hounded to death, his fate sealed by a grumpy old dear rubber-stamping "DEATH" upon his portrait. Monochrome erupts into bloody colour as the deed is done. There’s an entertaining commentary from Flipside founders Vic Pratt and William Fowler, plus an audio-only interview with Mason taped in 1981.

Below: watch the US trailer for the film (release title, Cop-Out)

Mason’s shufflings and shamblings suggest that he’s as confused as we are

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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