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Saturday, November 2, 2013

STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT (1944)

Anthony Mann spent his galley years helming a lot of low-budget noirs, but this early effort from his start at little Republic Pictures is more mini-California Gothic, with nods toward REBECCA/’40, SUSPICION and a premonition of LAURA/’44, out two months later. William Terry (one of those faceless leads who faded away once the war ended and the boys came home) plays a wounded vet on his way to meet his girl, a pen pal he’s never seen. On the train home, he meets-cute during a train derailment (!) with a very young, very pretty, very female doctor. Then, when he goes to meet his putative girlfriend at her cliff-side mansion, he only finds an over-possessive mother, a timid live-in companion, and a grand portrait of the girl he’d been dreaming of during his recovery. No doubt, you’ve guessed the rest. But while the structure is largely telegraphed in the first two reels, the triple denouement is considerably weirder then expected. Virginia Grey makes brisk work of the good doctor while Helene Thimig &, especially, Edith Barrett, as Mom & servile companion, work up a disturbing vibe of destructive co-dependency. The film is just a programmer, but lenser Reggie Lanning manages a plush look inside the big creepy house, and Mann gets us out in just under an hour. Too bad the music department keeps tossing in comic music cues that kill the mood.

DOUBLE-BILL: Mann’s great unheralded ‘B’ pic is THE TALL TARGET/’51 about a plot to kill Lincoln as he travels to Washington for his inauguration. Why no one has tried for an upgraded remake is a mystery.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: All you IMDb mavens beware!, the little story summary on this title is a big spoiler.

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