Director: David Miller
Screenplay: David Millar, Carl Nystrom, Alford Van Ronkel, Robert Westerby
Starring: Ginger Rogers, Stanley Baker, Herbert Lom, Jacques Bergerac
Duration: 89 min
BBFC Certification: 12
Hidden amongst the lesser known film-noir pictures are some little gems. Sadly, this is not one of them. Made on a generally low budget and filmed on location in the French Riviera, the film’s only real lure is its starring lady, American actress Ginger Rogers. Named Hollywood’s best-paid actress of the 1940s, Roger’s career took a backward step during the 1950s and this film is probably one of the reasons.
On paper, Beautiful Stranger (1954), directed by David Miller, seems to have all the makings of a good film noir – adultery, corruption and murder. In reality, the film is more of a melodrama with a few noir elements. Although not a completely awful film, as a noir picture it really does fall short. Certainly, a disappointment to myself who loves a good film-noir.
The film follows the story of ex-chorus girl, Joan ‘Johnny’ Victor (Ginger Rogers) mistress to a rich businessman and sugar daddy, Louis Galt (Stanley Baker) who finds out that the lover she thought was divorced in all but name, actually has no intention of leaving his wife, who has returned from Paris after spending time with relatives.
Fuelled by this discovery, Johnny manically drives off and ends up crashing her car on a clifftop. Seeing a little cottage with lights on in the distance, she walks to safety and into the arms of Pierre Clement (Jacques Bergerac), a potter and clay artist.
Whilst Johnny fools herself that she is only a friend to Pierre, a separate sub-plot brews regarding the husband of a friend of hers who is currently ill in hospital after a breakdown. Emile Landosh (Herbert Lom) is a lowlife gambler, who unknowing to him at the time, is caught up in some dodgy dealings working for Johnny’s businessman lover, Louis Galt. After borrowing and losing money from Johnny at a casino, Landosh is forced to find another way to payback Galt.
Having broken into the home of Johnny to ask her to borrow more money, Landosh accidentally stumbles across a hidden safe containing a beautiful diamond bracelet. Unknown to Landosh, the bracelet was a gift from his unscrupulous boss Galt to Johnny, and when handed over as payment to Galt by Luigi (Edie Bryne), Galt begins to suspect that Landosh is Johnny’s secret new lover.
The misunderstanding of identity continues to become entwined into the storyline as Johnny and Pierre believe Galt is out to kill Pierre as her lover, when in fact, Galt is convinced it is Landosh who is Johnny’s new love. A scene follows where Landosh accidentally kills Galt, tries to get rid of the body and all are caught by the police. Landosh is shot and in his dying words he confesses to the murder.
When I think of film-noir the initial picture in my head is that of a dirty city, dark lighting against unnatural artificial bright lights, swamped with looming shadows, but it is not uncommon for some film-noirs to be set in more rural and beautiful scenic areas. Plenty of these still work well within the genre even with limited traditional noir cinematography. Beautiful Stranger does have plenty of darker traditional noir cinematography towards the end of the film and these parts work well in contrast to the scenic views across the French Riviera. However, despite the darker cinematography, the film lacks suspense and grittiness, the overall ambience being more in keeping with a traditional love story.
The biggest reasons this film doesn’t work for me, is that I don’t really care much for its characters. They are very two dimensional. Landosh’s character is largely confusing. He comes across as a loser who dabbles in dodgy dealings to support his gambling habit but suddenly after discovering the hidden safe in Johnny’s house, he is able to open it with simple trial and error, not just once, but twice. Rogers role is kept simply as the beautiful love interest, innocently caught up in the horrors of the world, which she plays in a typical female role of the era. The only distinguishing feature of her performance is the clear passion between her and Pierre and this is probably contributed to the fact that Jacques Bergerac was her husband at the time. The only character that has any real depth is Galt, and Stanley Baker does a good job at trying to create a believable character from limited resources. The others are apathetic and despite the acting abilities within the cast it is difficult to make something out of nothing.
The fact that the characters are uninspiring is largely down to a poorly constructed script. It almost feels like the writers David Millar, Carl Nystrom, Alford Van Ronkel and Robert Westerby all had ideas for a film and rather than work on one comprehensive narrative, they all chose to add in elements of their story and bring it together to try and make it fit. The saying, ‘too many cooks, spoils the broth’ could easily be tagged to this film.
Overall, I have to say I was disappointed in this film. Had I gone into watching it as a melodrama and not a film-noir, maybe my opinion may have been different. The acting wasn’t bad considering there wasn’t much for the actors to work with and although many of the scenes were not shot in traditional half light noir style, the views of the French Riviera were beautiful. However, this is not a film for me, it lacked suspense and I would only recommend watching it on a Sunday afternoon if you really had nothing better to do.
Beautiful Stranger is released on Blu-Ray and DVD by Network Distributing.